The Importance of Dental Hygiene

It’s said the eyes are windows to our souls. That would make our mouths gateways to something, though what that might be is up for debate depending on how well you practice good dental hygiene. While oral health is important to our appearance and well-being, it plays an equally important role in limiting damage from or aggravating serious conditions such as diabetes and respiratory health. Untreated cavities can be painful and lead to serious infections, and 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.

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.

Additionally, the bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or exacerbating 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. Also, people with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications.

Regular brushing and checkups are critically important, as is flossing, which 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.

What’s in your toothpaste?

The first known toothpaste recipe dates to the fourth century AD. This recipe was written in Greek on a scrap of papyrus. The Egyptian scribe explained that the recipe created a “powder for white and perfect teeth.”

Egyptians would have mixed the paste with a bit of their own saliva and then used their fingers to scour their teeth. The recipe aligned with traditional home medicinal practices that are still in use around the world. Classical herbals list Iris as good for toothache and for sweetening the breath.  Pepper would have stimulated the gums, mint would have added the fresh taste we still love in modern toothpaste, and rock salt would have been a purifying abrasive.

Egyptians had many recipes for tooth powders. Favored ingredients included the powdered ashes of oxen hooves, crushed myrrh, burned egg shells, and powered pumice stone. The Persians liked using burnt shells of snails and oysters. In China a mix of ginseng, various mints, and salt was the preferred recipe. Many Europeans modeled themselves after the ancient Greeks, cleaning their teeth with a rough cloth (usually linen) or a sponge that they’d dipped into a paste made of ashes, sulfur oil and salt, until well into the sixteenth century.

In 1873, Colgate released the first mass-produced toothpaste. It was called Crème Dentifrice, and was sold in a jar. By 1896, the name had changed to Colgate Dental Cream and it was packaged in collapsible tubes. Fluoride was introduced in 1914 and was quickly added to most of toothpastes on the market.

Toothpaste, also called dentifrice, can be marketed as a paste, gel or powder. Today, toothpaste ingredients typically consist of mild abrasives to remove debris and residual surface stains; fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel and re-mineralize enamel in the early stages of tooth decay; humectants to prevent water loss in the toothpaste; flavoring agents, such as saccharin and other sweeteners to improve taste; thickening agents or binders to stabilize the toothpaste formula; and detergents to create foaming action.

Toothpastes may contain several active ingredients to help improve oral health.  Fluoride actively helps prevent tooth decay by strengthening tooth enamel. All toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance contain fluoride. In addition to fluoride, toothpastes may contain active ingredients to help improve tooth sensitivity, whiten teeth, or reduce gingivitis or tartar build-up. No ADA-accepted toothpaste contains sugar or any other ingredient that would promote tooth decay.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to control plaque is brushing your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day. But you don’t need toothpaste to do this, just a soft toothbrush and good brushing techniques will remove plaque. Flossing, limiting sugary food and drinks, regular checkups and professional cleanings should keep your teeth in top shape. And by the way:  Whatever type of toothpaste you choose to use, don’t mimic commercials and smear your brush with a huge stripe of paste – a pea-sized drop is sufficient.


 

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!

Increase Your Breast Cancer Awareness

There are some diseases that remain insidious, regardless of how often they’re discussed and even after years of research, warnings and clinical studies. Breast cancer is one of these.

Early detection and treatment are keys to treating and containing breast cancer. When detected early before it can spread to other parts of the body, it can be treated successfully through radiation, drug therapy and surgery, and many cancer survivors live long, healthy lives.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Thousands of Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Knowing your family history, getting regular exams and avoiding known cancer-causing foods and activities are critical, proactive steps. By eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking tobacco products, and drinking in moderation women reduce their chances of contracting breast cancer.

But the numbers remain sobering: About one in eight American women, close to 12 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Approximately 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in U.S. women annually, along with approximately 58,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. Additionally, more than 2,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in men. Breast cancer results in close to 40,000 deaths in the United States alone, annually.

If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it’s important to see a physician immediately. Fortunately, eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. But women sometimes stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, and scheduling regular mammograms.

Males need to remain diligent, as well. Men should speak with their doctor if they find suspicious lumps, abnormal skin growths, experience tenderness or experience other changes in their breasts.

For women, a mammogram remains one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. If you have a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother who had breast cancer, you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis, or starting at age 35.

