This summer has been the hottest on record in many areas of the U.S., and scientists predict next year could be even warmer. Wildfires compromised air quality in many states, while others experienced violent storms, flooding, and other severe weather events. We see what’s happening in Hawaii and we know that a climate emergency is upon us.
The implications for our overall health (including our dental health) and well-being are serious. We know from history that the most vulnerable in our society are most at risk of suffering from adverse events, and climate change is no different. AIDPH is focused on disrupting systems of inequity, and we also know that in order to combat the effects of climate change, we can find connections to social justice and public health to help us take meaningful action.
AIDPH supports and encourages efforts to actively protect the planet — because we need a healthy planet to have healthy people. Here are some scenarios and tips to help us all adapt to climate change:
- Scenario: Prolonged heat can affect oral health because high temperatures can lead to dehydration which reduces the production of saliva (dry mouth). The decrease in saliva can result in an increased risk of cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. Tips: Stay hydrated during periods of hot weather, and keep a refillable water bottle handy. If fresh drinking water isn’t available, get bottled water to keep in your home or vehicle. Avoid sugary sports drinks or soda for hydration. If you need an electrolyte drink, try drinking it with a straw to avoid sugar and sweeteners coming in contact with your teeth. More resources about dry mouth are available here.
- Scenario: Extreme weather events, like hurricanes, floods, and fires can disrupt access to health and dental clinics. People impacted by disruptive events may not get needed care, and that can lead to more health issues down the road. Tips: Always keep a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, and other health-related items in a travel kit that you can grab in an emergency.
- Scenario: Increased air pollution from fires can result in poor air quality which in turn can lead to respiratory issues. Pollutants can settle on teeth and gums, which promotes inflammation. Teeth grinding can occur when people experience anxiety and stress. Tips: When air quality is especially compromised, limit your time outdoors and/or wear a high-quality mask like a KN95. Use an indoor air purifier to help reduce pollutants that exacerbate respiratory problems. To alleviate stress, try meditation, yoga, reading, and/or doing a light workout indoors.
- Scenario: Climate change impacts agriculture and food production, and people whose food supplies rely on farming and fishing may suffer food insecurity. In addition, when food availability is compromised and healthy food becomes scarce or expensive, people may rely on processed or sugary foods instead of fresh produce, meat or fish. In areas where clean water is temporarily unavailable due to weather events, people may develop gastrointestinal illnesses or other diseases, which can affect their dental health. Tips: Avoid processed or fast foods that are high in fat when supplies become limited. If fresh foods aren’t available, nonperishables like brown rice, lentils, beans, nuts, and dried fruit (without added sugar) can be a great option. Shelf-stable nut milk, nut butters, whole grain pasta, crackers, bread, and canned goods can also be used to make healthy meals that store easily without refrigeration. Keep a supply of bottled water in case clean drinking water isn’t available during adverse weather events.
By understanding how climate-related changes affect our overall health and well-being, including our oral health, we can be proactive in protecting our health. We can also take this opportunity to educate others about the dangers of climate change on our health, and encourage environmentally conscious choices to safeguard mental, physical, and emotional health. The coming years will not be easy, but by raising awareness and committing to do our best, we will protect the planet and help everyone achieve good health.