Give the Gift of Oral Health

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it's a great time to consider the importance of our own oral health and the health of our loved ones. Here are some important "fast facts" on oral health:

  • Many diseases and conditions manifest themselves with oral symptoms, and some systemic diseases show early symptoms in the mouth.
  • Oral infections may be associated with high blood sugar levels in diabetics, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease.
  • Over 400 over-the-counter and prescription medications have a potential side effect of dry mouth. Persistent dry mouth puts you at higher risk for dental cavities and gum disease. Common symptoms of dry mouth include a constant sore throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness and/or dry nasal passages.
  • Full or partial dentures require just as much care and maintenance as natural teeth. Food, beverages, and tobacco can stain dentures and bacteria can grow and multiply without proper care. Regular toothpaste should not be used to clean dentures, as it contains abrasive agents that can scratch denture material, leading plaque and bacteria to accumulate.

This year, Aging and Disability Services received a grant from Washington Dental Service Foundation to integrate oral health awareness and education in our long term care services. Case managers received training and educational materials to help them educate their long term care clients on the importance of oral health.

Following the oral health training, one case manager commented, "Understanding the importance of oral health in disease prevention and learning about the relationship between oral health and general health was informative and much-needed. I tell my clients, what happens in the mouth is often a reflection of what happens in the body. Many of my clients have dry mouth due to medication and we discuss how this can lead to more complex medical conditions if left untreated. Many are surprised to find out how much of an important role their mouth plays in their overall health."

Throughout December 2012, case managers will deliver oral health toolkits—toothpaste, toothbrush, and floss—to their clients.

As part of your gift to yourself or to a loved one, remember:

  • Limit sweet and sticky snacks and sugary drinks between meals.
  • Brush twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Take appropriate care if you have full or partial dentures.
  • Floss daily.
  • See the dentist regularly. Work with your dentist to determine the best schedule.
  • Request an oral exam as part of annual medical exam.

For more information on oral health, including prevention and treatment of dry mouth and community resources, visit the Seniors Oral Health website.

—MaryPat O'Leary, RN, Aging and Disability Services