How do your teeth feel? Did you brush for two minutes today? Have you flossed lately? Did your gums bleed the last time you brushed or flossed?
As a dental hygienist these are questions that I often ask new patients. Why? Most people eat, drink and sleep without much thought or concern for their teeth. Not until some annoying discomfort—a lodged popcorn husk, meat or fruit caught in an unreachable crevice, sensitivity and pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold—interrupts your life.
Care and maintenance of the mouth cannot be overstated, especially for African Americans and Hispanics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cites that African Americans and Hispanics experience disproportionate rates of
Periodontitis and tooth decay compared to Caucasians.
African Americans and Mexican Americans, aged 35-44 years old, suffer from untreated tooth decay almost twice as much as Caucasians. Additionally, African Americans and Mexican Americans aged 35-44 years old, who failed to complete high school suffer from tooth decay three-fold compared to adults with some college education.
In addition to tooth decay, patients contend with acute and chronic oral disease called Periodontitis. Periodontitis, an inflammation of the gums, bone and ligaments that support teeth, affects more than 48 percent of Americans. Several studies have shown that African American and Hispanic males, with less than a high school education, experience higher rates of periodontal infection than African American and Hispanic women.
The CDC, American Dental Association (ADA) and other dental bodies note that access, resources and education significantly impact the rate of incidence and prevalence of oral disease and infections. Healthy People 2020, state and local governments have outlined objectives and goals aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating oral health disparities. Additionally, community programs, though often underfunded, provide screening and referral services.
Dental disease and infection is not only an annoyance, it also impacts quality of life and systemic health. Improving oral care can curtail the impact of systemic conditions that are often exacerbated by poor oral health. Take a look at your teeth, examine your gums and think about the last time you visited an oral health professional. It may be time to make an appointment.