Recently, Oral Health America (OHA) released its State of Decay report, which examines the state of oral health among US seniors today. Let’s just say it doesn’t deliver much good news for Texas.
Our state currently ranks 46th in seniors’ oral health – a drop of three ranks over the past five years. Only Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi fared worse.
The factors they considered? The availability of State Oral Health Plans, Medicaid benefits, basic screening services, severe tooth loss, annual dental visits, and community water fluoridation.
While access to services is a real concern, one thing we notice here is a relative lack of emphasis on effective preventive measures. Prevention, after all, can drastically cut the need for other services – such as repairing or replacing teeth lost to decay or gum disease.
It’s clear that fluoridation is hardly the answer. While roughly two-thirds of the US population receives fluoridated water – and nearly 80% of Texans – nearly all adults will have experienced tooth decay by the time they reach their senior years. Over half have lost at least some permanent teeth.
Even research suggesting that fluoride may slow the progress of caries (tooth decay) in children has found no real benefit for adults.
Fluoride also has little effect on the leading cause of tooth loss, which isn’t caries but gum disease.
True prevention involves more than merely trying to limit damage. To even talk about limiting damage is to accept oral disease as inevitable, not preventable. It would be far more productive to look at ways to encourage the habits we know support good oral health. These include
- Reducing consumption of sugars, refined grains, refined startches, and other fermentable carbs.
- Increasing consumption of nutrient-dense foods to get the full complement of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals needed to prevent disease.
- Brushing twice a day, flossing (or otherwise cleaning between the teeth) once a day, and having professional exams and cleanings at least twice a year.
- Avoiding tobacco and other drugs, and abstaining from heavy drinking.
- Getting enough quality sleep each night.
- Getting enough physical activity each day.
- Managing chronic stress.
To some, this may sound like a tall order, but taking a truly preventive approach is the ultimate money-saver. (Indeed, one reason why many folks turn down needed dental treatments is because they can’t afford them.) As an individual, by taking a proactive approach, you can save many thousands of dollars in dental care.
If you have a family, the value only grows for each member.
Try developing these habits one at a time. Take baby steps. Eventually, you’ll have a great routine in place, not to mention a healthier mouth and more money in your wallet.
Image by J L