Having poor oral health doesn’t mean just cavities and gum disease.
Statistics show that an unhealthy mouth can substantially increase the risk of suffering major health problems, including heart disease, respiratory infections, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetic complications. In fact, seven of the 10 leading causes of death listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been linked to bacteria or inflammation in the oral cavity. Periodontal disease has also been associated with premature labor and a low birth-weight baby.
Clearly, these are all good reasons to exercise consistent oral care, yet many people do not for a variety of reasons, says Dr. R. Craig Miller, a dentist and author of Get Back Your Smile, Take Back Your Life!
“It’s not just teeth and gums; your whole body can be at risk if you let your dental health go,” Miller says. “But too often adults, and especially parents, have put themselves last, including in regard to their own dental care, which they might see as cosmetic and not an immediate necessity.
“As they age and neglect their teeth and gums more, their oral health worsens and it can definitely correlate with overall health issues. We’ve got to get more people learning how to take care of their teeth as they would their bodies.”
Miller suggests how to get to the root of the self-oral care problem:
Prioritize your oral care.
Miller says that starts with recognizing behaviors that undermine self-care, or in effect, people putting themselves last. “Parents just get caught up in their daily family life,” Miller says. “When it isn’t family, it’s work. Self-care takes a back seat to everything else. Sometimes, this self-neglect stems from negative behavior patterns that began in childhood due to how they were raised. Perhaps a parent abandoned them, they were deprived emotionally, or they felt like a failure. Understanding and correcting those behaviors can help make dental care an important part of one’s improved self-image.”
Regular brushing and flossing.
People with good oral hygiene spend less on health care overall. “While brushing and flossing well should be obvious, people would be amazed at how much better their teeth and gums would be if they simply adhered to a daily oral-hygiene regimen,” Miller says. “Proper brushing and flossing can turn back the clock on gum disease. Oral hygiene has a direct impact on the mouth’s microbiome, which is the balance of organisms that keep decay at bay. Without good oral hygiene, the mouth is at risk for developing periodontal disease — the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.”
Commit to a healthier diet.
Excess sugar is one of the primary culprits of plaque, a sticky deposit on the teeth in which bacteria proliferate. “Bad bacteria in the mouth feed off sugar and are the primary drivers of oral problems,” Miller says. “Without eating healthier foods and having good levels of vitamins and minerals in the body, good bacteria turn to harmful, which leads to tooth decay.”
Stick with the program.
“Dental treatment alone offers no guarantees for the long term,” Miller says. “The patient is the key person in the whole process. Successful outcomes rely on the patient to be a member of the care team. That means being open to being educated and following through with the dentist, and also it means what they’re doing outside the dentist office is just as important.”
“Your teeth are meant to be with you for life,” Miller says. “And how you take care of them, and your gums, could go a long way toward dictating how long, and with what kind of quality, you live.”
About Dr. R. Craig Miller
Dr. R. Craig Miller, author of Get Back Your Smile, Take Back Your Life, is a dentist who offers general, cosmetic, restorative, and surgical services. He is on staff at Saint Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, N.J., and at Newark Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, N.J., where he teaches dental residents restorative, implant, and advanced cosmetic dentistry, along with dental sleep medicine. He earned his doctor of dental medicine degree (DMD) from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, now known as the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine.