With so much focus on obesity, HIV/AIDS, heart disease and cancer, the state of our oral health gets left out of the conversation and it shouldn't, because this "silent epidemic" is deeply impacting our health. And the stats are jarring.
According to the Healthy People 2010 baseline data:
— 26 percent of African-American children aged 2 to 4 have experienced dental care for their primary teeth, compared to 20 percent for whites, in 2004.
— African-American children are 40 percent less likely to have preventive dental sealants than do their white classmates.
— The percentage of people of all ages who had untreated cavities was substantially higher for African-Americans than for whites.
— Among adults aged 35 to 44 years, 40 percent of African-Americans as compared to 23 percent of whites have tooth decay.
— African-Americans are more likely than whites to have teeth extracted.
— Higher levels of gingivitis and periodontal loss of attachment were also seen in African-Americans as compared to whites.
— A greater percentage of African-Americans 18 years and older have missing teeth when compared whites.
— African-American males have the highest incidence rate of oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers in the United States compared with women and other racial/ethnic groups.
— In 2004, 30 percent of African-Americans had annual dental visits as compared to 50 percent of the white population.
Poor dental care does more than affect our breath; they can impact our overall health and contribute or affect the following:
— Endocarditis. This infection of the inner lining of your heart can be caused by bacteria from gum disease that enters your bloodstream.
— Cardiovascular disease. Past studies have found that severe gum disease may be linked to heart disease, clogged arteries and strokes.
— Pregnancy and birth. Gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
— Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body's resistance to infection—putting the gums at risk.
— HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
— Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis—which causes bones to become weak and brittle—may be associated with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
Steps to good oral hygiene include:
— Brushing your teeth at least twice daily
— Flossing your teeth daily
— Replacing your toothbrush at least every three months
— Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacks. If sticky foods are eaten, brush your teeth soon afterwards.
— Check with your dentist about use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth.
— Ask your dentist about dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) to protect them from decay.
— Stop smoking and reduce the amount of alcohol you consume—they can contribute to many oral diseases.
— Getting regular dental checkups, as recommended by your dentist.
To learn more read the report Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General.
(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)