Dental health is one of the most important - and neglected - areas of healthcare, and more than 40,000 Australians are hospitalised each year because of preventable dental conditions such as cavities, gum disease and tooth loss.
"We're aware of the actions we need to take to keep our bodies fit and healthy, but we tend to neglect our teeth, gums and mouths without realising the long term damage we are causing," says Dr Peter Alldritt, Chairman of the Australian Dental Association's (ADA) Oral Health Committee.
"It's a costly and easily avoidable mistake as, just like most freestyle conditions, prevention by way of diet, good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist is all it takes in most instances to prevent tooth decay, erosion and gum disease."
Importantly, dental health can also be an indicator of general health.
"Just like we visit a GP for a health check, or see a personal trainer to keep in shape, regular visits to the dentist provide a great source of information, helpful advice and preventive lifestyle actions to avoid long term health concerns."
Dr Alldritt says dental decay is the most common chronic disease in Australia and is also highest on the list of avoidable hospital admissions, costing the economy approximately $2 billion annually in direct treatment costs and lost productivity. Dental conditions are also the second most expensive health treatment after cardiovascular disease.
Here are six top dental health tips for the whole family.
1. Start dental care early, brush baby's teeth with a fluoride toothpaste as soon as they appear in the mouth. Do not habitually allow infants to fall asleep while drinking from a bottle of milk, formula, juice or sweetened drink. These sweet liquids pool around the baby's teeth for long periods of time and can lead to "baby bottle tooth decay".
2. Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. And if possible, clean between the teeth with dental floss or toothpicks once a day. Do not eat after cleaning teeth at bedtime as salivary flow decreases as we sleep.
3. Visit the dentist about every 6 months for a check-up. And seek dentist's advice before using aesthetic products (eg. teeth whiteners) that could have a deleterious effect on the teeth.
4. Do not nibble food or sip drinks continuously. Allow time between eating occasions for saliva to neutralise acids and repair the teeth.
5. People at high risk from tooth wear and erosion should take special precautions, such as:
- decrease frequency and contact with acidic foods and drinks;
- avoid brushing teeth immediately after consuming acidic foods, drinks, citrus fruits and juices. This allows time for remineralisation to occur.
6. Fluoride mouthwashes and sugar-free chewing gum may be useful after taking acidic food or drinks as they encourage remineralisation. Sugar-free chewing gum is "tooth-friendly" as it helps increase saliva flow and clears food debris from the mouth.
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