Don’t Let Your Teeth Mouth Off!

Understanding and practicing the tenets of good oral health should be an important part of our general personal wellness strategy. We should eat well, exercise regularly, protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, sleep soundly, comply with medical direction and focus daily on maintaining a healthy mouth!

Oral health is not only important to our appearance and sense of well-being, but also to our overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to 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 our ability to chew and digest food properly.

There are threats to oral health across the lifespan. Nearly one-third of all adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay. One in seven adults aged 35 to 44 years has gum disease; this increases to one in every four adults aged 65 years and older. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly those over 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers.

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.

With proper care, your teeth and gums can remain healthy throughout your life. There are four basic steps to caring for teeth and gums:

  • Brushing
  • Flossing
  • Eating right
  • Visiting the dentist

Brush teeth and gums at least twice a day. If you can, brush 30 minutes to one hour after every meal. Brushing removes plaque. When bacteria in plaque come into contact with food, they produce acids. These acids lead to cavities.

Flossing our teeth is a critical part of good oral hygiene. Often overlooked, it 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.

The third step to good oral health is proper nutrition. Food high in processed sugars and fats are not good for body or your teeth – they contribute to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and even certain types of cancers. A well-rounded, vitamin-rich, balanced diet high in fiber and filled with vegetables, fruits and plenty of water will help you maintain a healthy mouth, as well as a healthier body.

Finally, make sure and visit a dentist regularly for preventative screenings, and to check for cavities, infections or other abnormalities. As we age, the prevention or removal of plaque becomes more important for heart health, and regular checkups and diagnostic images can tell your dentist what’s going on “behind the scenes” in our mouths. Don’t wait for something to hurt before you go to the dentist – remember, the rest of your body is counting on your mouth!

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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!

Understanding Ovarian Cancer

September is Ovarian Cancer awareness month. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 73. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.

About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. It is more common in white women than African-American women. Fortunately, through earlier detection and more advanced treatments, the rate at which women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been slowly falling over the past 20 years. However, that’s no reason to relax. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 22,000 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2014, and more than 14,000 will die from this disease.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries — each about the size of an almond — produce eggs (ova) as well as the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is difficult to treat and is often fatal. Like most illnesses, the earlier it’s detected, the better your chances for leading a normal and longer life.

It’s not clear what causes ovarian cancer. In general, cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation that turns normal cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die when they should. As abnormal cells accumulate, they form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).

The type of cell where the cancer begins determines the type of ovarian cancer you have. Ovarian cancer types include:

  • Cancer that begins in the cells on the outside of the ovaries. Called epithelial tumors, these cancers begin in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. Most ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
  • Cancer that begins in the egg-producing cells. Called germ cell tumors, these ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
  • Cancer that begins in the hormone-producing cells. These cancers, called stromal tumors, begin in the ovarian tissue that produces the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Physicians diagnose ovarian cancer through pelvic examinations, the use of ultrasound scanning or by taking small tissue samples. The type of ovarian cancer you have helps determine your prognosis and treatment options.

Know ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

Researchers are studying ways to improve ovarian cancer treatment and looking into ways to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage — when a cure is more likely. Symptoms of ovarian cancer, however, are not specific to the disease, and they often mimic those of many other more-common conditions, including digestive problems.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain

Make an appointment with your doctor if you or someone you know has any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk of ovarian cancer. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor to discuss testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Certain factors may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop ovarian cancer, but your risk may be higher than that of the average woman. These risk factors include:

  • Inherited gene mutations, which can often be determined through genetic testing. 
  • Family history of ovarian cancer. If women in your family have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you have an increased risk of the disease.
  • A previous cancer diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer of the breast, colon, rectum or uterus, your risk of ovarian cancer is increased.
  • Increasing age. Your risk of ovarian cancer increases as you age. Ovarian cancer most often develops after menopause, though it can occur at any age.
  • Never having been pregnant. Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Overall, the best advice is to talk with your physician about your risks and to determine appropriate testing. Again, early detection is critical to increased survival, so remain diligent and encourage other women at risk to do the same!

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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!

Eating with the Season

Eating with the season is healthy, fun and practical. The fall harvest offers a multitude of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are fresh from the garden or farm, and represent only a few of the many nutrition-rich seasonal foods that can help you feel better, stay healthier and may protect against maladies like heart disease and stroke.

