Dental care tied to overall men’s health

An empty seat at the barbershop is rare. Men’s stores in the mall are always crowded, and when the latest athletic shoe rolls off the assembly line, they’re immediately swooped up.

An empty seat at the barbershop is rare. Men’s stores in the mall are always crowded, and when the latest athletic shoe rolls off the assembly line, they’re immediately swooped up.

The outer appearance of Black men remains in tact, yet, when it comes to taking care of the business inside their mouths, many men are slacking. Simple fear and education, or lack thereof, have kept men from making routine visits to the dentist office, said a dental professional.

“Men just usually put off medical issues. Either they don’t want to hear any bad news, or, if they feel a little pain they’ll just shrug it off. They figure they’ll be fine in a couple of days if they take a painkiller,” said Dr. Ozzie Smith III of Smith & Smith Smile Studio and Anderson Cosmetic Dental Care, located in Hyde Park.

The dentist said when it comes to women and children, periodontal disease is less frequent because women tend to be the driving force with getting their families to the doctor and dentist. For men, it’s a different story. They just don’t go in for regular check-ups.

Minor dental issues catapult into major maladies if not taken care of when first noticed. Oftentimes, it can lead to heart ailments and oral cancer, among others, the dentist said.

“Most times things could’ve been corrected easily if they came in initially. But after waiting for so long, more drastic measures have to be taken. Dental disease is generally entirely preventable,” he said.

Signs of concern with periodontal disease include bleeding gums, bad breath, swollen and/or pus-filled gums. Sometimes the symptoms are associated with pain, according to Smith.

Black males may be at increased risk of overall heart problems caused by the buildup of dental plaque, according to a recent study by the Indiana University School of Dentistry.

The study examined the link between oral inflammatory disease and heart disease risk.

The results of 128 Black and white men and women who did not have periodontal disease at the time of the study – but were instructed to ignore their dental hygiene – showed Black male participants had an increase in activity with total white blood cell count, a known risk factor for heart disease and other cardiac conditions.

According to the American Dental Association, oral cancer hits an estimated 34,360 Americans each year, with Blacks being the most vulnerable.

The incident rate is one-third higher for Blacks than whites, and Blacks are most likely to die from the disease. On average, only half of those diagnosed with oral cancer will survive more than five years, according to the ADA.

Oral cancer – primarily caused by tobacco use – often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore anywhere in the mouth and can affect the lips, gums and tongue.

“It’ll usually show up on the floor of the mouth or the sides of the tongue. A lot of times it won’t manifest as anything painful. It may come as a small bump and it’ll be ignored,” Smith said.

And smoking and drinking can be a dangerous combination. It increases the risk of getting oral cancer tremendously, he cautioned.

Getting to a dentist is the first priority in getting the proper dental hygiene education, and continual follow up care is necessary to better oral health, according to the ADA.

In between dental visits, Smith recommends brushing twice a day and a step that’s often ignored– flossing.

“People feel it’s tedious. It’s one of the most important things you can do everyday, in addition to brushing. It gets in areas where a toothbrush can’t.

“It can help prevent gum disease,” he said, adding that your toothbrush be replaced every three or four months.

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