What are the side effects of poor oral health?

Greetings again!  I’d like to discuss a topic that will help educate all the parents out there.  That topic is the potential side effects of poor oral health.  There is a misunderstanding by a portion of people that the worst case scenario for not taking care of your kid’s teeth is a mouthful of cavities.  As bad as that is, the real consequences of poor oral health can be much, much worse.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I have included an out take from a Texas publication that summarized the potential side effects very well.  I like this more than most other reports because it breaks down the side effects into three different categories:  economic, medical and social.  The report is called “Can Texas Afford Not To Care About Oral Health” and can be found at this link.  I’ve highlighted the portions that are most applicable to children.

Small girl holding toothbrush1.     Economic consequences of untreated oral disease.  Untreated oral disease has serious economic consequences. The surgeon general estimates that children with oral disease miss over 51 million hours of school each year. Missing school not only disrupts student learning, it also directly affects local school funding, since the amount of state dollars a school in Texas receives is based in part on weighted average daily attendance.  Untreated dental disease is extremely painful and affects a person’s productivity at work. According to the surgeon general, employed adults lose an estimated 164 million hours of work due to oral health problems or dental visits each year.  What’s more, adults with visible dental problems are less employable and sometimes reluctant to seek employment because they are simply ashamed to open their mouths.  Untreated oral diseases can also drive up health care costs in general. Left untreated, certain dental infections can become systemic and damage other parts of the body, resulting in the need for expensive emergency department visits, hospital stays, anesthesia and antibiotics.

2.     Medical consequences of untreated oral disease.  Failure to treat oral diseases costs more than money. It can also seriously compromise a person’s general health and quality of life. The good news is that most oral diseases are preventable. The bad news is that left untreated, dental infections can enter the bloodstream and lead to serious and occasionally life threatening conditions. In fact, the International Classification of Diseases lists more than 120 systemic diseases that come from the oral cavity.  Although the health care system often treats the mouth as separate and apart from the rest of the body, oral and general health are closely linked.  What happens in the mouth can and does affect what happens in other parts of the body. An ever-expanding body of research supports possible associations between oral disease (particularly gum disease) and medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and bacterial pneumonia.  Researchers have also found evidence of the vertical transmission of bacteria causing oral disease between caregivers and very young children.  And the mouth is increasingly being used to help identify other health conditions throughout the body, such as early stages of diabetes.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among American children, causing unnecessary pain, avoidable facial disfigurement and rarely but tragically, life-threatening infections.  Early Childhood Caries (cavities among 2- to 5-year olds, also known as ECC) are increasingly common.  According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, “not only does ECC affect teeth, but consequences of this disease may lead to more widespread health issues.”  Oral problems can also dramatically affect babies and toddlers with untreated cleft lip / palate (a congenital birth defect). Structural problems and chronic pain caused by the cleft lip/palate can make eating painful — inhibiting healthy growth and sometimes resulting in a condition known as “failure to thrive.”

3.     Social consequences of untreated oral disease.  Although difficult to quantify, the social consequences of poor oral health are also important. Children with untreated oral disease often have difficulty eating, speaking and sleeping. They may be ashamed of their appearance and have a hard time interacting with their peers. What’s more, children with pain from untreated cavities or other dental conditions may be distracted in school and unable to learn or participate. One study even found a link between oral health problems and low self-esteem, teen delinquency and adolescent pregnancy.  Adults with visible dental problems also suffer. As described earlier, many are reluctant to seek employment because of how they look or sound when they try to speak.

Wow…that may be a lot to take in.  How about some good news to make you feel better?  That’s easy.  How about three simple steps to minimize the chance of your children having to deal with any of the problems listed above?  OK…here they are:  brush, floss and see your dentist every six months.  It’s as easy as that.

Hopefully, you found this information educational.  If you’d like a discussion on any other topics, please feel free to send them to me at brentcroberts@gmail.com.

Thanks!
Dr. Brad Roberts

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