Unhealthy diets, tobacco use, harmful alcohol use and poor oral hygiene are risk factors that can lead to oral diseases such as periodontitis, Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis said during his address at the opening session of the Bahamas Dental Association’s (BDA) Annual Scientific Conference, Wednesday night.
Dr. Minnis said the prevention of periodontitis (gum disease) may turn out to be an “important step” in maintaining overall health, given the potential link between the disease and “systemic health problems.”

“Scientists, healthcare providers, policymakers and the public must stand all stand together to emphasize how crucial good, oral health, is to overall health,” Dr. Minnis said. “Our understanding of the links between oral health and some of the chronic, non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) that plague our people has increased in recent times.

“Conferences such as this Annual Scientific Conference underscore the role of oral health in the complete wellness of individuals,” Dr. Minnis added.

Dr. Minnis said the mandate of the Ministry of Health is to promote oral health awareness and increase dental patient education throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. He said this is done, in part, by emphasizing primary and preventative healthcare and by being “focused in its efforts” to encourage Bahamians to adopt healthy lifestyles, including adopting good oral practices.

“Our understanding of the causes and consequences of ill health is changing,” Dr. Minnis said. “Health systems, including oral health systems, have become more complex as are people’s expectations of healthcare. We promote preventative dental measures and urge utilization of all public dental facilities.”

Dr. Minnis said dental systems can expose health issues since dentists can find signs that point to anemia, diabetes, heart and liver disease, diet deficiencies and eating disorders, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, HIV, osteoporosis and even some pregnancy risks during an examination.

Dr. Minnis said the World Health Organization (WHO) defines oral health as a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, periodontal (gum) diseases, tooth decay and tooth loss, in addition to other diseases and/or disorders that affect the oral cavity.

The Health Minister said WHO has identified four strategic aims that have implications for the Oral Health Programme as part of its overall goal of building healthy populations and communities, while combating ill health.

These include reducing oral disease burden and disability, especially in poor and marginalized populations; promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing risk factors to oral health that arise from environmental, economic, social and behavioural causes; developing oral health systems that equitably improve oral health outcomes, respond to people’s legitimate demands and are financially fair, and by framing policies in oral health, based on integration of oral health into national and community health programmes, in addition to promoting oral health as an effective dimension for development policy of society.

He said that over the past 11 years, The Bahamas has improved its oral health status by reducing its decayed, missing and filling teeth (DMFT) Index from five to a DMFT Index of less than three.

“The needs of an ageing population are also supported by promoting quality dental programmes, increasing oral health awareness and increasing dental patient education,” Dr. Minnis added.