By gum! September is National Oral Health Month

September is national Oral Health Month – time to pay extra attention to your dental routine, particularly as two of the world’s most common health problems affect the mouth - cavities (dental caries) and gum disease.

You may be surprised to learn that gum disease ranks second only to the common cold in terms of prevalence, with an estimated 90% of South Africans experiencing the problem at some point. Although you may not know you have gum disease, it can be extremely serious, having been linked to coronary heart disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes and diabetes. New research from Australia shows that women with gum disease find it harder to conceive.

How do you know if you are at risk? Although diabetics, pregnant women, the elderly and smokers are more likely to have gum disease, everyone is at risk, particularly those who don’t pay proper attention to their oral care. The most obvious sign is bleeding gums but often there are no symptoms.

“Good oral health is vital for all of us, especially if we wish to avoid the perils of gum disease, tooth loss and extensive dental work. Yet getting people to adhere to a thorough, twice daily, oral health regime, is no easy task,” said Professor Robin Seymour, a leading UK periodontologist and speaker at the 2011 South African Dental Association congress.

Dental professionals recommend a daily three-step oral care routine as the most effective option, incorporating brushing, flossing and rinsing with alcohol-free mouthwash. “Brushing is not enough as it only removes about fifty percent of bacteria and plaque in the mouth,” warns local oral hygienist Vicky Gowar.

Three steps to keep your teeth and gums in tip-top condition:

1) Brush: Brush twice a day, after breakfast and before going to bed at night. It should take at least two minutes to brush properly, cleaning each tooth with a circular motion. Hold the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to clean gently under the gum line. Don’t brush too hard as this can damage gums. Use a soft, small toothbrush and replace it at least every 3 months.

2) Clean in-between the teeth: It is absolutely essential to remove plaque from in-between the teeth where brushing does not reach, as many dental problems, especially gum disease, start in this area. Flossing is one method, but according to the 2008 Dentyl Fresh Breath Survey, more than a third of South Africans admitted to never having flossed their teeth. Dirna Grobbelaar, Ivohealth’s Oral Health Expert explains that when you don't floss, you're not cleaning 40 percent of the tooth and she deems flossing even more crucial for preventing tooth decay and periodontal disease than brushing.

3) Rinse: “Using an alcohol-free mouthwash after brushing and flossing is an excellent final step in a three-part oral health routine," says Professor Seymour. Gowar recommends using a mouthwash that contains fluoride and is the same pH balance as saliva. 

In the following clip, Dirna simplifies the quickest, most effective oral health routine to protect against gum disease and demonstrates the most effective flossing technique:

“It has been estimated that anyone with extensive periodontal (gum) disease could be at a 20% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease,” said Professor Seymour. “Caring for your teeth and gums is about far more than a sparkling smile, it’s an investment in your long-term well-being.”

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