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Proper dental care can prevent disease

  • Published
  • By J.D. Levite
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
More than fighting bad breath or preventing gingivitis, research shows that dental health also contributes to the overall well-being of Airmen.

Good dental care includes an annual checkup, brushing and flossing, drinking fluoridated water and making sure everyone in the family is covered by dental insurance.

The American Dental Association has supported community water fluoridation since the policy was first introduced in 1950, and they continue to advocate for it across the country.

“Fluoride is integrated into kids’ enamel as they develop new teeth,” said Lt. Col. Aida Soliván-Ortiz, a dental public health specialist for the 59th Dental Group, and consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General. “We can provide coverage for them as they grow up and are in different stages of development. For adults, it gives additional defense against cavities as well.”

She added fluoride in the water is an important public health intervention that’s cheap and should be available to everyone.  In 2014, 74.4% of the U.S. population on public water systems had access to fluoridated water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has a site you can visit to check if your water has fluoride or not, and there’s a site to see if the bottled water you drink does as well.

Soliván-Ortiz said there’s still a strong emphasis on daily flossing from the ADA as well. She said there’s misinformation circulating around that took the USDA’s updated guidelines out of context, but flossing is still an important part of an adequate oral hygiene routine.

She said, “If you leave the plaque and debris lodged between your teeth it could lead to gingival inflammation and, eventually, into periodontal disease. Removing that plaque daily is a defense against disease.”

Brushing can also prevent disease by removing plague that bacteria feed off of.  Soliván-Ortiz said the ADA’s recommendation for brushing is “Two minutes, twice a day.”

“Prevention is the key word. We’re preventing disease,” she said. “Let’s live longer with the teeth we’re given and avoid having any unnecessary restorative treatments. When you prevent dental disease, you’re also preventing the costs associated with restorations, surgery, extraction, and implants. The longer people can retain their own teeth, the better.”

The last thing she mentioned is TRICARE Dental, which is fairly inexpensive and available for the dependents of active duty members even though many aren’t enrolled.

Soliván-Ortiz recommends all Airmen and their families schedule an appointment with a dental provider so they can get important information specific to their own personal dental history. “Get an informed, evidence-based opinion from dental providers.”