Bad breath and resulting awkward social situations are not the only consequence of poor oral hygiene.
According to dental hygiene professor Tammy Hale, it can also greatly influence one’s systemic health.
Limited oral care can lead to periodontal disease, which leaves individuals at a higher risk for problems such as infective endocarditis, cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, Type I and II diabetes mellitus, respiratory disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
“As dental health professionals educate their patients on the correlation between oral health and overall health, more patients understand the importance of good oral hygiene to prevent other systemic issues,” Hale said. “However, there are still many people who have no idea about this connection.”
Hale suggests patients evaluate the completeness of their oral care process.
“Practicing good, thorough oral hygiene on a daily basis is probably the most important way to prevent periodontal disease, and therefore, systemic disease,” Hale said. “Most patients brush their teeth daily, but don’t understand the significance of adequate disruption of biofilm (plaque) every 24 hours.”
She also notes that flossing is actually more important than brushing, as destructive bacteria are more likely to collect below the gum line and in-between the teeth. This is normally where periodontal disease begins.
Disrupting the bacteria daily with floss, interdental aids or toothpicks, makes a significant difference. A variety of aids for cleaning between the teeth can be found at the grocery store or pharmacy.
As for creating good habits, Hale claims anything is better than nothing.
“Some patients create better habits of flossing if they do it at the same time every day or along with something that reminds them to do it, such as during the news at night or right after dinner, which can also help them not to snack before bedtime,” Hale said. “Others use floss aids, which are easier for those with less dexterity or larger hands. Whatever a patient likes, they will use consistently, so finding what you like is an important key.”
Another important way to prevent oral disease, and therefore systemic disease, is to visit the dentist and dental hygienist regularly. They can monitor an individual’s oral health, recommend oral hygiene aids and develop treatments specific to them.
“If a patient already has periodontal disease, the dental hygienist can see them for non-surgical periodontal therapy,” Hale explained. “This will help arrest the progression of the disease and prevent the recurrence of periodontitis.”
The dental hygienist can educate the patient on the contributing factors of periodontal disease and help preserve and maintain their health by helping them clean difficult areas to reach.
In addition to the cosmetic benefits, a clean, attractive smile indicates proper dental hygiene and reduced risk of disease. For more information about the Collin College dental hygiene program visit http://www.collin.edu/academics/programs/dentalhygiene.html.