That question is asked at nearly every medical and dental appointment. And most of us think for a moment, does anything hurt, am I sick, and then state that we feel healthy. Are we truly healthy? As a dentist, I am trained to focus on teeth and their supporting tissues to determine if they are healthy. However, it is just as important to remember that oral health is just one component of overall health.
- So what is health?
- Does it mean to simply feel healthy?
- To have no aches and pains?
- To be disease free?
As defined by the World Health Organization, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Feeling well on a daily basis does not qualify a person as healthy. In fact, many of us, myself included, are not as healthy as we think.
Everyone desires to be healthy, but health is a privilege that has to be earned. We do not become healthy because we wish to be healthy. We have to work at it. In some cases we have to struggle and sacrifice to attain health. Maybe that means giving up pop or candy. Perhaps it means brushing twice a day and flossing every day. It might mean having fillings, crowns, and other dental work done to help create a cleansable oral environment. In any case, it means that each of us may have to give up something we want (time or sugar, etc) in order to get something we all desperately need: health.
How does being healthy apply to dentistry?
When we talk about dental health, there are three factors to consider: the foundation, decay, and the chewing system. The foundation is made up of the gums and the bone that supports the teeth. To be healthy, the foundation needs to be free of plaque and acid attack from the bacteria that cause gum disease. Removing plaque is a daily need, and is accomplished with dental floss and with a toothbrush. In truth, your hygienist has little to do with the prevention of gum disease. It is each person’s responsibility to be healthy. Teeth should be free of decay. The easiest way to avoid decay is to avoid sugar and acid, which are the main contributors to tooth decay. Avoidance of decay may be difficult for some of us, as it may mean giving up the pop or chocolate that we enjoy so much. The chewing system is made up of the jaw joint, teeth, and the muscles and nerves that control the joint. If the muscles, nerves, joints, and teeth are all working in harmony, there is no pain or disease and the system is healthy. Any change in this system can lead to pain while chewing or yawning, such as headaches, or muscle cramps.
You may be wondering, then, how do I get healthy? The first step is to have the desire to be healthy. Second, we have to make decisions in our lives that will promote health. Oral health (and overall physical health) is a step, but health, remember, is also about mental and social health. Stress in our jobs, relationships, families, and personal lives can also lead us to feel unhealthy. We must make conscious and sometimes difficult decisions to be healthy. Finally, we have to act on those decisions and find someone who will hold us accountable for them. Only with desire, decision, and action can we truly achieve our goal of health.
So…how IS your health?