17:50 PM

What you don’t know about oral health may hurt you

By Dr. Doyle Williams, Chief Dental Officer

When people hear the phrase, “I’m in good health,” chances are they aren’t thinking about their mouths.

But you should. A regular check up with your dentist is as important as an annual physical. If you are someone who is afraid of the dentist and only make an appointment when you are in pain – think of this: regular preventive care is not painful and it will help prevent painful visits in the future. Good oral health serves much more than cosmetic purposes – it is integral to your overall good health.

Teeth, gums and oral soft tissue are all susceptible to a range of conditions and diseases, including cavities, gingivitis and oral cancer. The irony is that dental disease – cavities and gum disease – are nearly 100 percent preventable if you know what to do. It’s what you don’t know about oral health that may hurt you. That’s oral health literacy.

Culturally-competent oral health literacy is as important as seeing an oral health professional. For some, a painful tooth may be enough reason to schedule a visit with a dentist. But others may wait to see bleeding, swelling, or a fever before thinking about getting care.

That’s the challenge of oral health literacy – making sure people know how to care for their teeth and gums, making sure they know the signs for concern, and making sure they know when and where to go for help.

Here are two examples:

  • The U.S. Surgeon General stressed that parents who are unfamiliar with the importance and care of their child’s primary teeth are unlikely to take appropriate action that may prevent Early Childhood Caries (ECC). That includes food choices, bedtime bottle routines, daily oral hygiene, and failure to see a health professional as the baby teeth are starting to come in.
  • Recently, a 24-year old father from Cincinnati, Ohio died from a tooth infection because he could not afford his medication. When his face and mouth began to swell, the man visited the emergency room at his local hospital where he was given prescriptions for pain medication and antibiotics. Because he could not afford both medications, he only filled the prescription for the pain medication. That helped the pain but the infection continued to spread, eventually to his brain.
Knowledge is power. Everyone has a role in making sure that oral health is an integral part of their overall health.

What do you think needs to be addressed to improve America’s oral health literacy?