Here are 10 healthy lifestyle choices we can make that may reduce our risk of developing breast cancer:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Gaining weight after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. In general, weight gain of 20 pounds or more after the age of 18 may increase the risk of breast cancer. Likewise, if you have gained weight, losing weight may lower your risk of breast cancer.
  2. Add exercise to your routine. Exercise pumps up the immune system and lowers estrogen levels. With as little as four hours of exercise per week, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. Physical activity involves the energy that you release from your body. It not only burns energy (calories), but may also help lower the risk of breast cancer. This is because exercise lowers estrogen levels, fights obesity, lowers insulin levels and boosts the function of immune system cells that attack tumors. Do whatever physical activity you enjoy most and that gets you moving daily. All you need is moderate (where you break a sweat) activity like brisk walking for 30 minutes a day.
  3. Maintain a healthy diet. A nutritious, low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.
  4. Limit alcohol intake. Research has shown that having one serving of alcohol (for example, a glass of wine) each day improves your health by reducing your risk of heart attack. But many studies have also shown that alcohol intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. In general, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, try to limit your intake to one drink a day.
  5. Women, limit postmenopausal hormones. For each year that combined estrogen plus progestin hormones are taken, the risk of breast cancer goes up. Once the drug is no longer taken, this risk returns to that of a woman who has never used hormones in about five to 10 years. Post-menopausal hormones also increase the risk of ovarian cancer and heart disease. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.
  6. Breastfeed, if you can. Breastfeeding protects against breast cancer, especially in pre-menopausal women. There are many breastfeeding benefits for the baby, as well.
  7. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. You do your body a world of good by avoiding tobacco. If you do smoke, ask your doctor for help in quitting. Although there is no conclusive evidence that smoking causes breast cancer, smoking has been linked to many other types of cancer and diseases. There are health benefits from quitting at any age.
  8. Focus on your emotional health. Researchers continue studying the relationship between our physical and emotional health, but there is conclusive evidence that people who are stronger, emotionally, are more resistant to illness and certain diseases. It is also important to keep a healthy attitude and reduce stress. Do things that make you happy and that bring balance to your life. Pay attention to yourself and your needs. Read books, walk in the park, have coffee with a friend. Find what works for you – many things can help you be healthier and feel better about yourself in spite of what is going on in your life.
  9. Schedule regular mammograms.Even though many women without a family history of breast cancer are at risk, if you have a grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, this does put you in a higher risk group. Have a baseline mammogram at least five years before the age of breast cancer onset in any close relatives, or starting at age 35. See your physician at any sign of unusual symptoms.
  10. Give yourself a breast self-exam at least once a month.Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, a lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, or a discharge from the nipple. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. However, eight out of 10 lumps are benign, or not cancerous.

What is genetic testing?                

Genetic testing looks for specific inherited changes (mutations) in a person’s chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Genetic mutations can have harmful, beneficial, neutral (no effect), or uncertain effects on health. Mutations that are harmful may increase a person’s chance, or risk, of developing a disease such as cancer. Overall, inherited mutations are thought to play a role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers.

Cancer can sometimes appear to “run in families” even if it is not caused by an inherited mutation. For example, a shared environment or lifestyle, such as tobacco use, can cause similar cancers to develop among family members. However, certain patterns such as the types of cancer that develop, other non-cancer conditions that are seen, and the ages at which cancer typically develops may suggest the presence of a hereditary cancer syndrome.

The genetic mutations that cause many of the known hereditary cancer syndromes have been identified, and genetic testing can confirm whether a condition is, indeed, the result of an inherited syndrome. Genetic testing is also done to determine whether family members without obvious illness have inherited the same mutation as a family member who is known to carry a cancer-associated mutation.

Inherited genetic mutations can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer through a variety of mechanisms, depending on the function of the gene. Mutations in genes that control cell growth and the repair of damaged DNA are particularly likely to be associated with increased cancer risk.

Here’s a short list of important facts useful to know concerning genetic mutations and testing:

  • Genetic mutations play a role in the development of all cancers. Most of these mutations occur during a person’s lifetime, but some mutations, including those that are associated with hereditary cancer syndromes, can be inherited from a person’s parents.
  • The genetic mutations associated with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes have been identified, and genetic tests can help tell whether a person from a family with such a syndrome has one of these mutations.
  • A genetic counselor, doctor, or other healthcare professional trained in genetics can help an individual or family understand genetic test results.
  • A high genetic likelihood of developing a certain type of cancer is not a certainty that a person will develop that cancer. The risks and benefits of precautionary or preemptive surgeries have to be determined on a case by case basis.
  • Often, discovering potential genetic mutations may lead a person to alter behaviors, diet and other aspects of health and wellness that can help improve quality of life and health without undertaking dramatic steps.

