Healthy teeth for a healthy life

While it’s important to take care of your teeth and gums, it may be tempting to skip dental checkups and daily flossing. Remember that oral health is crucial to your overall well-being. By taking a few easy preventive actions, you can avoid pain and more serious health issues.

Dental health in the U.S. has improved a lot over the past several decades. Baby boomers are the first generation for which a majority has kept their natural teeth throughout their lives. But we still have a long way to go. Every year, dental emergencies resulting in unplanned care cost more than $45 billion in lost productivity.

Even access to good dental care can be a challenge. In our most recent Community Health Needs Assessment, we discovered that access to affordable, quality dental care is a challenge for many residents right here in Columbus. Some dentists have all the patients they can care for and are not accepting new patients. Many people have no dental health coverage, so they have to pay for all their own expenses at the dental office. These situations can keep you from receiving good dental care.

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An inside look at the problem

Lots of things can go wrong in our mouths. Some common dental problems include:

• Cavities and untreated tooth decay. Almost all adults (96%) age 65 or older have had a cavity. You should never ignore a cavity — if you don’t treat it, it can lead to an abscess.

• Periodontal (gum) diseases. Almost half of adults over the age of 30 have mild or severe inflammation of the gums and bone around the teeth. If left unaddressed, gum disease can cause infections and lost bone support in the mouth.

• Tooth loss. Untreated tooth decay and gum disease can result in lost teeth.

• Dry mouth. People who don’t have enough saliva may be at increased risk for tooth decay and infection.

As you can imagine, all of these problems can lead to a great deal of sensitivity and pain. Poor oral health has far-reaching effects. It can limit your ability to taste, talk, make facial expressions, smell, chew and swallow. It can affect your social interactions — and even your earning potential. It’s also associated with chronic disease. Some studies suggest that untreated gum disease can raise the risk of heart disease and stroke as well.

Fortunately, consistently good oral hygiene prevents most dental diseases. Follow these tips for the best results:

• Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

• Buy a new toothbrush every three to four months.

• Eat a balanced diet. Even drinking water fortified with fluoride can promote good tooth health. Some water filtration systems actually remove fluoride as the water is purified.

• Don’t use tobacco. Tobacco can cause a number of oral problems including stained teeth, cavities, gum disease and even some cancers.

Finally, don’t wait until you’re in pain to visit the dentist. In addition to fixing routine issues, dentists also identify mouth and throat cancers. Visit them regularly to catch any potential problems early.

As part of its mission to promote healthy lifestyles, the PCLC is involved with several local health and wellness programs, including the Walk to Jerusalem, the Complete Health Improvement Program, running clubs at local schools, Walk with a Doc and more. To learn more about the PCLC or how you can become involved, contact Gene Vis, Platte County Lifestyle Coalition coordinator, at 402-562-4686 or


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