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Cavities and bad breath are the least of it when it comes to the consequences of poor oral hygiene and the lack of regular visits to the dentist.

According to the National Dental Association (NDA), dental decay is the most chronic childhood disease and every year, dental related diseases cause children to miss 51 million hours from school and 25 million work hours are lost by parents dealing with their children’s dental disease.

Children, the working poor and people of color suffer disproportionately from oral decay, which has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and low birth weight babies.

For many, a toothache can represent a lot more than just a pain in the mouth.

Infections can develop and if left untreated can get into the bloodstream and spread to critical areas of the body, causing serious illness and even death.

One of the more famous cases occurred in 2007, when 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, a Prince George’s County, Md., boy died of complications from an abscessed tooth. His family’s Medicaid coverage had lapsed and, according to The Washington Post, Deamonte’s mother said even on the state plan her children lacked regular dental care.

Last year, Kyle Willis, the nephew of funk legend Bootsy Collins died after a tooth infection spread to his brain. Collins and his wife became advocates to encourage people to go for regular dental checkups and to practice regular oral hygiene.

Dr. Edward Chappelle, president-elect of the NDA, which celebrates its centennial in 2013, has said the organization is committed to promoting oral health equity among people of color and raising the profile of the dentistry profession in the black community.

Chappelle, who has a dental practice in Bowie, Md., a suburb of Washington, DC, has been active in a lot of civic and social activities to promote good health and volunteering his services. He also serves on the board of directors for the Video Ministry and Health Ministry for Largo Community Church, Mitchellville, Md.

Even if you brush and floss regularly and go for routine checkups, gum health can still be impacted by tobacco use, stress, poor diet and even genetics.

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