Oral Health News: How Your Mouth Affects Your Overall Health

Did you know that the condition of your mouth can say a lot about your health? Two recent news releases highlight important correlations between oral health and overall health, including how the premature loss of permanent teeth can affect your future. The first important news story is the addition of an assessment tool in medical training for nurses and other health care providers that includes a thorough assessment of the mouth. The other important piece of oral health news is recent discoveries on how the loss of teeth in seniors affects physical and mental ability.

NYU Develops Assessment Tool for Oral Assessment

Researchers at New York University (NYU) have been working to incorporate an additional screening that includes a tool for oral assessment, as detailed by Science Newsline. With the help of a grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), NYU's College of Nursing and College of Dentistry created a collaborative program that adds to an assessment tool that nursing students currently use. This addition will include important oral health considerations that can affect and contribute to the oral-systemic health link, with hopes of increasing focus on oral health to ultimately improve overall health.

The program, Teaching Oral-Systemic Health (TOSH), strives to educate and facilitate integration of an oral cavity assessment for various health care providers, including physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioner, midwives and physicians to use with their patients. The program is working to change the current head, ears, eyes, nose and throat (HEENT) exam by adding the oral cavity (HEENOT). The health care provider will therefore extend observations to include teeth, gums, oral mucosa, tongue and palate.

By adding this oral component to the exam, the focus will broaden the understanding and recognition of the oral-systemic link and help the practitioner make a more accurate diagnosis. The findings are chronicled in the American Journal of Public Health.

Tooth Loss in Seniors Affects Health

In other oral health news, researchers at University College London have published a study that suggests that early loss of teeth can predict physical and mental decline later in life. Published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, this long-term study, further explained by Medical News Today, shows a connection between complete loss of permanent teeth and its effects on a senior's memory, walking speeds and vision.

Tooth loss in adults was shown to affect a senior citizen's memory, as long as other factors could be excluded. The study recognized the possibility that other components could affect memory, including the person's age, gender, occupation and whether they were suffering from depression. Lifestyle habits such as drinking and smoking also influenced memory, but income and educational levels were considered the most important factors.

However, the study showed that tooth loss most significantly diminished a senior's physical ability, especially in the 60–74-year-old age bracket. Seniors that had none of their natural teeth walked more slowly than other older adults who had no or merely partial tooth loss. The study also discussed a correlation between income and socioeconomic status and its strong influence on dental health. Although there has been a decline in tooth loss in the U.S. over the last 50 years, there is a remarkable difference in oral health between the rich and the poor. This lack of care can lead to periodontitis or gum disease, the chief cause of tooth loss in adults. Also, a basic lack of understanding of how important it is to avoid tooth loss causes many to seek only emergency care, with extraction as the only treatment option. Everyone, but particularly the elderly, should be brushing with toothpaste such as Colgate Total® Advanced Toothpaste to keep teeth in the best-possible condition.

Focusing on oral health news is important! A better understanding of the oral-systemic link is long overdue, and by educating ourselves (and most importantly, those in the medical field) to include the mouth in overall health assessments, there's a better chance of more people living healthier, active and more fulfilling lives. Recognizing that early tooth loss can predict some physical or mental decline later in life is an important tool for health care workers, individuals and caretakers, and striving to improve oral health and access to care will lead to a better mouth and a better body — both worthy goals for the year!

About the author: Donna Rounsaville, RDH, BS, has been a dental hygienist in private practice for 31 years. She has used her experience with the prevention of dental problems and the importance of healthy eating to educate children in local schools in her hometown of Flemington, New Jersey. Donna is also passionate about infection control and office safety for dental workers, providing yearly training to her office colleagues. Active with the Girl Scouts as a leader and with children's liturgy at her church, Donna uses her communication and leadership skills to motivate young people in her community. She has been writing for Colgate since 2013.

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