The fall palette includes deep colors like oranges, reds, and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, these colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be important in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables based on a 2,000-calorie diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower your risk for many diseases.

The autumn months can bring additional health and nutritional challenges. The shorter, cooler days make it harder to get physical activity outdoors. And there are the calorie-packed temptations of post-season baseball gatherings, football parties, Halloween sweets and, before you know it, Thanksgiving buffets. So a good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds is to keep eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Seasonal favorites are loaded with nutrients

Purchasing produce at its peak guarantees the freshest taste, the greatest nutritional value and the most affordable price. Apples and pumpkins are two popular foods celebrated this time of year, but there’s also an abundance of delicious and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, chard, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, as well as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, green onions and a variety of squash to enjoy this season. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

  • The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.
  • Apples are a perennial favorite. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

  • Sweet potatoes are a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
  • Beets are another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular. Beets are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, beets also are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues.
  • Fall greens that are packed with nutrition include Brussels sprouts. Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, they have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February. Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are famous for a bitter edge. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Finally, seasonal squash like Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy. Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complement many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

The autumn is a wonderful time of year to eat, recreate and prepare your bodies for the colder months that follow. Enjoy its abundance, indoors and out.

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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!

Stress at Work is Costing a Fortune

Feeling stressed lately, moody or irritable? Falling behind on your sleep? Finding it harder to come to work? Requiring more patience than usual with work associates, family members, friends or your kids? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions — and let’s face it, most of us recognize at least one of those behaviors in ourselves at one time or another — you’re probably experiencing some normal side effects of workplace-related stress. How much stress, and what you can do about it varies, but one thing’s for certain:  If you ignore the causes or effects, they’re not likely going to disappear on their own anytime soon.

When we’re experiencing stress, we’re distracted, fatigued and less focused. The quality of our work and the service we provide slips, accidents are more common, and we’re harder to get along with in general. This can have a negative impact on teamwork, morale and customer satisfaction. It also can facilitate or aggravate chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and hypertension, and reduce our resistance to common illnesses.

As if that wasn’t enough, researchers have actually tried to put numbers on the costs of stress in the workplace, and the potential losses are staggering – estimated at up to $300 billion per year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and healthcare costs, according to a recent Randstad Engagement study.

When asked to select up to three out of 10 possible factors that might push an employee to leave their job — including excessive workload and difficult working relationships — a high stress level (at 24%) was the third-most-selected reason, behind pay (37%) and opportunity for advancement (27%).

The study found the negative effects of workplace stress vary by gender and, to a lesser extent, age. For example, 27% of women (compared to 22% of men) cite a high stress level as a top reason to leave their current job. Within generational groups, one quarter (25%) of Gen Y/Millennial employees say stress is a likely reason they would leave their current organization, similar to Generation X and Baby Boomers, both at 24%.

How can you help?

The good news, according to the Randstad study, is that workplace stress can be managed, especially when employers provide support — and that starts with being well-connected to your workers. Companies can help reduce employee stress by communicating regularly with workers to identify their concerns, and establishing wellness programs that make healthy stress management a top priority across the organization.

Some of that relief can come through team athletic activities, sponsorships, gym or fitness center memberships, walks during work hours, health-related classes during the day, yoga, massage, meditation, or a variety of other options.  Access to Employee Assistance Programs, if available, can make a significant difference as well for workers struggling to keep it together and seeking assistance outside the office. The important thing is to be tuned in to your own – and your workers’ – behaviors, realize what may be driving additional stress, and figure out how to step away from it, regain perspective and relax.

Here are five tips to help alleviate workplace stress:

  • Communicate often: By effectively communicating with workers, managers can better gauge the stress level of their employees and work to diminish pressure before it affects morale and productivity.
  • Encourage camaraderie: Employees who actively connect with one another often create a better office environment. It’s important to set aside time for staff to socialize and get to know one another, and to encourage extracurricular activities such as sponsored walks, softball, bowling or whatever works for your team. 
  • Promote wellness: Give employees access to wellness programs that help relieve stress. Whether it’s a company workout facility or reimbursements for yoga classes, wellness programs are proven strategies to help relieve workplace stress.
  • Set an example: Healthy stress management starts at the top. If employees consistently see their boss as being stressed, the negative energy can trickle down and have an impact on the entire team.
  • Empower your employees: One of the most stress-inducing triggers is feeling out of control, so allow your staff to take ownership of their work and give them as much control as possible when it comes to making decisions on how work gets done.

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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!