Dental health is a part of overall health

Contributing writerFebruary 26, 2012 

Next time you are near a mirror, smile and take a good look at your teeth. How long has it been since your last dental exam? If it has been more than a year, or even six months, it is time for another checkup.

Healthy teeth mean more than just a pretty smile. Taking care of your teeth keeps bacteria and plaque from building up and affecting your overall health. Science shows poor oral health is linked to other chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke. Research is ongoing to understand the link between oral health, inflammation in the body, and disease. But good oral hygiene definitely ranks with exercise and healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Many in Thurston County cannot afford dental care. One in four adults in Thurston County lacks insurance coverage for dental care. Unfortunately, the number of people in need of care is growing and resources are limited.

To address some of this need, the Thurston County Dental Access Network (tmcdental.org/tcdan.html), a coalition of concerned volunteer dental professionals, and the Olympia Union Gospel Mission’s free dental clinic (ougm.org/dentalClinic.htm) provide dental services to those without access to other care. Limited low-cost care also is available from the Sea Mar Community Health Center dental clinics in Lacey and Tumwater, and the South Puget Sound Community College dental assisting clinic. And Choice Regional Health Network administers the Access to Baby and Child Dentistry program for Medicaid-eligible children under the age of 6 (crhn.org/GetHelp/gethelp.html).

Make sure children in your life are on track for a future of good dental health. They should be brushing twice a day and flossing between their teeth once a day. For babies, the arrival of the first tooth is a good time to schedule their first visit to the dentist. For school-aged children, pediatricians and dentists recommend fluoride sealants and fluoride supplements to prevent tooth decay, since water utilities in Thurston County do not fluoridate the water supply.

Getting your children on a path to good oral hygiene habits is easy. Select a colorful toothbrush; play music; make it fun. Brush your teeth together. Kids model what they see.

If you have avoided dental care because of anxiety about sitting in a dentist’s chair, there are many good reasons to try again. Improved tools such as ultrasonic tooth cleaners, better-flavored toothpastes, and other patient-focused developments such as sedation dentistry can make your experience more pleasant.

If you use a dental rinse or mouthwash, consider using one with natural ingredients that do not contain parabens (synthetic preservatives) or artificial colors. There are many natural dental care products on the market today that are readily available at your supermarket or food co-op.

Dental care is one of those investments that pays big dividends in your physical and emotional well-being, and routine care can prevent painful procedures in the future. Do not put off getting your teeth examined, cleaned, and cared for. Get out the toothpaste and floss, and make healthy teeth a part of your daily life.

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501 or yud@co.thurston.wa.us.

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