The Live Well, Work Well newsletter is an employee newsletter that is produced monthly and covers topics like health, wellness, fitness, nutrition, and personal finance. This month’s issue discusses dental health.

Why Dental Health is So Important

Having a happy, healthy smile is often one of our first achievements and a goal we share with others. But good oral health is more than a smile on your face. It can help you prevent disease, fungal infections, and the need for false teeth or implants.

Research has shown that the health of your mouth has an impact on the overall health of your body. If you are in general good health, it stands to reason your teeth are generally strong, you have minimal signs of decay, and no gum disease.

However, if you have chronic issues such as periodontal/gum disease, mouth ulcers, dry mouth, or excessive gum problems, these may be signs that there is something more serious going on.

  • Mouth lesions are often the first sign of diabetes.
  • Gum disease can be a warning sign of stroke or heart disease.
  • Swollen gums, dry mouth, and excessive gum problems have been associated with diseases such as leukemia, pancreatic cancer, and kidney disease.

Saliva, plaque build-up, and bacteria

Your saliva contains antibodies that help protect you from harmful bacteria and viruses. But it can’t defend you from all illnesses. You have more than 500 species of bacteria in your mouth that constantly form plaque. Plaque is a sticky, clear film that clings to your teeth and can lead to health problems.

Bacteria from your mouth don’t normally enter your bloodstream. However, plaque can build up along your gum line and lead to an infection known as gingivitis. This can weaken your mouth’s normal defenses and potentially lead to further contamination in other areas of your body.

Medication’s effect on oral health

Decongestants, antihistamines, pain killers, and antidepressants have all been shown to reduce the flow of saliva. Be sure to talk to your dentist if you are taking any of these medications so they can help you devise a plan to counteract any potential negative side effects.

Good oral health habits

Maintaining good oral health is key to maintaining good health. Here’s how you can develop a comprehensive routine to protect your teeth and gums.

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. If possible, brush after every meal. Be sure to use toothpaste with fluoride and pay special attention to your gum line. Choose a toothbrush that’s easy to use (electric or manual) and replace it every three to four months.
  • Floss at least once every day to clean those tight spaces between your teeth. It doesn’t matter if you floss before or after you brush your teeth. However, if you floss before brushing you may get better contact between your teeth and the fluoride in your toothpaste.
  • Consider having children’s teeth sealed to help prevent cavities. Your dentist will let you know when and if sealants are needed.
  • Eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, and limit sugary foods, which promote tooth decay.
  • Don’t smoke or, if you do smoke, try to quit. Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and tooth loss.

It’s also important that you become an active participant in your dental health. See your dentist regularly and talk to them about any concerns you may have. Ask questions about how to care for your teeth properly. For example, you may want to ask for recommendations on what kind of toothbrush and toothpaste you should use or the proper way to brush and floss.

Detecting oral health problems early

You should visit your dentist at regular intervals. These regular checkups can help with the early detection of cavities, gingivitis, enamel loss, and periodontitis (a serious infection of the gums caused by bacteria accumulated on your teeth and gums). Your dentist can recommend how often to schedule your appointments.

Also, if you are pregnant, you should continue to see your dentist regularly. Poor oral hygiene has been shown to lead to premature birth and low birth weights.

For more information

If you have questions about your dental plan and how you can take advantage of its benefits to maintain good dental health, talk to your HR or benefits advisor. They can help you understand your plan and the benefits available to you.