By AUGUSTINA KWAFO-BAIDOO
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, a perfect time to remember to take care of our oral health. When people think about a healthy lifestyle, eating more fruits and vegetables, increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol, getting more sleep and making time for self-care often top the list.
But, taking care of our oral health is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and the health of our mouth, teeth and gums affects the way we talk, smile, eat and present ourselves to the world.
Just like the rest of our body, the mouth is full of good and bad bacteria. By practicing good oral health every day, we can keep the bad bacteria in our mouths under control and avoid infections like gum disease and tooth decay.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends the following to help you keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily
- Eat a healthy diet and limit foods with added sugars (like sugary drinks, baked goods and processed foods)
- Change your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are worn out
- Avoid using tobacco
- Visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleaning at least once a year
While good oral health is important for everyone, it’s especially important for people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems. Bacteria that builds up in the mouth can travel to other parts of the body, like the lungs or heart, and cause respiratory diseases like pneumonia.
According to the CDC, chronic diseases and other existing health conditions can increase the risk of poor oral health. Chronic diseases for which oral health is especially important include:
- Heart disease
- Hepatitis C
Oral health is also especially important for people taking certain medications that cause dry mouth, as saliva is important for oral health in that it naturally washes away food and acids made by bacteria in the mouth. Medications that can cause dry mouth include:
For more information on maintaining your oral health, visit the websites for the American Dental Association at https://www.mouthhealthy.org and the National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research at https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/oral-hygiene/more-info
Augustina Kwafo-Baidoo is Health Educator for Community and Population Health at Montefiore Health System