Dental experts introduces the "Economics of Family Oral Healthcare” on World Oral Health Day

Poor oral health can be a risk factor to dementia

Maintaining oral health is much more important than most people think. Poor oral hygiene can result in tooth decay that could have significant impact on our general health including cognitive impairment. What’s more, dental problems do not only impact one individual and can go as far as affecting the whole family and government dental expenditure. Multiple studies have revealed the lack of dental care awareness among Hong Kong and Taiwanese public – almost all adults surveyed in Hong Kong have experienced tooth decay (96%) while the tooth decay prevalence rate among Taiwanese adults is close to 90%.

Ahead of the World Oral Health Day, the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Hong Kong invited two dental experts - Professor Ming-Lun Hsu, the Dean of School of Dentistry in National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan, and Professor Edward Chin-Man Lo, Chair Professor of Dental Public Health in Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Hong Kong to share the concept of “The Economics of Family Oral Healthcare” and introduce the international data on oral care and oral diseases prevention trend in Hong Kong.

“The Economics of Family Oral Healthcare”:

Dental Expenses Can Add Up to The Price of a Brand New Car

Professor Hsu shared that although tooth decay is a not a contagious disease, it is likely to affect more than one member of the family living under the same roof due to similar lifestyle and oral hygiene habits. Besides, even when a single member of the family is suffering from tooth decay or other sickness, the entire family will be affected from the care and attention required by the patient.

Professor Hsu further pointed out that chewing sugar-free gums is a recommendation included in the German Government’s latest oral health guideline on maintaining oral hygiene and preventing tooth decay. Also, a recent research indicates that developing the habit of chewing sugar-free gums, one could reduce expenses on dental care up to €81 (about HKD$670) per year. Professor Hsu said, “Dental diseases account for about 6.7% of Taiwan’s National Health Insurance expense, amounting to NTD$41.8 billion a year. If families understand the concept of ‘The Economics of Family Oral Healthcare’ and incorporate oral health preventive measures into daily routines, people will be able to enjoy a healthier life, avoiding unnecessary family financial burden and even receiving more effective and quality healthcare services. Remember, the healthier the teeth one has, the less dental expenses one spends!”

Plagued with oral problems such as tooth decay, periodontal disease, tooth loss and dental implants, Ms Lau’s family is known as a “toothache family” to many of her friends and relatives. “My son used to cry in the middle of the night without any obvious reasons when he was about one year old. I found out his front teeth had decayed only when I brought him to the dentist. When my child needed to attend dental check-ups, we sometimes even needed help from his grandparents. It costed my family a lot of time and energy every time we pay a visit to the dentist,” said Ms Lau. Another family member Mr Lau added, “I also suffered from severe tooth decay and tooth extraction was the only treatment option. A lot of money went into tooth implant. In addition to the three-month root canal treatment and surgery for my periodontal disease, the amount my family spent on dental treatments could have gotten us a luxury car! It has never occurred to me that our negligence in oral health could give rise to problems lasting a lifetime.”

Maintaining Oral Health May Help Reduce Risk of Dementia

Professor Lo also pointed out that maintaining good oral health can prevent tooth decay and may even help reducing the risk of dementia. “In Hong Kong, the annual expenditure on dental care amounts to about HKD$5,000 million, which is a significant burden to the city’s medical expenditure,” said Professor Lo. “Local and international studies have revealed an association between the number of tooth lost and cognitive impairment in the elderly. The loss of chewing ability due to tooth loss could lead to impairment of spatial memory, weakening of learning ability and degenerating of hippocampal neurons in the brain. As maintaining oral hygiene is effective in preventing tooth loss due to tooth decay, subsequently, it may help reducing the risk of cognitive impairment.”

Consumers of All Ages to Follow “The Ten-Minutes Rule”: Chewing Sugar-Free Gums After Each Meal for Perfect Clean Teeth

Professor Hsu and Professor Lo reiterated that oral health is fundamental to overall health and wellbeing of a person. They urge people to simply follow “four dental hacks to perfect clean teeth”, one can keep the dentist at bay:

  1. Go for regular dental check-ups
  2. Use fluoride toothpaste for tooth brushing in the morning and before bedtime
  3. Use dental floss daily
  4. Chew sugar-free gum after eating or drinking.

Professor Hsu also explained that saliva is a natural weapon to neutralize the acid in the mouth and chewing sugar-free gums will increase the secretion of saliva by 10 times (when comparing to stationary state). There are three main benefits of increasing saliva secretion, including lowering the acidity in the mouth, replenishing the lost ions on the tooth surfaces that are damaged by plaque acid and helping remove the residue sweet food on the teeth. The best way to clean the teeth is by brushing it with toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste after each meal. When it is inconvenient to brush teeth, chewing two pieces of sugar-free gums for five to ten minutes is a good alternative to stimulate the secretion of saliva and neutralize the acid in the mouth. By doing so, not only it helps curb the formation of plaque and other acidic substances, it can also clear the food residue in the gaps of the teeth and reduce stickiness on the tooth surfaces. Chewing sugar-free gums also helps remineralization of teeth to maintain oral health. To maximize the effectiveness, one should stick with “The Ten-Minute Rule” by chewing sugar-free gums within ten minutes after each meal or after drinking which can effectively prevent acid to damage tooth surfaces.

Chewing gums is often regarded as a fashionable behavior of young adults. In fact, consumers of all ages can also enjoy the benefits of chewing sugar-free gums. Professor Lo added, “Apart from stimulating saliva secretion to neutralize acidity in the mouth and preventing tooth decay by chewing sugar-free gums, the elderly can benefit from the chewing process as it stimulates the brain neuronal activity, which may help slow down cognitive impairment.”