Keep your mouth healthy

Some people associate dentures and losing teeth to aging, but that doesn’t have to be the case for everyone. 

A well-balanced diet and good, consistent oral hygiene will keep your mouth young and healthy, according to Navy Capt. (Dr.) Kevin T. Prince, Chief of the Department of Dentistry at Walter Reed Bethesda. 

“That’s one of the most critical things when you talk about oral health – what you’re consuming,” the dentist of more than two decades explained. Consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet means not eating a lot of processed food and sugars, and adding more veggies and fruit to your daily diet. 

Bacteria in the mouth feeds on the sugar that we consume, Prince said. “The by-product is an acid that erodes your teeth, gums and the bone around your teeth.” Tooth decay can develop at any age; it’s not just for kids. 

Dry mouth is a common concern for older adults, but the decrease in saliva that keeps the mouth moist and maintains a healthy environment inside your mouth is not a natural part of the aging process. There are a number of causes for the condition; one common cause can be the medications that you are taking. Dry mouth can often result as a side effect for many drugs including antihistamines, antidepressants, decongestants, painkillers and diuretics. 

Gum disease is another illness that doesn’t have to be a part of growing older. It’s more habit-related than age-related, said Prince. 

Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease that causes the gums to pull away from teeth with subsequent bone loss and root exposure, which can eventually lead to tooth loss. Prince said when the roots of teeth are exposed the exposure makes us more susceptible to tooth sensitivity and root caries, or cavities along the root. 

Again, eating a healthy well-balanced diet and maintaining good oral hygiene throughout your lifetime will reduce your risk of gum disease and cavities (tooth decay), he explained. 

“That means brushing regularly, hopefully twice a day, flossing on a regular basis, and consuming a well-balanced diet low in sugar. These habits are critically important to maintaining both good oral health and overall health,” Prince said. 

The dentist said there’s no special medicine for a healthy mouth; just go back to the basics.  He suggests using a soft bristle toothbrush with a rounded-head. 

“Poor oral health and many of the diseases that manifest in the mouth have been linked through research and clinical findings, to a number of systemic diseases and conditions such as Bacterial Endocarditis, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Sjogren’s Syndrome (an auto-immune disorder that causes dry mouth and dry eyes), head and neck cancers as well as many other conditions,” said Prince. “The research continues and everyday modern medicine is making the connection between oral and systemic health.” 

Occurrence of oral cancer rises significantly for tobacco-users (smoking, dip, chew, and other smokeless tobacco) as well as those with an increased usage of alcohol, according to the dentist. 

“During a check-up, I’m looking at more than your teeth. I’m looking at your tongue, under your tongue, your inner cheeks, your hard and soft palate, your facial symmetry and more, checking for anything that does not look normal.” said Prince. “Just because you have white teeth doesn’t mean your mouth is healthy.”


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