Watch your mouth

Oral health is not only important to your appearance and sense of well-being, but also to your overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to many serious conditions, such as diabetes and respiratory disease, and untreated cavities can be painful and lead to serious infections.

Poor oral health has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioral and developmental problems in children. It can also affect your ability to chew and digest food properly. Researchers are now examining links between poor oral health and heart disease.

Good nutrition is important to help build strong teeth and gums that can resist disease and promote healing. A healthy diet rich in natural vitamins, antioxidants and protein and low in sugar is critical to better oral health.

Smoking is a major risk factor for oral and dental disease, including oral cancer. Tobacco smoke is very harmful to gum tissues and other tissues in your mouth. Toxins in smoke can cause oral cancer and also damage the bone around your teeth, a major cause of tooth loss. In fact, smoking and tobacco products that are chewed or held in the mouth are one of the biggest risk factors for gum disease and perhaps the biggest risk factor for oral cancer.

How to reduce oral health risks

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums, which may also affect the bone supporting the teeth. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly builds up, thickens and hardens on the teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, this plaque can harden into tartar and may contribute to infections in the gums. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth and an increased risk of more serious illnesses, such as respiratory disease.

The bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions. It creates risks for heart patients, too, as it can travel through the bloodstream and get lodged in narrow arteries, contributing to heart attacks. There also is a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications.

To maintain good oral health, you should take the following steps:

  • Brush and floss your teeth daily. Using an antimicrobial mouth rinse as well can help to reduce the bacteria in your mouth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly to have your mouth examined. See a dental professional immediately if you notice any problems.
  • Eat a healthy diet, avoid sugar when possible, and avoid drinking or eating near bedtime, especially after brushing.
  • Do not smoke. If you do smoke, make sure to visit your dental professional regularly.
  • If you are pregnant, be sure to eat healthy foods and maintain good oral health.
  • Be sure your children’s teeth are brushed regularly. They should see a pediatric dentist as early as possible.

Good oral health plays a critical role in helping maintain your overall wellness. See your dentist regularly; watch what you eat; and pay attention to what your mouth is telling you!

————————————————————————

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Love what you eat, even if you can’t eat what you love

We all love to eat and meals are typically pleasurable experiences. But for many of us meals can also cause discomfort. Our digestive system is an intensely elaborate and complicated system and when it works perfectly, we don’t give it a second thought. But when it doesn’t, life is far less pleasant.

Unless you have a chronic condition, food allergy, or gastro-intestinal (GI) problem, there are a variety of steps we can take to help improve the odds that our digestive systems won’t be talking back to us on a regular basis. Reasonable portions and balanced diets high in fruits, vegetables, and natural fibers will keep things flowing along more smoothly. Drinking plenty of water will keep us hydrated and help our bodies process solids. Too much greasy, spicy, or fried foods are harder to digest, and may cause discomfort, bloating or gas. Also, certain foods, like corn and nuts, are harder for some people to process, and others lack the enzymes to break down dairy products, or can’t stomach the glutens found in wheat.

Many people also suffer from a series of GI-related ailments that fall into the general category called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramping, changes in bowel movements, and other symptoms. IBS is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Unlike those diseases, the structure of the bowel for is normal for those with IBS.

IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins in the teen years or early adulthood. It is twice as common in women as in men. About one in six Americans have symptoms of IBS. It is the most common intestinal problem that causes patients to be referred to a bowel specialist (gastroenterologist).

IBS symptoms

IBS symptoms range from mild to severe, and are different from person to person. The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, fullness, gas and bloating that have been present for at least three days a month for the last three months.

People with IBS may switch between constipation and diarrhea, or mostly have one or the other. For some people, the symptoms may get worse for a few weeks or a month, and then decrease for a while. For other people, symptoms are present most of the time. People with IBS may lose their appetite, as well.

Eating a lactose-free diet for two weeks may help the doctor check for a possible lactase deficiency, which represents your body’s inability to break down dairy products.

