Minister of Health Zane De Silva with staff from the Department of Health promoting Oral Health Month to early morning commuters on Crow Lane on Tuesday. *Photo supplied
Minister of Health Zane De Silva with staff from the Department of Health promoting Oral Health Month to early morning commuters on Crow Lane on Tuesday. *Photo supplied

TUESDAY, FEB. 7: The Department of Health would like to announce that February is Oral Health Month and that the theme this year is "Gateway to Health".

Throughout February the Department of Health has organized several events to communicate with both professionals and the public regarding the role that oral health plays in the outcome of certain systemic diseases. Research in recent years has identified links between poor oral health and higher risks of bacterial pneumonia, heart attack, pre-term birth and poor diabetes control.

The emphasis for the month highlights the role of the bacterial biofilm that exists in periodontal disease and how it may increase one's risk of these conditions. Periodontal disease is caused by a mixture of bacteria that build up due to oral health and hygiene management issues and eating habits.

Gingivitis is the initial presentation where only the gingivae (or ‘the gums’) are affected. Eventually, if this is not adequately managed the disease progresses on to cause bone destruction and the teeth lose their support. They become painful and mobile and often require extraction.

Senior Dental Officer Dr. Celia Nzabalinda said: “Periodontal disease is like a festering wound and poor management can cause bactermia (bacteria in the blood). The bactermia increases the risks for individuals with specific chronic diseases. For example, bacteria that are breathed into the lungs cause increased risk of bacterial pneumonia. In short, poor oral health often leads to poor nutrition and further health risks and our goal at the Department of Health is to emphasize the importance and cost effectiveness of appropriate oral care and education for at risk individuals.”

While many of Bermuda’s seniors are retaining their teeth throughout life there is still a significant problem with periodontal disease.

The oral health of Bermuda’s young people is very good when compared with international statistics. Some of the main reasons for this are the emphasis that is placed on oral health education, the use of fluoride and sealants, and the school nutrition policy. In 2010 the average 12 year old in Bermuda had 0.58 decayed missing or filled teeth. This statistic is already below the WHO 2020 goal for a maximum decay level of 1 tooth.

“I am encouraged by the findings which state that Bermuda’s youth have an impressively low rate of tooth decay and cavities per individual,” said Minister De Silva. “However, it is still important to stress the need for regular dental check-ups and proper dental health practices such as flossing or using a water pick.  In addition, I want to take this opportunity to praise the Department of Health for their efforts in promoting February as Oral Health Awareness Month.”

To keep the cavities at bay, Dr. Nzabalinda says most dental practices carry out a dental cleaning every six months and that often a dental examination is done at one of these visits on a yearly basis.

She explained: “Some individuals may need to be checked more often if they have a condition that makes them prone to dental problems such as gum disease.  Children are recommended to begin checkups by their first birthday and to continue every six months.”

She also recommends brushing at least twice a day every day for at least two minutes each time as well as using a tongue scraper daily and floss daily.

As far as the ‘best’ toothpaste goes, she recommends a toothpaste that contains fluoride and that is approved by the American Dental Association.  For toothbrushes, she advocates a soft-bristled brush, which you should change roughly every three months.

On February 18th and 19th there will be free oral screenings and information offered by private sector partners at the Hamilton Health Centre, located at 67 Victoria Street, from 10am until 2pm.