Today is World Oral Health Day, and dental professionals worldwide are encouraging people to pay more attention to caring for their teeth and gums.
World Oral Health Day, which happens on March 20 each year, is sponsored by the World Dental Federation as “an international day to highlight the benefits of a healthy mouth and promote worldwide awareness of issues around oral health.”
According to the World Dental Federation, 90 percent of all people worldwide “will suffer from oral diseases in their lifetime,” and “many of them can be avoided.”
Those problems can range from things like cavities and gingivitis to more serious matters like tooth decay and oral cancer and are common worldwide.
Dr. Ernie Oyler Jr., president of the Chattanooga Area Dental Society, said people have a few misconceptions about oral health care that could jeopardize their overall health, if left unchecked.
Only 60 percent of the world’s population has access to oral health care, according to the World Dental Federation. Even though the people of the United States have more access to dental health care than do the people of many other countries, Oyler said dental problems remain prominent.
“What we have is an underutilization of health care and dentistry,” he said.
If things like cavities are left unchecked, Oyler said that can lead to problems like tooth decay and result in more expensive dental costs than just the cost of getting a teeth cleaning or having one cavity filled.
However, it can be cost-prohibitive for many to afford dental care. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “for every adult 19 years or older without medical insurance, there are three without dental insurance.” On top of that, only 70 percent of American adults said they’d been to a dentist within the past year.
Still, what he and many dentists worldwide are emphasizing today is many oral health problems can be prevented by starting or maintaining some habits that can be done at home.
The advice many people hear when they do visit the dentist remains the same. Oyler said everyone should brush their teeth at least twice a day and floss their teeth at least once daily.
Many dentists also recommend using mouthwash or chewing sugarless gum to keep plaque from collecting on teeth and causing cavities.
Though those are habits that can be maintained using items that can be purchased inexpensively, Oyler said there is a “surprising” number of people who visit his Cleveland dental practice with problems that are expensive to fix and occurred because they not did keep their teeth clean.
What he said doesn’t help is that people often mistake problems like bleeding gums and bad breath as being “normal.” Oyler said bleeding gums are “a sign of infection,” and bad breath is caused by excess bacteria in the mouth.
Bad dental habits can present problems for all ages, but children are especially susceptible. The World Dental Federation estimates between 60 and 90 percent of all children worldwide have cavities, and toothaches are the No. 1 cause of school absences worldwide.
Adults also miss out on daily activities because of poor oral health. The CDC reports that, in the U.S., adults “lose more than 164 million hours of work each year due to oral health problems or dental visits.”
If left completely unchecked, oral health problems caused by simply not brushing or flossing can grow into bigger ones.
“That’s preventable,” Oyler said. “Most of this is preventable.”
And that is why World Oral Health Day exists — so dentists can let people know that simple measures like brushing and flossing can prevent them needing to see each other so often.
For more information, visit www.worldoralhealthday.org.