There is no test to diagnose IBS. Blood and stool culture tests may be done to rule out problems such as anemia and gluten intolerance. Some patients will be given a colonoscopy to rule out other serious problems such as colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. You may need this test if you have:

  • Symptoms that began later in life (over age 50)
  • Symptoms such as weight loss or bloody stools
  • Abnormal blood tests (such as a low blood count)
  • A family history of GI problems or colon cancer

Treatment can relieve symptoms

Lifestyle changes can help in some cases of IBS. For example, regular exercise and improved sleep habits may reduce anxiety and help relieve bowel symptoms. Dietary changes can be helpful, too. However, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS, because the condition differs for each person. The following changes may help:

  • Avoid foods and drinks that stimulate the intestines (such as caffeine, tea, or colas)
  • Avoid large meals
  • Increase fiber in the diet (this may improve constipation but make bloating worse)

Irritable bowel syndrome may be a lifelong condition. For some people, symptoms are disabling and reduce the ability to work, travel, and attend social events. Symptoms can often be improved or relieved through treatment, but you should talk with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications. Fortunately, IBS does not cause permanent harm to the intestines, and it does not lead to a serious disease.

—————————————————————

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Excuse me while I sneeze, and sneeze and sneeze

While most of us look forward to the warmer weather, allergy sufferers know that spring brings more than brightly colored flowers and perennial blooms. For all its beauty, this is a difficult time of year for millions of Americans, and the severity of allergy season can vary according to where you live, the weather, indoor contaminants and many other elements.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by molds releasing spores into the air or by trees, grasses, and weeds releasing their pollens. Outdoor molds are very common, especially after a spring thaw. They are found in soil, some mulches, fallen leaves, and rotting wood. Everybody is exposed to mold and pollen, but only some people develop allergies. In these people, the immune system, which protects us from invaders like viruses and bacteria, reacts to a normally harmless substance called an allergen (allergy-causing compound). Specialized immune cells called mast cells and basophils then release chemicals like histamine that lead to the symptoms of allergy: sneezing, coughing, a runny or clogged nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat.

Nasal allergy triggers can be found both indoors and outdoors, and can be year-round or seasonal. It’s important to be aware of the times of day, seasons, places, and situations where your nasal allergy symptoms begin or worsen. If you can identify your triggers, and create a plan for avoiding them when possible, you may be able to minimize symptoms. Here are a few points to remember:

  • You may be reacting to more than one type of allergen. For example, having nasal allergies to both trees and grass can make your symptoms worse during the spring and summer, when both of these pollens are high.
  • Molds grow in dark, wet places and can disperse spores into the air if you rake or disturb the area where they’ve settled.
  • People with indoor nasal allergies can be bothered by outdoor nasal allergies as well. You may need ongoing treatment to help relieve indoor nasal allergy symptoms.

If avoidance doesn’t work, allergies can often be controlled with medications. The first choice is an antihistamine, which counters the effects of histamine. Steroid nasal sprays can reduce mucus secretion and nasal swelling. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that the combination of antihistamines and nasal steroids is very effective in those with moderate or severe symptoms of allergic rhinitis. However, always consult with your physician before taking even over-the-counter medicines for allergies, as they may conflict with other medications or aggravate symptoms of other illnesses or chronic conditions.

Another potential solution is cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that inhibits the release of chemicals like histamine from mast cells. But you must start taking it several days before an allergic reaction begins, which is not always practical, and its use can be habit forming. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is an option if the exact cause of your allergies can be pinpointed. Immunotherapy involves a long series of injections, but it can significantly reduce symptoms and medication needs.

Your health care provider can help you pinpoint what you are allergic to, and tell you the best way to treat your nasal allergy symptoms. Provide detailed information about your lifestyle and habits to your healthcare provider. It will help them provide you with an appropriate treatment plan for relieving your symptoms.

For allergy information from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, visit www.niaid.nih.gov/publications/allergies.htm. For prevention strategies from NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, visit www.niehs.nih.gov/airborne/prevent/intro.html.

—————————————————————-

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Managing anger and conflict in the workplace

Workplace violence and sexual harassment typically receive more media attention than anger and hostility, but these very human reactions often manifest themselves in less dramatic ways that can still have a significantly negative impact on a business. Insidious by nature, personal aggression or the failure to deal effectively with conflict at work can contribute toward an unhealthy work environment marked by poor communication, sagging morale, excessive employee absenteeism or turnover, and customer service problems.

