The oral health of Canadians has improved over the last decade. However, oral diseases, such as tooth decay and gum diseases, remain among the most common and widespread diseases in Canada and worldwide. The burden of oral diseases disproportionately affects vulnerable populations such as the elderly, low income, adolescents, Indigenous people (rural or isolated), new Canadians, and the mentally or physically challenged.

Common risk factors

We know that many diseases are interrelated. Therefore, it is important for health professionals to work together to tackle shared risk factors, especially those that are preventable. According to the World Health Organization, “Oral diseases share common risk factors with the four leading chronic diseases — cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes.” Common risk factors include poor oral hygiene, an unhealthy diet, particularly those high in added sugars, smoking, and alcohol abuse.

Research demonstrates that poor oral health can contribute to other health issues, such as: diabetes, respiratory diseases, heart disease, and premature low birth weights in babies. Moreover, oral signs and symptoms can be a precursor of other diseases including lupus, anemia, HIV, or even bulimia/anorexia.

In 2015, at least 4,400 new cases of oral cancer were diagnosed across Canada. The mortality rate associated with oral cancer is still fairly high because too often the cancer is discovered and diagnosed late in its development. Men are twice as likely to be affected as women. The good news is oral cancer is treatable if detected early.

Working together

Oral health can have a significant impact on overall health and well-being. That is why it is so important for health care professionals to work together to find new and improved ways to address oral health issues and promote healthy habits.

However, it should not stop there. All of us — as individuals, parents, educators, and communities — have a role to play in promoting good oral health habits. Simple actions such as regular check-ups with an oral health professional, drinking fluoridated water, reducing the daily intake of sugars, daily brushing and flossing will minimize the risk of oral health problems and improve our overall health.