Listen to Your Mouth. It Has Much to Say!

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.

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.

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.

Often overlooked, flossing our teeth is a critical part of good oral hygiene and should be practiced adjunct to brushing daily. While brushing is critical, flossing does about 40 percent of the work required to remove plaque from the hard-to-reach spaces between our teeth.

Most floss is made of either nylon or Teflon, and both are equally effective. People with larger spaces between their teeth or with gum recession (loss of gum tissue, which exposes the roots of the teeth) tend to get better results with a flat, wide dental tape. If teeth are close together, try thin floss that bills itself as “shred resistant.”

Bridges and braces require more effort to get underneath the restorations or wires and between the teeth. Use a floss threader, which looks like a plastic sewing needle. Or look for a product called Super Floss that has one stiff end to fish the floss through the teeth, followed by a spongy segment and regular floss for cleaning.

Here are some tips for proper flossing:

  • Perfect your flossing technique. Use a piece of floss 15 to 18 inches long. Wind the floss around the middle fingers of each hand, leaving a one-inch section open for flossing. Place the floss in your mouth and use your index fingers to push the floss between the teeth. Be careful not to push too hard and injure the gums. Floss the top teeth first, then the bottom. Slide it between the teeth, wrap it around each tooth in the shape of a “C,” and polish with an up and down motion. Floss between each tooth as well as behind the back teeth, and use a clean section of floss as needed and take up used floss by winding it around the fingers.
  • Don’t worry about a little blood. Bleeding means the gums are inflamed because plaque has built up and needs to be cleaned away. It is not uncommon, especially for “new” flossers, and shouldn’t deter you. Bleeding after a few days, however, could be a sign of periodontal disease. Talk to your dentist.
  • Get a floss holder. If you lack the hand dexterity to floss, try soft wooden plaque removers, which look similar to toothpicks, or a two-pronged plastic floss holder. Both allow you to clean between teeth with one hand.

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. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Getting Fresh Isn’t Such a Bad Thing!

One of the many great joys of summer is the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit available locally. Whether grown in your garden, purchased at the grocery store, or joyfully discovered at a local farm stand or farmer’s market, locally grown produce offers us a shorter “ground to plate” experience, enhanced flavors and seasonal variety.

Eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables keeps us in better balance, nutritionally, and can help protect us from heart disease, bone loss, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers, such as colorectal cancer. And though there are few “down” sides to a diet rich in fresh fruit and veggies, preparation plays an important role in enhancing (or diminishing) the valuable vitamins and benefits they offer.

To cook or not cook our veggies

Cooking is crucial to our diets. It helps us digest food without expending huge amounts of energy. It softens food that our small teeth, weak jaws, and digestive systems aren’t equipped to handle. And while we might hear from raw food advocates that cooking kills vitamins and minerals in food, it turns out raw vegetables are not always healthier.

A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition last year found that a group of 198 subjects who followed a strict raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta-carotene (an antioxidant found in dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables), but low levels of the antioxidant lycopene.

Lycopene is a red pigment found predominantly in tomatoes and other rosy fruits such as watermelon, pink guava, red bell pepper and papaya. Several studies conducted in recent years (at Harvard Medical School, among others) have linked high intake of lycopene with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks, and research indicates it may be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C.

Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw,  at least, that is, if they’re boiled or steamed. Boiling and steaming better preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoid, in carrots, zucchini and broccoli, though boiling was deemed the best. Always avoid deep frying.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that cooking carrots actually increases their level of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth and regulating the immune system.

So, like your mother always said, “eat your vegetables,” and, whenever possible, enjoy a fresh piece of fruit.

# # #

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Taking Your Best Shot at Long-Term Wellness

If you’re like most adults, you probably can’t remember the last time you had a tetanus shot unless you stepped on a nail or caught an arm on a rusty metal fence. Checking up on your personal immunization record, and making sure your loved ones are properly immunized as well, is a simple and critical step for helping to protect yourself and your family from preventable illness and related serious medical conditions.

