February 20, 2020

Protecting Your Smile

By Crista Murray, Alliance Benefits

Did you know that your oral health is an indication of and provides clues to your overall health—or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body? The mouth is a window into the physical condition of the body and routine dental care is important through every stage of life. Delta Dental, the number one dental provider in the U.S., gives a great overview of basic oral care tips all the way from infancy through to our older years:

Oral Care for Infants & Toddlers

Protecting and caring for your baby’s first teeth is a significant step in the health of their permanent teeth. It might not seem like it since their first set ends up going to the tooth fairy, but it turns out that baby teeth are important to the gums, and to the adult teeth preparing to come in underneath. Starting them off with good oral care can help protect their teeth for decades to come. Here are some key dental tips for your little ones:

  • Don’t let your child fall asleep while sucking a bottle that contains milk, formula, or sweet fluids. If you let sugary fluids sit in the baby’s mouth, you increase the likelihood of tooth decay.
  • Limit sugary beverages. Unsweetened fruit juices, teas, and water are best, according to the American Academy of General Dentistry. At bedtime, only offer water.
  • Before teeth come in, clean gums after feedings, using a damp washcloth.
  • Once teeth erupt, brush with water and a soft toothbrush every day. By age 2, or by the time your child can spit, use a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Take your child for their first dental visit within six months of the first tooth eruption, and no later than their first birthday.

Oral Care for Children & Teens

We all try our best to avoid possible infections in even minor cuts and scrapes, but did you know that according to the American Dental Association (ADA), tooth decay is the single most common infectious disease affecting U.S. children? And although oral health among the U.S. population as a whole continues to improve, among 2-to-5-year-olds, tooth decay in primary teeth (also called “baby teeth”) has increased.

Staying Cavity-Free

Of course, regular dental checkups can help your child stay cavity-free, but the most important dental care should occur regularly at home. So in addition to visiting the dentist, be sure that your child follows these tips provided by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry:

  1.  Avoid frequent snacking on sugary or starchy foods.
  2.  Brush teeth gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line.
  3.  Floss at least once a day.
  4.  Have a dentist or dental professional apply sealants if appropriate.
  5.  Get proper levels of fluoride in toothpaste, drinking water, or through fluoride supplements.*

*Note that the ADA does not recommend fluoride toothpaste for children younger than age 2 and does not recommend fluoride mouth rinses for children younger than age 6.

Oral Care for Older Adults

There are some common oral health problems you typically see among older adults. About 30% of people 65 and older suffer from dry mouth, which occurs when salivary glands produce less saliva than normal due to medications, health conditions or other factors. In fact, it is listed as a side effect of more than 500 medications. And, 90% of people 65 and older report using a prescription drug in the past 30 days.

The reduced flow of saliva caused by dry mouth increases the risk of cavities, gum disease and more. While 96% of older adults have had tooth decay at some time, dry mouth can make their later years particularly cavity prone. What’s more, with many older adults neglecting to visit the dentist regularly, 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay.

Gum disease is widespread among older Americans, with 68% of those 65 years or older having this condition. Advanced gum disease can destroy gums, bone and ligaments that support teeth. It is often painless until it reaches the advanced stage, which is why the effects are frequently not felt until later in life.

Gum disease is often a factor in tooth loss. Nearly 20% of people 65 and older have lost all of their teeth, and the number rises to 26% among those 75 and older. However, there is some good news: Older Americans are keeping their teeth longer than they were just a few decades ago.

People over 65 are also more susceptible to oral cancer, which costs about 10,000 Americans their lives each year. The average age of newly diagnosed patients is 62. Older men have the highest incidence of mouth, throat and tongue cancers, with tobacco and alcohol use identified as major risk factors.

Fortunately, preventive measures can help older adults avoid many of these conditions. Here are steps you can take to protect your smile:

  • Practice good daily oral health habits by brushing twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily.
  • Continue to visit the dentist regularly, even if you have lost your teeth or wear dentures.
  • Drink fluoridated water (found in most tap water) and eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Avoid tobacco products and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Talk to your physician and dentist about dry mouth. For immediate relief of symptoms, drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum.
  • Discuss replacement options for missing teeth with your dentist. Dentures, implants and bridges can help restore your smile.
  • Clean all removable dentures every day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and a non-abrasive cleanser.
  • Do monthly self-exams for oral cancer. Look for unusual sores or swelling, white or reddish patches and changes in your lips, tongue and throat that last more than two weeks. During dental visits, the dentist will do a thorough exam to check for signs of oral cancer. Early detection can save lives.

Thanks to Delta Dental for this excellent advice and for the high quality of dental care and resources they provide to so many of our Alliance Health Plan members.

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Crista Murray joined Alliance Benefits in June 2009 and has been with The Christian and Missionary Alliance for almost twenty years. She is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the day-to-day execution of marketing strategies and communication efforts for both the health and retirement plans.

Posted in: Health Plan Tools