My husband is a dentist. It’s true. As a result there isn’t much that our girls can get away with in terms of their dental health. If they brush their teeth, he knows it. If they didn’t brush their teeth, he’d know it, too – but they always brush their teeth. When a tooth gets loose, things get exciting. He wants to pull it right away “to prevent crowding or spacing issues or <insert more clinical jargon here>”, and the girls want the tooth to stay put and come out in its own time. I play the role of UN peacekeeper. Ultimately, daddy usually has to wait for the tooth to come out on its own although on a couple of joyful occasions (for him) they have allowed him to give it a twirl after putting that “blue numbing cream” on it. However, daddy does have the distinct privilege of having a close and personal relationship with the tooth fairy, and that makes our little ones feel special and proud of their papa! Ah, they joys of being the daughter of a dentist.
The reality is that most people don’t relish going to the dentist unless it’s for a routine checkup. Let’s face it, many MANY adults do not have their teeth checked annually. What does that mean? That means that frequently the main reason people visit the dentist is because they either have a problem or have some form of pain. Patients visit their dentist in search of pain relief, and often the only way a dentist can both relieve the pain and fix the problem is by causing a little more discomfort. This is then why people associate visiting the dentist with a painful experience, and then don’t want to visit the dentist routinely for preventive care. The whole thing becomes one vicious cycle – first they avoid the dentist, then they ignore a problem, then the problem gets worse and finally they visit the dentist when there is no way to avoid the pain. Preventive care won’t prevent every problem, but it goes a long way.
One of life’s greatest lessons is that ignorance does not always equal bliss. Ignoring a dental problem, or any other health problem, generally leads to the problem worsening. There are many well publicized guidelines concerning routine screenings in healthcare. Depending on your age and gender, there are guidelines for blood analyses, urine analyses, mammographies, EKGs, colonoscopies, and much more. But people frequently forget, or just don’t know, that oral care is extremely important, too. Physicians and dentists can get a sense of a person’s general health status just by looking in a patient’s mouth. For example, a dentist can tell whether a person is anemic. What’s more, infections in a person’s gums can lead to often severe health issues. One example is that pregnant women with periodontal disease are more likely to have babies with low birth weight. There are many reasons to visit the dentist beyond fillings and white teeth.
Now, as a Latina, as a former healthcare quality professional, and as the wife of a dentist, I didn’t consider the findings of the the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), Crest® and Oral-B® national survey of oral health amongst Hispanics surprising at all. They were not unlike many of the erroneous preconceptions I’d encountered when working with other patients concerning other health conditions such as diabetes or asthma. That doesn’t mean that the findings made me happy. What it did do is bring to the foreground that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done providing education and encouragement to those members of our community who are not looking for, or do not have access to, and are not receiving, the oral healthcare that they require. It is not OK for 50% of Hispanics “to agree, either strongly or somewhat, that dental visits are not really necessary as long as you take good care of your mouth, including your teeth and gums as compared to 21% of the general population.” It is alarming that 46% of those Hispanics polled did “not know or incorrectly believe to be false: Poor oral health may be linked to other health complications, including stroke, heart disease and diabetes.” The reality is that, as important as brushing and flossing are to a person’s oral and general health, it has to be backed up with regular preventive care visits.
So, how can you help? There are many resources available to provide information on the importance of oral healthcare to Latinos. The Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), Crest® and Oral-B® have made such information available to the public. You can start helping by learning more about the study here www.crestcomplete.com/study and here http://www.crestcomplete.com/localedata/en-US/assets/pdf/Hispanics%20Oral%20Health%20Brochure.pdf for more information. Spread the word and help our community. With effort and support from within the community as well as from such organizations as the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), Crest® and Oral-B®, we can make a difference.
Remember, ignorance is not bliss. If you and I have knowledge, I believe it is our responsibility to share it with those that might benefit from it. It’s not a lot to ask. We just need to do it. Spread the word and set the example. Take your children to the dentist, get yourself to the dentist and encourage others to go. It’s important to your health.
Disclosure: I wrote this post while participating in a compensated campaign with ”http://www.pg.com” Procter & Gamble and “http://www.latinamombloggers.com” Latina Mom Bloggers. However, all opinions expressed are my own.