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Study Shows Strong Correlation Between Good Oral Hygiene Habits and Quality of Life

Lack of oral care accessibility continues to plague some communities.

Accessible oral healthcare in some demographics remains problematic. This is especially true of minority populations. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, data from 22 states reveal that the prevalence of treated and untreated dental caries among third graders from American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Hispanic, and Black communities is significantly higher than for their white classmates.1

The inability to regularly visit a dentist at all looms large. Millions of kids, disproportionately represented by children of color, rely on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. However, less than a third of dental practices in the United States treated public insurance patients in 2020.1

MULTIFACETED PROBLEM

Because tooth decay is often painful as well as unsightly, such an issue is likely to negatively impact oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL). Poor oral health can affect sleeping, eating, social interactions, and academic attendance and performance.2

For these reasons, lack of access to quality dental care, including preventive services, can take a toll on overall well-being.

NEW RESEARCH SHEDS MORE LIGHT

To assess the problem at the college level, researchers from the Departments of Biology, Public Health, and Health Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University recently explored the relationship between oral hygiene behaviors and OHRQoL, oral health attitudes, and oral health problems among minority undergraduate students at the state university.2

The researchers relied on self-reporting by students on oral health status, untreated dental caries, bleeding gingiva on brushing and flossing, and other dental issues ranging from chipped teeth to bad breath. The students were also asked questions pertaining to chewing and speech difficulties, smile avoidance, dry mouth, pain, and days of school or work missed due to dental problems.

IMPORTANCE OF ESTABLISHING EARLY HABITS

Study results indicated that 63% of those who reported dental caries as adults had experienced caries in adolescence. Nearly half of the students reported one to three untreated dental caries and gums that bled.2

Also associated with dental caries and bleeding gingiva were difficulty biting/chewing, pain, dry mouth, impaired speech, interference in daily activities, and days missed at school or work. Oral health attitudes and acceptance of age-related tooth loss also correlated with caries and bleeding gingiva.2

More than half of the students surveyed with caries or bleeding gingiva reported having no parental supervision when brushing their teeth as children. Many of these kids were also allowed to consume sugary foods often. Parental supervision is known to be important in establishing better oral health.

IT’S IN THE TIMING

Interestingly, the researchers noted that of all the oral health habits, length of brushing was most significantly associated with self-reported bleeding gingiva. More than half of the students who brushed for 1 minute or less had a higher incidence of gingival bleeding than those who didn’t report bleeding.2

The study’s findings underscore the impact of oral health problems on OHRQoL and suggest the need for improved oral hygiene practices from an early age, and access to regular dental care. Toothbrushes designed with timers could also be helpful. Through such avenues oral health and quality of life for minority students can only be enhanced.

REFERENCES

  1. Corr A, Wenderoff J. Inequitable access to oral health care continues to harm children of color.
  2. Lyons D, Zarzeczny A, Kahar P. Examining oral hygiene behaviors, oral health-related quality of life, and attitudes toward oral health among minority students. Cureus. 2024;16(5):1–10.
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