Business owners and managers unable to control their own anger or frustration will likely find that the business suffers. Likewise, organizations that fail to recognize and deal effectively with workplace conflict or anger may end up with serious problems. Even if you believe your company features a positive work environment and staff that enjoys their jobs and relates to one another in a professional manner, conflict is certain to arise from time to time. One employee who lashes out inappropriately can cause a decline in a company’s general morale, can cause friction with colleagues, and may cause enough distraction that productivity declines or safety is compromised. And the impact on customer service, your organization’s lifeblood, can be dramatic.

Recognizing potential conflict

With so many factors that can contribute to workplace anger and frustration, how do you create the healthiest possible work environment?  It begins with awareness and sensitivity to employee behavior, both verbal and nonverbal, so you can address the causes for that anger and hopefully head off an incident before it occurs.

Here are behaviors that may signal a need for intervention:

  • Sarcastic, irritable, or moody behavior
  • Apathetic and/or inconsistent work performance
  • Prone to making direct or veiled threats
  • Aggressive and antisocial behavior
  • Overreaction to company policies or performance appraisals
  • Touchy relationships with other workers
  • Obsessive involvement and/or emotional attachment to the job
  • Bullying

While these are all important behaviors to recognize, bullying is one of the most common and a real threat to business health and productivity. Sometimes bullying takes place between employees, but it often is most evident in supervisor-worker relationships, in which one person wields greater power. Bullying is not just the problem of an individual, however, but must be seen as a problem of the organization and its culture as a whole. Bullying can take many forms, from persistent, low-key intimidation to devious efforts to make a colleague appear professionally incompetent.

Office banter which is not really designed to offend is recognizably different from the persistent downgrading or undermining of a person by another, particularly if the other is in a position of relative power within the hierarchy. These menacing tactics can be difficult to identify and bring to light. It is very important, therefore, to have an avenue through which people feel free and safe to air their concerns about coworkers, supervisors and subordinates.

The only way to address bullying is to confront the bully and encourage him or her to change. Bullying behavior generally does not take place in a vacuum; other employees are usually aware of the situation, and they should be consulted. Finally, employers seeking to eliminate bullying behavior need to make it clear that anyone who is the victim of bullying tactics will receive their full support.

Putting out fires before they spread

Another common cause of workplace anger and hostility is peer conflict. These conflicts are usually caused by differences in personality or perception, moodiness, insensitivity, impatience, or sensitive emotional states such as jealousy, annoyance, and embarrassment. When these rivalries evolve into skirmishes or outbursts, conflict may damage those involved as well as others in the vicinity. Since work relies heavily on the ability of people to interact in a cooperative and harmonious fashion, conflict between employees represents a serious breakdown of the effective and healthy working relationship.

Small-business owners who find themselves mediating a peer conflict should avoid taking sides, provide an objective viewpoint, keep the discussion from bogging down in tangents or name-calling, and help each worker to understand the perspective of the other. Finally, the employer’s overriding concern should be to explicitly restate his or her expectations of staff performance, including the ways in which staff members should behave toward one another.

Attempts to address inappropriate workplace behavior through negotiation and mediation are not always effective. In some instances, an employee’s conduct or performance must result in disciplinary action. But there are a number of steps that employers can take to address the issues of workplace anger and hostility before they erupt into full-blown crises:

  1. Explicitly state your absolute opposition to inappropriate behavior, in writing and through team meetings. This can be included in new-hire guidelines, and in “zero-tolerance” statements displayed in public areas. Such statements should also clearly delineate which types of comments and actions are regarded as offensive.
  2. Encourage an environment that values diversity.
  3. Recognize that incidents of workplace hostility tend to get worse over time if they are not addressed. The whole workforce will likely be watching, looking for some signal about whether management takes such transgressions seriously, or whether it implicitly gives the green light to further incidents.
  4. Learn to recognize the symptoms of workplace anger, and try to provide employees with constructive avenues to express frustrations and/or concerns.
  5. Monitor workplace culture to ensure that it does not provide fertile ground for unwanted behavior.
  6. Make sure you have all the facts before confronting an employee.
  7. Make sure that your own actions and deeds are a good model for your employees.

Half the battle as managers is to be tuned in or aware of situations as they are occurring. The other half of that battle requires knowing how to intervene effectively and quickly and to facilitate a fair resolution.

———————————————————————–

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!