Better oral health = better overall health

Dental hygienists play a key role in health care

As preventive care specialists, dental hygienists have been at the forefront of a number of important initiatives in New Hampshire to prevent against tooth decay, including the use of sealants, especially among children and those in underserved communities. But another role of hygienists is to encourage a model of wellness that is not limited to the mouth.

Keeping your natural teeth for life is only one measure of good oral health; maintaining good physical health throughout the rest of your body is also critical, and critically connected to oral health.

One routine we encourage patients to adopt is the “Daily 4” campaign of our parent organization, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. The ADHA, in partnership with the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program, kicked the campaign off at the beginning of October with this simple message about the “Daily 4” for all families: “Brush, Floss, Rinse and Chew.”  The campaign is intended to encourage patients to do these four activities daily: brush teeth twice, floss, rinse with an antimicrobial mouthwash and chew sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after meals.

The “Daily 4” campaign is an easy, inexpensive and painless routine that can be adopted by virtually everyone.

Preventive care such as this can help protect against caries and other gum, teeth, and mouth diseases that can lead to the need for major restorative dental work.

Another preventive measure that our association promotes is the use of fluoride treatments. It’s well known that New Hampshire has an aging population. Individuals with diabetes, acid reflux and heart disease often have poor dental health. The elderly are also much more susceptible to pneumonia — which can be triggered by poor oral health care — than other age groups.

The use of chlorhexidine gluconate oral rinse for elderly patients is a simple, cost-effective and holistic approach to prevent against this. Fluoride varnish treatment can also help patients with dental sensitivity and can significantly reduce the incidence of caries.

A related area supported by our association is the use of fluoride in water supplies. While the majority of New Hampshire residents rely on private wells, some public water systems in our state are treated with fluoride, which is an excellent preventive measure. There is legislation presented at the State House every few years to ban the use of fluoride in municipal water systems, but these bills are routinely rejected because of the wealth of scientific evidence presented about the benefits of fluoride in reducing tooth decay.

The NHDHA will continue to advocate for the use of fluoride in drinking water as safe and beneficial for good oral health.

Finally, an important role of hygienists related to total physical health is carrying out basic wellness checks at the start of a routine dental cleaning appointment.  Hygienists can alert a patient if they have problems, such as elevated blood pressure or dry mouth related to medications. When hygienists incorporate patients’ overall health into the conversation, they can better engage them in discussing and accepting the importance of preventive oral health care.

Pam Delahanty is president of the NH Dental Hygienists Association.

Categories: Opinion