Far too often, our oral health takes a back seat in our quest for overall wellbeing. It’s something many of us take for granted, but when we neglect our oral hygiene, the effects can be serious.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that 30 per cent of adults aged 25-44 have untreated tooth decay. In addition, with the hectic rush of daily life, some 3 in 10 of us admit to only brushing our teeth once a day, as reported by the Australian Dental Association (ADA).
The ADA has gone as far to call tooth decay “Australia’s most prevalent health condition”, a state of affairs made all the more concerning when you take into account that 90 per cent of dental diseases are considered to be preventable.
“It’s clear from an aesthetics point of view, healthy teeth are important to us but it’s concerning that so many Australians accept they or their children will at some point be affected by decay,” says the ADA’s Dr Peter Alldritt. “This doesn’t have to be the case and it certainly shouldn’t make people complacent about their teeth.”
With Dental Health Month running during the month of August, there’s no time like the present to take a closer look at your oral hygiene and what you can do to keep your mouth in good condition.
How can I take care of my dental health at work?
Dental problems can not only result in pain or discomfort, but also having to take precious time off work. Quite a lot of time, it would seem, with some 1 million days of work thought to be lost each year due to poor dental health, according to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, a social policy research centre who works in conjunction with the University of Melbourne.
You may think that there isn’t a whole lot you can do once you leave the house for work in the morning, but you’d be wrong. While it may not be possible to brush your teeth in between meetings, there are plenty of other steps you can take to support your dental health.
A lot of the damage that can be done over the course of your working day is down to your choice in food and beverages, with sugary, highly acidic foods wreaking havoc on your tooth enamel.
Take care to look at the nutritional information on the back of your food – you might be surprised at the amount of hidden sugars, even in savoury food or “healthy” drinks and fruit smoothies.
It’s a good idea to keep a pack of sugar free gum on hand throughout the day, recommended by the ADA as a good method of encouraging the production of saliva which can protect our teeth from decay.
What can I eat and drink to support my oral health?
“The number one cause of tooth decay is consumption of sugary foods and drinks on a regular basis,” says Dr Alldritt. “The bacteria in your mouth convert sugars into acids. Over time, acids eat away at the surface of a tooth, attacking the enamel, weakening the tooth and causing decay in the form of holes or cavities.”
The ADA recommends restricting the amount of sugary or acidic foods in your diet, especially between meals – so perhaps you should reconsider that mid-morning hazelnut latte and muffin.
In addition, drinking sugared beverages through a straw can help to reduce your teeth’s exposure to acidic substances. However, the best drink for your oral and general health is of course water. Make sure that you’re drinking plenty throughout the day, especially after eating lunch – as water can help to neutralise the mouth’s acidity after eating sugary foods.
Nutrition Australia lists calcium-rich dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt as playing an important role in supporting dental health and preventing tooth decay.
How can I minimise the effects of bad breath?
Bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis, isn’t something anyone wants when interacting with colleagues. Often the symptoms are amplified after eating or drinking, and it can cause some people to become self-conscious around others.
As we all know, some foods are more odorous than others, such as onions or garlic, whose effect on the breath fades. If you’re caught without a breath mint, research from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has found that green tea can help to combat halitosis due to the polyphenols found in the beverage.
There can be many different causes for halitosis, with many of us experiencing odorous breath from time to time – the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel (BHC) estimates that 2.4 per cent of Australian adults suffer from it.
The BHC recommends keeping well hydrated as well as maintaining a good oral hygiene routine as ways to combat bad breath, in addition to using your toothbrush to gently brush your tongue when you brush your teeth.
It is advisable to see your dentist if you have been experiencing recurrent episodes of bad breath, as it may need special treatment, or be a symptom of another health condition such as xerostomia (dry mouth).
What else can I do ensure good dental health?
To keep your teeth in good condition even at the office, one of the most important things to do is to maintain good oral hygiene habits at home. Thorough brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing twice daily is a routine which should form the foundation of your oral health.
Sometimes overlooked, flossing is not only for those times when you have something stuck in between your teeth – it’s integral to removing any bacteria from the gaps where your toothbrush can’t quite reach. Clearing the bacteria that accumulates on your teeth throughout the day is incredibly important in the fight against plaque, which can lead to more serious conditions such as tooth decay or gum disease.
In addition, you should plan to see your local dentist at least once every six months. This will allow your dentist to keep a close eye out for any emerging issues – early identification is vital for addressing any dental problems before they can become more serious.