As National Oral Health Month winds down, it is important to reflect on why dental health matters and how to protect our smiles and overall health all year long!
Dental health is not limited to just the health of our teeth and gums. Our overall health is affected by our oral health. Poor oral health shares common risk factors with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Pregnant women with dental disease are at a greater risk of having a preterm, low birth weight baby who is also more at risk for developing complications. In a recent study, the risk for a preterm and low birth weight baby was seven times higher for pregnant women with dental disease than for pregnant women with healthy gums. In addition to the overall health risk, primary caregivers with poor oral health pass their cavity-causing bacteria onto the children they take care of, increasing the child’s risk for early childhood caries (tooth decay).
Poor dental health can be found in all ages and socioeconomic levels of our society; it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor or how old you are. In children, it is the most common infectious disease and is “five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.” In Canada, dental services account for 7 per cent of total health expenditures and about 39 per cent of Canadians experience lost time from work, school and other activities due to dental visits or dental sick days.
In Canada, oral cancer is the 13th most common type of cancer and has a relatively poor survival rate. Each year, more than 3,400 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed, 1,000 people will die from oral cancer, and the 5-year survival rate of oral cancer is 63 per cent, which is below that of prostate, melanoma or cervical cancers. Many risk factors exist and Health Canada identifies several risk factors which can increase your risk of developing oral cancers:
- You are over the age of 40.
- You are male. Even though the gap is narrowing, men are twice as likely to develop oral cancer than women.
- You have human papillomavirus (HPV).
- You use tobacco products, especially if combined with high alcohol consumption.
- You regularly drink a lot of alcohol.
- Your lips are exposed to the sun on a regular basis.
- Your diet is low in fruits and vegetables, robbing you of important protective factors.
To learn how to prevent dental disease and catch small problems early, before they become big problems, visit your dental office regularly.
Learn more about the importance of dental health through these great resources and articles:
- BC Ministry of Health: Evidence review: dental health
- Canadian Dental Association
- Canadian Dental Association: Oral health – good for life
- Early childhood caries: The dental disease of infants
- HealthLinkBC: Pregnancy and dental health
- Health Canada: The surprising risk factors for oral cancer
- Health Canada: Smile: Healthy teeth, healthy body (also available in HTML form)
- Public Health Agency of Canada: Oral health and pregnancy
About Brenda Matsen
Born and raised in B.C., Brenda completed her diploma in dental hygiene in 1987, moved back to northern B.C. to work, raised her four sons in Prince George and, in 2009, obtained her BHSc. Brenda is the manager of the Northern Health Dental Program and has been with Northern Health since 2002. She is passionate about making a difference and appreciates the "can do" attitude of fellow northerners. When not at work, Brenda can be found enjoying the great outdoors in a variety of activities with her husband and Vizslas, throughout all our beautiful seasons.