Arish Naresh

June is Men’s Health month in New Zealand and the theme for this year is #menstarttalking. While there has been an increased focus on mental and cardiac health (and rightly so), something that still is not discussed widely is oral health. Our mouths are the windows to our bodies, but research shows that men are less likely than their female counterparts to be paying emphasis to their oral hygiene.

The 2009 National Oral Health Survey revealed that men had poorer oral health than women over a range of factors, particularly untreated coronal and root decay, periodontal pocketing and loss of attachment, as well as self-care behaviours, such as brushing teeth twice daily and visiting oral health professionals for regular check-ups.

The mouth is an integral part of the body, but when it comes to health conversations, oral health is often separated from general health. Unfortunately, conditions like diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis have a strong link to poor oral health. Men who smoke and drink more than the acceptable amount are at more risk of developing oral cancers as well as advanced periodontal disease.

I heard Mike Hosking talking about taking the “What’s your health score?” test, so, having an inquisitive mind, I gave that a go myself. The test asked me a series of questions about my physical and mental health – even to the point of asking if I regularly checked my testicles for lumps and bumps – but there was no mention of whether I brushed my teeth! Now I am definitely not suggesting that the test is not valid and should be dropped. On the contrary, I think the test is great at making men think about their health, but let’s get some oral health questions in there as well, so that we have holistic conversations about men’s health.

So, my fellow men, next time you chew mints after a meal to avoid brushing, remember that the cost of not looking after your teeth and gums leads not only to dental pain but also to financial pain. Based on the message of replacing your toothbrush every three months and purchasing paste and floss at regular intervals, it costs less than a $100 a year to maintain a preventive oral health regime. That is less that a cost of a basic filling, so prevention is key.

My top ten tips for maintaining optimal oral health are:

  1. Don’t rush, just brush twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste.
  2. Limit snacks to meal times and choose healthier snack options.
  3. Floss like a boss.
  4. Avoid sugary and fizzy drinks (including sports drinks).
  5. Visit an oral health professional at least once a year.
  6. Wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports.
  7. Seek smoking cessation advice.
  8. Have a balanced diet as this assists in gum healing.
  9. Use a mouth rinse as and when required.
  10. Choose a soft tooth brush.

Arish Naresh is the Director of Allied Health and Technical for Hauora Tairawhiti (Tairawhiti District Health Board), a dental therapist and the chair of the New Zealand Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association. All views expressed are his own.

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