Improved sanitation, hygiene, and other living conditions have created a generally healthier environment and reduced the risks for disease exposure and infection in the United States. However, the dramatic and long-term decrease of diseases is primarily a result of widespread immunizations throughout the U.S. population.

Even though some diseases, such as polio, rarely affect people in the U.S., all of the recommended childhood immunizations and booster vaccines are still needed. These diseases still exist in other countries. Travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the U.S. and infect people who have not been immunized. Without the protection from immunizations, these diseases could be imported and could quickly spread through the population, causing epidemics. Non-immunized people living in healthy conditions are not protected from disease; only immunizations prepare the immune system to fight the disease organisms.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Apathy, fear and lack of information are the greater culprits in not protecting ourselves and our children from preventable illnesses. Most of us choose to immunize our children from the day they’re born. In fact, children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically…in the case of tetanus, once every 10 years.

Today, children and adults receive a “Tdap” booster for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. If you doubt the importance of this, note that pertussis (Whooping Cough) has recently reappeared in Connecticut. Pertussis is caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. This disease is particularly dangerous for babies, so protecting yourself also protects others.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. As with pertussis and another common contagious disease, tuberculosis, diphtheria bacteria can be passed from person to person by direct contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. When people are infected, the diphtheria bacteria produce a toxin in the body that can cause weakness, sore throat, low-grade fever, and swollen glands in the neck. Effects from this toxin can also lead to swelling of the heart muscle and, in some cases, heart failure. In severe cases, the illness can cause coma, paralysis, and even death.

The third leg of that triad involves tetanus (lockjaw), which also can be prevented by the Tdap vaccine. Tetanus is caused by bacteria found in soil. The bacteria enter the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from tetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get tetanus die from the disease.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t remember if or when you had your Tdap booster, talk to your doctor. Additionally, if you plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with your physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly protected, and by air-borne particles.

But even if you aren’t traveling abroad, it’s important to know your medical history and to obtain a copy of your personal immunization record. That’s especially valuable if you can’t remember if you ever had common diseases such as mumps, chicken pox, rubella and measles, all of which still afflict thousands of Americans. In many cases, vaccinations to prevent these diseases may not have existed when you were a child, but they do now.

If your personal record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually since strains of “flu” mutate or change from year to year. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, even among previously healthy children, so it’s smart to speak with your doctor annually about whether or not you should respond proactively rather than take your chances.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

###

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Wellness Never Takes a Vacation

Summer’s wrapping up quickly. The days are getting shorter and school is right around the corner. You and your employees are probably reliving your vacations and wondering where the time went. As the hot weather starts to wane and attention spans lengthen, it’s a great time to revisit your wellness planning to ensure continuity and keep your workforce focused and motivated about their health.

To reduce costs, employees need to become engaged in both their healthcare spending and in reducing their health risks. A standard approach is to focus on wellness, education, and consumer support by weaving wellness into the fabric of your company’s culture.

While one obvious goal of any wellness program is to reduce costs, it is not the primary message. Wellness is about improving health and quality of life. Successful programs place heavy emphasis on personal outcomes. Employees benefit from access to healthcare education and information on topics ranging from stress management and exercise to healthy cooking. They also benefit from smoking-cessation courses and materials, and through an understanding of their own personal responsibility in ensuring their health and wellness.

Making connections between costs and choices

When you integrate wellness and intervention programs, you have the opportunity to educate employees about how the connections between their healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices relate to their premiums and other healthcare costs.

The impact of health data and supportive outreach to drive changes is working for employers across the country. There are a variety of interactive, online wellness programs that can help employers enhance the health and productivity of their employees and support a more complete system of care.

If you’re not there yet, the first step is encouraging your team to complete an in-depth health assessment. This assessment yields revealing, yet actionable information for the individual, and can be used to help guide the employee to programs and actions that will address his or her health needs.

Quality educational courses and materials, sensible fitness activities, and effective communication are all core components of a successful wellness program. Employers must make the connections between medical costs, health risks, and personal responsibility. The more we understand that health risks, many of which are modifiable, drive health utilization and cost, the more effective we can be in helping our employees adjust their behaviors and attitudes toward wellness.

If you’re not enjoying 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!