The New Year

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Emphasize oral hygiene in the year ahead

Of all the plans people make at the dawn of a new year, getting healthier is often at the top of the list. Although many individuals are concerned about shedding a few pound, there are many other ways to focus on health in the upcoming months, including paying more attention to dental hygiene. Proper dental care can not only keep a smile bright, it can affect other areas of the body.

Fluoride Benefits

One of the keys to oral health is the use of fluoride to prevent dental caries.  In fact, many health professionals will say that exposure to fluoride, whether through use of toothpaste or fluoridated water supplies, is probably the most effective cavity-prevention treatment available. Fluoride helps the teeth in a number of ways.

Fluoride can promote tooth remineralization. This means it attracts other minerals, particularly calcium, to the areas of the teeth where tooth decay can form, helping to strengthen teeth. Fluoride also helps to make teeth more resistant to decay. New tooth mineral created when fluoride is present helps to make teeth harder, making it more difficult for acids and bacteria to penetrate the enamel of the teeth and cause damage.

Another advantage is that fluoride helps to inhibit acid creation. Dental researchers have found that fluoride can inhibit bacteria living in the mouth. That's an important finding, as such bacteria can contribute to the formation of damage-causing acids that are notorious for wearing down tooth enamel, causing spots for more bacteria to congregate and form cavities.

According to the American Dental Association, individuals who find themselves prone to cavities or whose dentists have deemed them at elevated risk for developing cavities may benefit from fluoride application beyond the norm. This may include prescription fluoride applied directly to the teeth at home or procedures where dentists apply the fluoride in their offices.

Recent clinical recommendations from a multi-disciplinary expert panel convened by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs suggest that topical fluoride, used in conjunction with drinking optimally fluoridated water and using toothpaste with fluoride, can prevent tooth decay. These clinical recommendations cover professionally applied and prescription-strength, home-use topical fluoride agents for cavity prevention.

The panel concluded that additional research is needed, but recommended the following products for patients at elevated risk of developing cavities.

* Professionally-applied 2.26 percent fluoride varnish or a 1.23 percent fluoride gel every 3-6 months.

* Home-use prescription-strength 0.5 percent fluoride gel or paste or 0.09 percent fluoride mouth rinse (for patients six years old or older).

* A 2.26 percent professionally-applied fluoride varnish every three to six months for children younger than six years old.

Application of additional fluoride should not replace daily oral hygiene habits. It is still vital to brush twice a day, floss daily, eat a balanced diet, and visit the dentist regularly for checkups.

Heart disease and oral health

The millions of bacteria that proliferate inside of the mouth and contribute to dental caries also can affect other areas of the body. Evidence suggests the same bacteria that can cause plaque and gum disease may lead to cardiovascular problems. According to information from Harvard Medical School, several species of bacteria that cause periodontitis have been found in the atherosclerotic plaque in arteries in the heart and elsewhere. This plaque can lead to heart attack.

Although research is ongoing, there is reason to believe that oral bacteria could also harm blood vessels or cause blood clots by releasing toxins that resemble proteins found in artery walls or the bloodstream. When the body's immune system responds to these toxins, blood clots may form more easily. Some evidence also points to a correlation between inflammation in the mouth and inflammation in the body.

With the  new year upon us, now may be the ideal time for men and women to take inventory of their personal health. Schedule a physical examination with a doctor, visit an optometrist or opthalmologist for an eye exam and remember to visit the dentist for a cleaning, checkup and a possible fluoride treatment to protect the mouth and body.