Brushing up on oral health awareness this April

In honour of April being Oral Health Awareness month, it seemed fitting to dedicate an article to this commonly overlooked but crucial aspect of general health.

Most people equate poor oral hygiene with bad breath and cavities, or an uneven or yellow smile. We are taught from a young age that too much candy can lead to cavities, and too much juice or pop can cause the tooth enamel to erode and cause sensitivity and cavities.

As we get older, we are told that too much coffee, tea, or wine can stain our teeth and are then bombarded with ads for teeth whitening strips and toothpastes.

We have all heard the advice to brush twice a day, floss daily, and make sure to go see your dentist regularly. But this information is just the tip of an iceberg of research that needs to be shared for the sake of longevity.

When plaque isn’t removed from teeth consistently, it can build up and cause decay which leads to bad breath, cavities, and eventually gum disease.

When the plaque continues to build up, periodontal disease can result, and this is where things get tricky. Not only can this lead to major tooth loss, but the bacteria and plaque can actually enter the bloodstream through the gums and move throughout the body triggering chronic health conditions.

Cardiovascular disease is another major risk factor of poor oral hygiene. The bacteria and plaque flowing through the bloodstream can harden and clog arteries which leads to blood flow issues and heart blockages, as well as increasing risk of stroke if that accumulation lands in the carotid artery.

When the buildup flows into the lungs, it can lead to major infections like bronchitis, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This bacterium can even spread into the nerve channels in the brain, causing memory loss and eventually dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Smoking and tobacco products are well known for causing bad breath and yellowing teeth, but they also greatly increase the risks of not only oral and throat cancers, but also pancreatic, kidney, and blood cancers.

Chronic kidney disease can be deadly if it leads to kidney failure.

People with type 2 diabetes are three times more likely to develop gum disease, and alternatively, gum disease can impair glycemic control which can put a person at risk of diabetes. This is due to excess sugar in the blood leading to excess sugar in the saliva.

There are further risks related to hormonal fluctuations, often affecting expectant mothers. The increased inflammation in the body from the bacteria can lead to rheumatoid arthritis.

With all this being said, it seems clear that prevention is key. As the old age goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Avoiding sugary and acidic drinks, consuming healthy foods, brushing twice per day, flossing daily, and visiting a dental professional regularly can greatly improve a person’s chances of avoiding the above-mentioned complications of poor oral health.

Unfortunately, professional dental care isn’t affordable for everyone, but there are programs in place that may help those who need a hand.

Healthy Smiles Ontario offers free dental programs for eligible children under 17 years old at Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH) or through Niagara’s Mobile Dental Clinic.

The 2024 mobile clinics in Greater Fort Erie will be held at:

  • Joe’s Your Independent Grocer (311 Gorham Rd.) | July 12 and October 18, 2024
  • Fort Erie Leisureplex (3 Municipal Centre Dr.) | May 17, August 16, and November 15, 2024

Visit ontario.ca/healthysmiles or NRPH at 1264 Garrison Road for details.

The Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program allows seniors 65 years of age and older, who fit income eligibility requirements and have no other form of benefits, to access free dental care at NRPH. It is possible to apply online or call (905) 688-8248 extension 7399 for more information.

Those receiving support through Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program can contact their case worker to find out what their dental coverage is, and anyone in need of proper oral health supplies can contact a local food bank.

On the second Wednesday of every month from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Strong Fort Erie Neighbourhoods offers a personal products bank in the back hall of Saint Michael Roman Catholic Church at 310 Central Avenue.

The next date for the personal products bank will be April 10, 2024.

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