When it comes to the battle of the sexes, women have an edge over men—at least as far as dental health is concerned. According to a survey published in the Journal of Periodontology, women go to the dentist twice as often as men, are more likely to follow through with treatment recommendations and have a better record for brushing and flossing. While men’s oral health issues can be serious, they are preventable. And as an employer, you can help your male employees understand just what’s at risk and what they can do about it.
Periodontal (Gum) Disease
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly half of all Americans over 30 have some form of periodontal disease. And the bad news for men is that it’s more common for them than for women. In fact, 56.4 percent of men are diagnosed with gum disease versus 34.4 percent for women.
Bacteria not regularly cleaned from your mouth can cause inflammation and infection of the gum tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. Left untreated, gum disease begins to destroy the bone that supports the teeth, ultimately leading to tooth loss. But that’s not all. Studies have shown that diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular ailments are associated with periodontal disease.
Here are some circumstances that can put men at risk for periodontal disease:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Medications that cause dry mouth
- Crooked teeth
- Ill-fitting partial dentures and defective fillings
Healthy gums help men keep their teeth for a lifetime, but that’s not all: The status of a man’s periodontal health also influences their overall health.
Both heart disease and periodontal disease are chronic inflammatory conditions, leading researchers to believe that poor periodontal health could increase a person’s risk for heart disease. Because men already have a higher probability for heart ailments than women, maintaining healthy gums may reduce this risk.
The prostate gland creates and secretes an enzyme called prostate-specific antigen (PSA), and conditions, such as infection, inflammation or cancer of the prostate, can cause PSA levels to rise. However, men with symptoms of gum disease—red, swollen or bleeding gums—along with inflammation of the prostate, have higher PSA levels than if they had only one of these problems.
According to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), men who are younger than 30 or older than 70 could develop impotence if they’re also battling periodontal disease. Once again, the link is inflammation, which can damage blood vessels.
The AAP also reports that men with a history of periodontal disease are 14 percent more predisposed to developing cancer. And the probability of developing kidney cancer is 49 percent more likely in men with gum disease than it is in women, while the risk for pancreatic cancer is 54 percent higher for men and 30 percent higher for blood cancers.
Cancer of the mouth and throat affects nearly 48,000 people each year, and as a result, 9,600 will die. Men, over the age of 40, are diagnosed twice as often with oral cancer as women, and tobacco use, whether smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or chewing tobacco and heavy alcohol use are the key factors that cause oral cancer. However, there is also a subset of oral cancers related to the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus.
Oral cancer is mostly preventable, and when caught in its early stages, it can be successfully treated. If any of your employees have any of the following symptoms that last more than two weeks, they should see a doctor or dentist right away.
- Sore or lump anywhere in the mouth or on the tongue
- Red or white patches in the mouth or throat area
- Problems swallowing or moving your jaw
- Feeling as though something is caught in the throat
- Pain in one ear
- Numb feeling in your tongue or anywhere in the mouth
- Swellings that make dentures or partials difficult to wear
Improving Men’s Oral Health
If you want your male employees to have the same good oral health as women, encourage them to adhere to these simple guidelines.
- Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- Floss once a day
- Visit a dentist regularly for dental examinations, oral cancer screenings and professional cleanings
- Stop smoking and use alcohol in moderation
- Wear a mouthguard when playing high-risk sports
The Men’s Health Network, which is associated with a congressional health education program, designates June as National Men’s Health Month. This is a perfect time to highlight men’s oral health with company-wide awareness activities that emphasize the need for early detection and treatment. And why not join other companies throughout the U.S. and around the globe that will be showing support for men’s health issues by wearing blue on Friday, June 16—the official Wear Blue Friday.