What is Oral Health?
Oral health means being free from mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit our capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking, and our overall wellbeing.
In our lifetime, we grow 2 sets of teeth. One set (“primary”) as babies and children (this set can start growing from as early as 6 months and continue up until around 33 months). This first set is shed and replaced throughout childhood by our second set (“permanent”), between the ages of around 6 and 12. This second set of teeth should last us our whole life.
Good oral hygiene is all about keeping your mouth, gums and teeth clean and healthy and good lifestyle behaviours that help maintain your oral health. There are also many other ways you can ensure your teeth last a lifetime! These are explored below.
Did you know that your oral health can offer clues about your overall health — or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body? Good oral health is essential for your general health and quality of life, so be sure to look after your teeth, tongue and mouth!
Oral Health in Fiji
In Fiji, oral health is of great importance. There is good access for people to the right tools for good oral health, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste with fluoride and the right, healthy foods that are good for strong teeth, however in the National Oral Health survey of 2004,88% of 6 year olds in Fiji showed signs of dental caries (tooth decay) in their primary teeth and 85% have progressed dental caries (tooth decay) without any treatment.
There are many reasons that may have created such high statistics, some common problems in Fiji are;
- Limited access to regular, professional dental care
- Caregivers are not as knowledgeable about oral health for their children.
- Steps for good oral health (below) not be carried out regularly enough.
- Children experiencing pain from tooth decay not recognising it or ignoring it, allowing it to progress.
- Fear of dental services and delay in seeking treatment, which allows problems to get worse.
Simple steps for good oral health
By following these simple steps each day, you are on your way to ensuring good oral health and healthy teeth that last a lifetime. As parents, you should always make sure you help your children form good oral health habits from an early age.
Set the example by making sure they follow these steps as you do yourself.
- Use a soft toothbrush
- Use the right sized toothbrush (small for children, large for adults)
- Use a pea-size amount of fluoridetoothpaste (Children 2-5 Years use a half pea-size)
- Brush at least 2 times per day (In the morning and before sleeping at night)
- Avoid rinsing after brushing (for at least 20 minutes)
- Visit the dentist yearly for a check up on your oral health.
Healthy Teeth at every age
In Fiji, there are some important goals to know for the healthy development your and your children’s teeth. These are;
5 YEARS OLD: all children to have 20 healthy primary teeth at the age of 5 years.
6-12 YEARS OLD: the years of mixed teeth. Children to enjoy the natural fall process of all 20 primary teeth- painless and bloodless process.
13-19 YEARS OLD: teenage years. Teenagers to have 28 healthy permanent teeth and getting ready for wisdom teeth.
17-21 YEARS OLD: wisdom teeth. You may experience growth of wisdom teeth (1 – 4) and require removal of them. Note: not everyone will get wisdom teeth.
ADULTS: To enjoy all the functions of a healthy set of 28 permanent teeth, chewing, eating, healthy gums and appearance.
Prevention of bad oral health
There are some important behaviours that you should avoid to ensure you do not risk your oral health. These behaviours that are bad for your oral health are also bad for your whole body, so there is many good reasons to refrain from them.
- Quit Smoking, this will reduce your risk of oral (mouth and throat) cancer, periodontal disease and tooth loss.
- Decrease or cut out Alcohol. This will also reduce your risk of the above.
- Reduce or cut sugar intake and maintain a healthy and balanced diet of nutritional and natural foods, this can prevent tooth decay and early tooth loss.
- Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for your oral health, your overall health and can also protect against oral cancer.
- Practice good oral hygiene. By following the steps above, you are taking the best care of your mouth, teeth and gums. (Not to mention your breath!)
- When playing sport or working in a dangerous environment, reduce your risk of facial injuries by wearing oral or mouth protection.
- Use toothpaste with fluoride. Low levels of fluoride results in fewer dental cavities for both children and adults.
Good Nutrition for your teeth
What you put into your mouth plays a big part in how healthy your teeth are. While some foods cause your teeth to decay, others keep them strong and healthy. Funnily enough, the foods that are good for your teeth are part of a healthy and balanced diet, while foods that are bad for your teeth also put you at risk of non- communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Foods that protect you from tooth decay: fruits and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, beans, legumes,milk and dairy products.
Foods that cause tooth decay: High sugar foods such as sweets, chocolates, cakes, table sugar, juice, soft drinks, jams and alcohol. These foods erode the enamel, which normally protects your teeth, leading to decay, fillings and extractions (tooth loss). If you are going to have sugary foods try to keep them as treat foods, and have them with meals rather than snacks. Eating them as snacks increases the risk of tooth decay even more.
Healthy Teeth= Healthy Heart
New research has found that gum disease, caused by poor dental hygiene, increases people’s risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. All the more reason to brush up and balance-up your diet.
Risks of Bad Oral Health
Like many areas of the body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria — most of them harmless. Normally the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Other lifestyle factors (mentioned above) can also contribute to problems with oral health.The most common oral diseases are dental cavities, periodontal (gum) disease, oral cancer, oral infectious diseases, trauma from injuries, and hereditary lesions.
Oral health for your child or baby
If you are pregnant;
During pregnancy, ensure you get the recommended prenatal care and eat a healthy diet. Your diet should include folic acid to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord and possibly cleft lip/palate.
For your infant-toddler;
Once your baby is born, follow these guidelines for good oral health;
- Birth (no teeth): check baby’s mouth; wipe gums and tongue with a damp clean cloth.
- 6 months (2-4 teeth): wipe gums, teeth and tongue daily with a clean, damp cloth
- 12 months (6-8 teeth): brush your child’s teeth with a small, soft toothbrush. First dental visit by age 1.
- 18 months (12-14 teeth)
- 2 years: Half a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste on toothbrush when brushing
- 3 years:20 teeth
Remember, you can take your child to the dentist for a check up at any time and it is good to get regular check ups.
For your child;
Here are some things you can do to ensure good oral health for your child:
- Encourage your children to eat regular nutritious meals and avoid frequent between-meal snacking.
- Protect your child’s teeth with fluoride.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste. (If your child is less than 7 years old, put only a half pea-sized amount on their toothbrush.)
- If your drinking water is not fluoridated, talk to a dentist or physician about the best way to protect your child’s teeth. NOTE: All Fiji municipality water supplies have low levels of fluoridation to help with prevention of tooth decay.