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Oral Health

floss, listerine, toothpaste, and toothbrush on a blue background with the ICHC logo

Let's talk about oral health!

 

In this post:

 

Introduction

You know the saying, “You are what you eat,” or maybe, “the eyes are the window to the soul?” This month’s educational blog post is somewhere between those, only much more literal and therefore probably more boring. Sorry.

Anyway, today’s topic:

Your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body.

Sounds a bit like flowery metaphorical nonsense, but like I said, this is actually a pretty literal statement. Food, liquid, and air all enter your body through your mouth, dragging anything that might be in your mouth along with them as they pass through your digestive, respiratory, urinary, or even reproductive systems. If your mouth is unhealthy and has bacteria growing where or how it shouldn’t, those bacteria can get swept up and spread around to places where they can cause a lot more trouble. The health of your mouth can contribute to multiple diseases and conditions, including heart disease, pregnancy and birth complications, and pneumonia.

 

What to look out for

So what is a healthy mouth, and what is an unhealthy mouth?

A healthy mouth has pink, firm gums that don’t bleed easily, and no cavities (or caries, as they are also called). Any tooth decay or infection has been removed and any teeth that may have had disease are filled, sealed, or crowned, or removed if beyond repair. You don’t have any lesions or abrasions on the inside of your lips, your tongue, or your gums.

An unhealthy mouth can have any number of oral health conditions, such as caries, gum disease, or bleeding. Your gums might be pale or bleed easily when brushing or flossing, and you might get frequent canker sores or mouth ulcers, or you might have untreated cavities or soft spots on your teeth. Sometimes you have tooth pain or jaw pain, or are sensitive to heat or cold or sugar.

This isn’t, of course, to say that you can’t have an otherwise healthy mouth but occasionally bite the dickens out of your tongue, bleed for a bit, and eventually go about your business. We’ve all been there, and it’s not a cause for panic. These are just general guidelines so you know what to look for if you’re wondering whether you should make changes in your oral health or go see a dentist.

Additionally, if you have chronic disease such as HIV, diabetes, or heart disease, you may need to see a dentist more often than most people. These conditions, and the medications that treat them, can cause complications for your oral health that in turn increase your risk of complications in your chronic disease. Diabetes, for example, can cause dry mouth, which increases tooth decay and gum disease, which can increase blood sugar and worsen diabetes. Regular cleanings with your dentist can help improve gum disease and blood sugar control.

Last, if you’re pregnant, you should consider seeing a dentist. Regular exams are very important during pregnancy and immediately after birth, as bacteria in your mouth can be passed along to your child. In fact, studies show that the risk for tooth decay in children is much higher when their mothers have tooth or gum disease. Pregnancy can also make you more prone to gum disease. It is perfectly safe to have regular dental exams during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, but you should tell your dentist you are pregnant so they can use appropriate precautions for any procedures or x-rays that may need to be done.

 

Routine Maintenance of Oral Health

Three important things you can do to maintain a healthy mouth are:

If you do all of those things, great! You probably already get a gold star from your dentist. Some of the other things you can do to maintain the health of your mouth include quitting smoking or using any tobacco products, keeping any chronic diseases like diabetes under good control, and limiting your consumption of alcohol.

Children’s Oral Health

If you’re a parent, you’re busy. So here’s a quick-and-dirty rundown of what you should do to take care of your kids’ oral health.

Babies

 

Children

 

Here’s the bad news – the Fairbanks North Star Borough and Denali Borough area water utility systems don’t contain the recommended amounts of fluoride (except on the Eielson Air Force Base). This means you may need to supplement from other sources. Some baby formula contains Fluoride, so if you’re using formula, make sure you check and tell your dentist. For kids, you may need to ask your dentist, pediatrician, or family medicine provider if your child needs supplements.

It's extra important to set your children up for success with their oral health care by teaching healthy habits at a very young age. Kids with oral health problems actually miss more school and get lower grades than kids who don’t, and it’s so easy to prevent cavities!

 

Where can I get affordable dental care?

In the state of Alaska, Medicaid does include dental benefits – especially for children! Lots of dental providers in Fairbanks accept Medicaid, including us at ICHC.

If you don’t have Medicaid, you have other options for affordable dental care. ICHC offers a sliding fee discount based on your household size and income in our dental program. You can call us at 907-455-4567, option 1, to schedule an appointment. If you sign up for the slide but still can’t afford care with us, talk to us about our patient care fund to help with your dental costs!

Last, if you have a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc, you may be eligible for coverage of your dental services under the Alaska Mental Health Trust dental assistance program, which we at ICHC are proud to provide for you in the Fairbanks area. Call us for an appointment!  

Not in Fairbanks or the Denali Borough? Dial 211 on your phone to reach the Alaska helpline for more information about affordable dental resources near you!

Author
ICHC snowflake logo The Quality Team @ ICHC The Quality department at ICHC brings you helpful information about your healthcare in Fairbanks and Healy, AK. We are proudly committed to ensuring high-quality "healthcare with a heart!"

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