Consult your physician if you’re interested in genetic testing. Remember, not everyone whose test indicate a higher possibility of developing cancer will, but it can serve as a valuable catalyst for making lifestyle changes that can help prevent or limit the damage from certain kinds of cancer.


 

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!

A Shot in the Arm Beats Days in Bed

Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe symptoms, and can lead to hospitalization and death. Every year in the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands die from the flu.

Anyone, no matter how healthy you are, can get the flu, and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age. Unfortunately, some people are at a higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine annually. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

The body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Also, flu viruses are constantly changing, so the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. For the best protection, everyone six months and older should get vaccinated annually.

“Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through their community.

How vaccines work

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus; an influenza A (H3N2) virus; and an influenza B virus. There also are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.

The CDC recommends use of injectable influenza vaccines (including inactivated influenza vaccines and recombinant influenza vaccines).  A nasal mist is typically available, as well, but last year, the CDC advised against using it and favored immunizations. One exception of note is that standard-dose trivalent shots are manufactured using virus grown in eggs. If you are allergic to eggs, there exists an alternative made using a different base grown in cell culture.

Flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac (heart) events among people with heart disease, especially among those who experienced a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%). And flu vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy. Getting vaccinated against the flu can also protect a baby from flu after birth. (A mother can pass antibodies onto the developing baby during pregnancy.) Flu vaccination also may make your flu illness milder if you do get sick.

Contrary to myth, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness.

Side effects from a flu vaccination are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of the flu. Side effects may include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever, or aches, but it’s all short term.

Get vaccinated now

You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community, so make plans to get vaccinated early in fall. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination is offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.

There are many options for obtaining your vaccination, ranging from your regular physician to walk-in clinics, college health centers and even local drug stores and supermarket pharmacies.  Many larger employers will sponsor flu clinics so people don’t have to leave work to obtain their shot.  If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, talk to your doctor or other health care professional.

Preventing pneumonia and shingles

Another important consideration as we head into the autumn months is to get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections. Pneumococcal disease is common in young children, but older adults are at greatest risk of serious pneumococcal infections and even death. The CDC recommends vaccination with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for all babies and children younger than two years old, all adults 65 years or older, and people two years through 64 years old who are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease due to certain medical conditions.

Shingles is the reactivation of a viral infection in the nerves to the skin that causes pain, burning, or a tingling sensation, along with an itch and blisters in the skin supplied by the affected nerve.  It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, or VZV — the same virus that causes chickenpox.  When the itchy red spots of childhood chickenpox disappear, the virus remains in a dormant state in our nerve cells, able to strike again. This second eruption of the chickenpox virus is called shingles or herpes-zoster.  Shingles is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.

Shingles occurs when an unknown trigger causes the virus to become activated.  It afflicts approximately one million Americans annually, and children are vulnerable, too. However, about half of all cases occur in men and women 60 years old or older. People who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime, though it can strike a person a second or even third time. Since most of us had chickenpox as children, we’re at risk, even if the case was so mild that it may have passed unnoticed.

In the original exposure to VZV (chickenpox), some of the virus particles settle into nerve cells where they remain for many years in an inactive, hidden form. When the VZV reactivates, it spreads down the long nerve fibers that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin. As the virus multiplies, a telltale rash erupts. With shingles, the nervous system is more deeply involved than it was during the bout with chickenpox, and the symptoms are often more complex and severe.

Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles. These medicines will help shorten the length and severity of the illness. But to be effective, they must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. But the only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) – a condition that can afflict people after they’ve recovered from shingles – is to get vaccinated. Shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) reduces the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain that can sometimes afflict those who have had shingles. The CDC recommends that people aged 60 years and older get one dose of shingles vaccine.


 

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!

Being Mindful is Good for Your Mind…and Body

If you’re one of the two out of 10 employed Americans who say they are NOT stressed at work, you may already be practicing mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques effectively, be one of those annoyingly happy people we all love to hate, be truly lucky, or maybe you just happened to be having a great day. Regardless, if you’re one of the eight out of 10 Americans who struggle with stress during the work day – as an employer or an employee – this article may help you.

