Women are, for the most part, good stewards of their health. As the traditional caregivers of families, they value their vitality enough to get to the doctor once a year for a physical and take action whenever medical conditions present themselves. They are reminded to conduct monthly self breast exams as a part of breast care, have colonoscopies on a regular basis to detect polyps, and have a pap smear each year to screen for cervical cancer. But when it comes to overall health and well-being, teeth are rarely given top priority.
The medical relevance of teeth, however, is surprisingly significant, and proper dental care should be moved closer to the top of women’s priority lists.
By Julianne Hale
Pearly whites are not just for show. Without question, a great smile filled with beautiful white teeth is an asset, but those chompers are also essential to the functioning of our bodies. Our teeth allow us to chew our food so that we can digest it and nourish our bodies. If we fail to care for them properly, the consequences can be severe. Dr. Audrey Selecman, DDS, MDS, a prosthodontist at the University of Tennessee Memphis’s College of Dentistry, lists the effects of poor dental health as: “gum disease, decay, loss of teeth, halitosis (bad breath), inability to speak or chew properly, pain, social and psychological problems associated with dissatisfaction of appearance, financial and time considerations of costly dental treatment, and health-related issues linked to periodontal disease such as heart disease, diabetes and low preterm birth weight.”
The link between heart disease and periodontal disease is something about which the average person is not aware. Dr. Michael Tabor, DDS, President of Tennessee’s Board of Dentistry, encourages Tennesseans to take tooth care seriously. He explains, “Oral health is very important for your overall general health. It’s without controversy that the incidence of periodontal or gum disease is directly proportional to the incidence of heart disease. Similar bacteria are involved in both diseases.” Contrary to popular belief, dental care is not just about the mouth. Proper care of the teeth has a positive effect on every part of a person, from the heart to self-esteem.
Learning proper care of the teeth starts at a young age. Dr. Selecman advises parents to focus on prevention. She says, “Oral care in children should focus on prevention and education. Parents should supervise brushing and flossing until age 12, using this time to teach the long-term consequences of healthy oral hygiene habits.”
In addition to learning healthy habits, children should visit the dentist regularly, and these visits to the dentist should start early. Dr. Ellen McOmie, DDS, of McOmie Family Dentistry in Chattanooga, explains, “Usually by age three, parents should start taking children to the dentist regularly. You make it worth their while by waiting until they are old enough to sit in the chair and let the dentist get a good look at their teeth.”
When children hit puberty, their dental needs change. Dr. Selecman says, “Studies suggest that the increase in estrogen and progesterone during puberty is directly correlated to gingivitis, an inflammation of gums around the teeth. Dental management of teens is focused on good oral hygiene combined with routine dental checkups.” Braces are increasingly common during the teenage years and can complicate oral hygiene. Dr. Selecman adds, “Wires and brackets are hard to clean around, making teeth more susceptible to decay and staining. Parents should ask for special cleaning aids to make brushing more effective in children with oral appliances.”
The next stage of life during which hormones can fluctuate for women is pregnancy. Pregnant women are hyper-focused on their health and the health of their babies, but they can fail to give proper attention to their teeth during this critical time. Concerning the importance of proper dental care during pregnancy, Dr. McOmie says, “Obstetricians don’t usually talk much to their pregnant patients about dental health, but it is a very important, often ignored health concern. The hormones released during pregnancy can cause a great deal of inflammation in the gums. It is very important to take care of your teeth because your body is not as able to ward off bacteria during pregnancy as it is during other times.” The inflammation of the gums can lead to pregnancy gingivitis, a common problem among pregnant women. Proper brushing and flossing can prevent this condition.
Menopausal women and post-menopausal women often experience bone density loss from the estrogen deficiencies in their bodies. This can affect the teeth, so regular visits to the dentist are critical. Menopausal and post-menopausal women can also experience increased sensitivity in their mouths. Dr. Selecman explains, “Oral discomfort is a common complaint in postmenopausal women. Treatment is often palliative.”
Proper dental care is vital for every woman regardless of her age or stage in life, but one trip down the dental care aisle at your local drug store is enough to make your head spin. The sheer volume of dental care product choices is astounding. Electric toothbrushes are available in a wide variety of prices, as are toothpastes with every imaginable flavor and function, traditional dental floss and flossing tools, whiteners, and much more. How can we make our way through all of the products and purchase the ones that will allow us to care properly for our teeth? Tabor advises consumers to keep it simple. He explains, “Without a doubt the soft-bristled tooth brushes are the best choice. You need to purchase toothpaste with fluoride and also dental floss. Brush morning and evening and floss once a day. It takes 24 hours for bacteria to organize, form, and grow in between your teeth, so flossing once a day, regardless of the time, is fine. Just about everyone brushes, but many people fail to floss. Flossing is vital!”
If you are not doing so yet, it is very important that you work in routine visits to the dentist every six months and anytime in between when you experience discomfort or some type of dental problem. This may seem like a minimal task, but a surprising number of Americans don’t go to the dentist regularly. Dr. Tabor states, “Almost 50 percent of Americans do not go to the dentist unless they are hurting, bleeding or swelling.” Dr. Tabor recommends that women treat their preventative visits to the dentist with the same dedication that they treat pediatrician visits for their children or routine gynecological visits for themselves.
In addition to brushing and flossing and routine visits to the dentist, women should pay particular attention to the impact that their diet has upon their teeth. Sugary drinks should be avoided and so should bottled water. Dr. McOmie explains, “The current trend towards bottled water is bad for the teeth. Tap water contains fluoride and is best for everyday consumption.”
Regardless of your age or stage in life, taking care of your teeth should be a top priority for women. Following the advice of these health care professionals will improve your appearance and your overall health. An appointment with one of Chattanooga’s many fine dental professionals will get you on the road to healthy teeth and a beautiful smile.
Julianne Hale and her family reside in Cleveland. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Illinois State University and then an MBA from the University of Phoenix. Julianne is a member of the Chattanooga Writers Guild, is married, and has two children.