Health & Wellness

The life and times of a smile

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As a child I found quite a bit of amusement in the small glass of water that sat on my grandma’s nightstand every night. The glass, of course, was used to place her teeth in while she slept; a decidedly whimsical and novel idea to a child, especially when one considers the relevance of the tooth fairy at that stage of human development.

As I grew and learned just what dentures were, the novelty wore off a bit; but, to be honest, the concept was still pretty cool. You mean I wouldn’t have to brush my teeth if I got a set of those?! Dental health was not some-thing we prioritized in those days.

Now I know the value of dental health, and I have very much passed the stage when I thought having dentures would be awesome. I want to keep my teeth!

If anyone can help you keep your teeth for a lifetime, a dentist can. So I did some research, spoke to some top dental practitioners, and learned all you need to know if you want to avoid that short half-filled rock glass becoming a required bedroom furnishing and integral part of your sleep routine.

Generally, oral health care stays pretty consistent throughout the major stages of life. Healthy teeth can be maintained by developing strong oral hygiene habits in our youth, continuing them into adulthood, and upholding them into our twilight years.

What does differ through the life cycle of a smile are the particular risks that arise from not maintaining good oral health. In short, the Cavity Creeps may be retired, but they’re not extinct!

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), oral health problems common in older adults include the following:

    Nearly all adults (96%) aged 65 years or older have had a cavity; 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay.
    A high percentage of older adults have gum disease. About 2 in 3 (68%) adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease.
    Nearly 1 in 5 adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth. Complete tooth loss is twice as prevalent among adults aged 75 and older (26%) compared with adults aged 65-74 (13%). Having missing teeth or wearing dentures can affect nutrition, because people without teeth or with dentures of-ten prefer soft, easily chewed foods instead of foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
    Cancers of the mouth (oral and pharyngeal cancers) are primarily diagnosed in older adults; median age at diagnosis is 62 years.
    People with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more likely to develop gum (periodontal) disease, but they are less likely to get dental care than adults without these chronic conditions. Also, most older Westerners take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs; many of these medications can cause dry mouth. Reduced saliva flow increases the risk of cavities.

One of Bermuda’s rising oral hygiene superstars, Dr Kianna Simmons, DMD, advises patients of all ages to practice consistent strong dental hygiene habits in order to avoid the risks of tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.

Along with brushing twice daily and making twice yearly dental visits and exams a priority, Dr Simmons endorses regular professional teeth cleaning and routine flossing “to remove interdental or interproximal bacterial and food de-bris that can lead to cavity formation.”

Healthy eating is also a vital part of oral hygiene and smile longevity. “Avoid high intake of sweets, including candies, chocolates, juices, sodas and sweeteners…Maintain a healthy lifestyle, practicing good habits with diet and food choices such as, exercise, water, sunlight exposure, fresh air, good rest and temperance as well as stress management…to avoid chronic lifestyle diseases, which are treated with medications that often cause xerostomia (dry mouth) and subsequent decay and tooth loss as well as possibly lead to periodontal disease (disease of the surrounding gums and tissues that support the teeth)”

Finally, Dr Simmons advises against doing structural damage to your teeth; “Avoid opening bottles and other objects using your teeth. If active in sporting activities, consider the use of sport guards.”

These recommendations are, of course, very much in line with those made by the CDC, which maintains that you can keep your teeth for a life-time if you follow a few consistent tips for maintaining a healthy mouth and strong teeth.

  • Drink fluoridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Brush teeth thoroughly twice a day and floss daily between the teeth to remove dental plaque.
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year, even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures.
  • Do not use any tobacco products. If you smoke, quit.
  • Limit alcoholic drinks.
  • If you have diabetes, work to maintain control of the disease. This will decrease risk for other complications, including gum disease. Treating gum disease may help lower your blood sugar level.
  • If your medication causes dry mouth, ask your doctor for a different medication that may not cause this condition. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco products and alcohol.
  • See your doctor or a dentist if you have sudden changes in taste and smell.
  • When acting as a caregiver, help older individuals brush and floss their teeth if they are not able to perform these activities independently.

Dental hygiene is vitally important. The mouth is the gateway to overall body health, so we need to be very careful with how we maintain it. Tooth decay and gum disease lead to tooth loss, which can dramatically affect our nutrition choices. Cosmetic considerations can influence decisions to quit smoking or stop drinking coffee, which can positively affect lifestyle and longevity. Oral health, therefore, is a lifelong priority, because, as novel and amusing as that little glass of teeth was to me as a child, I’m not trying to see anything like that on my nightstand in the coming years!

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