Staying focused can be challenging. There’s just so much coming our way simultaneously and so many messages constantly bombarding us. Whether it’s people talking to us face-to-face or through technology, the assault on our senses is ongoing and distracting. And it’s hurting productivity, service, quality and our health.

We can only stand a certain amount of stimulation and distraction. Remaining focused on priority tasks and duties always is in conflict with reality. Whether it’s planned or unexpected meetings, calls, people showing up uninvited, customer demands, drop-everything rush projects – we’ve all been there. Finding ways to retain focus and concentration for increased productivity and quality is critical, as is ensuring that we keep stress at bay.

Many organizations are realizing the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness, in its simplest terms, is awareness, being present, and feeling like we’re in control. In addition to contributing to overall well-being, mindfulness and meditative practices have been linked to improved cognitive functioning and reduced stress levels.

Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. Sometimes it’s as simple as truly paying attention in a meeting or on a call, or managing to let other ideas, thoughts and pressures slide past you and concentrate on the person or task at hand. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory and lessen depression and anxiety.

Some employers have created quiet spaces for people to relax, meditate or simply seek a few peaceful minutes during their workday to unwind and refocus. Lunch rooms help, but are shared and often not as effective. Savvy businesses are inviting meditation, mindfulness, yoga and massage specialists to the workplace during the day, during lunch and after hours. But when these opportunities don’t exist or aren’t convenient to the day and type or place of work, there are other mindfulness tips you and employees can practice to help relax and improve productivity and efficiency. For example:

  • Practice breathing. It seems so obvious, but taking time to breathe consciously is very beneficial and easy to do, wherever you are. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and become aware of each breath, in and out. Feel the air enter your mouth and nose and travel down into your lungs, and then back out on the exhale. Some people measure the breathing cycle with a simple one/two count, others silently chant a personal mantra, but it doesn’t matter – spend five minutes just breathing consciously and it will slow you down considerably. It’s also an easy exercise to practice anytime, anywhere when you feel your pressure rising and your concentration weakening.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance.” When we get stressed out, we start thinking of everything in catastrophic terms. Each setback is amplified, and the negativity starts to compound. Rather than fighting these negative feelings and getting more stressed, try observing and exploring them, and accept the situation you’re presently experiencing. It doesn’t mean we like or can necessarily change or fix things at that moment, but through acceptance and a willingness to examine the way the negative energy is working on our minds and bodies, we can regain control and perspective. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a bad situation at work — it’s a matter of accepting how things are at this moment before making a plan to do what you can to improve them.
  • Tune into distractions around you. Offices are noisy, distracting environments, especially so-called “open offices” and cubicles. People talk loudly, you hear one another’s phone calls, typing, music – the sound mix is non-stop. Taking a moment to pay attention to those distractions rather than trying to tune them out can be a good way to prevent them from stressing you out. Gently notice the sounds and see if you can become aware of the effects they have on your body. The observation tends to rob the distractions of their power.
  • Take breaks. Regular breaks during the workday can boost productivity, creativity and patience. Instead of eating at your computer or work station, leave your work area for a brief walk, to get a drink or breathe some fresh air.  Stretch, walk when you can, or simply eat your meal in a different location, and try doing it without technology interference like emails, texts or social media . . . it’s good to use the time to think, daydream, meditate or do something that breaks the routine of your regular day.
  • Unplug from technology. With laptops, smart phones and tablets, it’s hard to truly relax or get unplugged from our work. Studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology makes us distracted, impatient and forgetful. Finding a way to “detox” can be extremely relaxing and helpful, be it through a walk, live social interaction, sharing a meal, reading a book or whatever works best for you.
  • Find time to exercise. There’s nothing like exercise, whether formal or spontaneous.  Exercise is good for our minds and our bodies, and a great tool for reducing stress. Whether you prefer to recreate outdoors, participate in sports, take a hike or bike ride or go to a fitness center, gym or training class, getting “physical” is a good way to calm our minds.

Whatever form or method you choose to achieve mindfulness, being aware of how stress, noise and distractions play negative roles in our every-day work lives is a critical first step for improving how we react – or don’t react – to situations that tap our energy, patience and creative spirits.


 

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!