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Take stock of oral health during Family Wellness Month

May is National Family Wellness Month, an observance designed to promote healthy lifestyles. This month, dentists are reminding patients about good oral health habits and encouraging them to make regular dental checkups a part of their family wellness routine.

A healthy body is linked to a healthy mouth, says the American Dental Association. If you want to feel good, stay healthy and look great throughout life, you might be surprised what a difference a healthy mouth makes. By adopting healthy oral habits at home, making smart choices about diet and lifestyle, and seeking regular dental care, you can help your teeth last a lifetime.

“There’s truth behind the old adage, ‘Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you,’ ” said Dr. Gene Shoemaker, president of the Wisconsin Dental Association. “A healthy, attractive smile is the reward for a lifetime of good oral health habits. Beyond that, oral health is closely tied to overall health—ignore your mouth and you may risk other, serious problems including heart disease, stroke, diabetes complications and oral cancer.”

A good start to boosting a family’s wellness program is by making sure infants receive good oral care that protects their teeth. Primary teeth, or “baby” teeth, are very important to children’s physical, social and emotional development.

Baby teeth are susceptible to cavities,” said Dr. Shoemaker. “Young children can develop dental infections that can become serious and spread quickly when not treated promptly.”

Talk to your dentist about scheduling the first dental visit when your child’s first tooth appears, recommends the ADA. Treat the first dental visit as you would a well-baby checkup with the child’s physician. It’s beneficial for the first dental visit to occur within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than your child’s first birthday.

Tooth decay is a preventable disease. To maintain healthy teeth, the ADA recommends a few basic tips:

  • Eat a variety of foods for a balanced diet. Choose breads, cereals and other grain products; fruits; vegetables; meat, poultry and fish; and milk, cheese and yogurt.
  • Limit the number of snacks that you eat. Each time you eat food that contains sugars, the teeth are attacked by acids for 20 minutes or more.
  • If you do snack, choose nutritious foods, such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.
  • Foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm. More saliva is released during a meal, which helps wash foods from the mouth and helps lessen the effects of acids.
  • Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste that has the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist can help prevent problems from occurring and catch those that do occur while they are easy to treat.

For older adults, good dental health is just as important. Today, people are living longer and retaining more of their natural teeth, which increases the complexity of their dental treatment.

Increasing medical evidence suggests that an unhealthy mouth may worsen serious medical problems. Bleeding gums, visible root surfaces and loose teeth are not normal at any age. These are usually signs of an infection called periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontal infections can be serious and can affect not only the mouth, but potentially your overall health.

It is possible to have periodontal disease and have no warning signs, which is why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are necessary. During checkups, your dentist will clean your teeth’s roots and tips and monitor problems.

Preventing dental problems provides the most bang for the family buck as well.

“These simple actions prevent small oral health problems from turning into bigger, expensive health crises," said Dr. Shoemaker. “The most cost-effective way to pay for treatment of dental disease is to prevent the disease from developing in the first place.”

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

05/04/2011

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