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Health Facts

Every week, the Pharmacy Self Care Program (from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia) publishes a Health Care Facts column.  This also appears in the Herbert River Express every week.

For your convenience, they will be published here - feel free to browse back over past editions.


Health Facts 12 August 2009

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell – 12 August 2009


Making the mouth a healthier place

We expect our teeth to last a lifetime; however, it seems the standard of oral health care in Australia – especially in regional areas of Australia – leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Recent studies indicate that Australians have lower standards of oral health than almost any other developed country.

In part, this problem is due to a shortage of skilled oral health care practitioners, but there are strategies that we can personally put into practice that will help prevent tooth decay and gum disease occurring – strategies that were highlighted during the recent National Dental Health Awareness Week.

The most common cause of oral health problems is plaque. Plaque is a thin, sticky film which builds up on the teeth. It is produced by a combination of saliva, bacteria and food. The bacteria ferment sugars in the food forming acids that erode the tooth enamel. Plaque also damages the gums as well.

The plaque can be removed by brushing and flossing, but it quickly reforms. When it stays on the teeth for longer that a few days, it hardens into tartar (or calculus) that acts a reservoir for bacteria. The tarter then needs to be removed by a dentist.

For some good tips on how to keep your teeth long term, and how to keep those tissues that support the teeth healthy as well, get hold of the Fact Card titled Oral Health. It’s available from pharmacies around Australia that provide the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.

For a start, brush your teeth twice a day – morning and bedtime – with a soft toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste. Take the time to brush carefully and gently along the tongue, or use a tongue cleaner, as bacteria can thrive on the tongue, too.

A low fluoride toothpaste is recommended for children aged 18 months to 6 years, and for children under the age of 18 months brushing without a paste is best.

To completely remove plaque and food from between the teeth we should also floss once a day (rinse thoroughly after flossing) or use interdental brushes. The appropriate flossing technique is detailed on the Oral Health card.

Healthy eating makes healthy teeth and gums. Avoid sweet sugary drinks and snacks; and if you do snack between meals, rinse the mouth with water afterwards. Smoking increases the risk of gum disease and oral cancer; so it’s another good reason to quit smoking. Smoking also contributes to dry mouth, itself a factor in causing teeth and gum disease.

Saliva (we normally secrete about 1.5 litres a day) assists speech, taste and swallowing and prepares food for digestion. A good flow of saliva also helps prevent tooth decay and protects against mouth and gum infections.

Saliva production commonly decreases with age, but apart from smoking, there are other factors which reduce the flow of saliva such as alcohol and caffeine containing drinks (they can be dehydrating), snoring and breathing through the mouth, and also certain medicines.

In fact medicines are the most common cause of dry mouth. If you’re suffering from chronic or continual dry mouth, check with your pharmacist to see if one or more medicines could be the cause. Of course, sometimes these medicines are essential, but there are ways to minimise the dryness. Special gels, sprays, toothpastes, gums and mouthwashes are available.

For more information on keeping your mouth, teeth and gums fresh and clean and disease free, check out the fact cards on Oral Health and Dry Mouth at one of the 1,650 Self Care pharmacies around Australia. For the nearest location go to the Pharmaceutical Society website and click on “Self Care Pharmacy Finder”.



Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

Health Facts 29 July 2009

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell – 29 July 2009

When nature calls at inconvenient times

‘Continence is everybody’s business’ is one of the main messages to come from Continence Awareness Week (CAW) 2009 (2-8 August).

Incontinence is the term given to the loss of voluntary control over bladder or bowel function, and it’s one of the biggest health issues in the Australian community – affecting nearly four million people. It may not be life threatening, but incontinence can significantly impact on quality of life and is sometimes a sign of more serious health problems.

The focus of CAW this year is an acknowledgement that continence problems also affect many more millions of Australians – those people who provide care for someone with incontinence. This covers a range of people (both young and aged carers) providing unpaid support and care to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness or who are frail.

Signs of poor or weak bladder and loss of urine control include frequency – wanting to go to the toilet frequently, nocturia – waking up to go to the toilet more than twice at night, urgency – sudden urges to go to the toilet and the involuntary or unintentional loss of urine from the bladder – that is wetting pants or wetting the bed.

While studies show that women are many times more likely to be affected by incontinence than men, men are far less likely to do anything about it.

Incontinence in men is largely related to prostate problems. Simple age-related prostate gland enlargement is often the cause and a recent study found that 60% of men are affected by incontinence following surgery for prostate cancer. Also, medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, constipation and chronic cough can cause or aggravate continence problems. Any bladder and bowel symptoms should be treated along with the underlying condition.

As we get older incontinence certainly becomes more prevalent and more severe but incontinence is not just part of the ageing process. Certainly some age-related conditions increase the risk – conditions such as stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease or simply impaired mobility. And more than half of all residents in nursing homes – both men and women – have bladder control problems.

Nevertheless, poor bladder and urine control can happen to anyone at any age and other factors which increase risk are menopause, pregnancy, childbirth, having borne children, being overweight and urinary tract infections.

Unfortunately, less than 40% of people with incontinence ever seek professional help. Perhaps because they’re too embarrassed or too busy, or maybe they think nothing can be done, that it’s just a side effect of getting older or having children.

If you, or someone in your family, are affected, firstly get some good advice. Don’t let incontinence disturb your sleep or, worse still, ruin your social life. Talk to your doctor, your physiotherapist, your pharmacist or your nurse continence advisor.

There is excellent advice on the Continence Foundation website at or simply call into your local Self Care pharmacy for information on how to prevent and manage continence problems.

Pharmacists throughout Australia who provide the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information are promoting continence management. There are ‘fact cards’ on Bladder and Urine Control, Pelvic Floor Exercises, Prostate Problems and Urinary Tract Infection; all with self help hints and great advice on how to best manage continence problems, whatever the cause.

Remember, incontinence is a symptom, not a disease. It’s important, therefore, to find out what is causing this symptom. And there are several different forms of incontinence, each responding to a different form of treatment.

Medications are sometimes used to help manage incontinence, but on the other hand certain medications (and the socially acceptable drugs like alcohol and caffeine) can cause incontinence or make it worse.

So if you have bladder problems, don’t keep it a secret. Talk to your doctor or check out the information at one of the 1,650 Self Care Pharmacies around Australia. Call 1300 369 772 for the nearest location.

Meanwhile, reduce your consumption of caffeine containing drinks – coffee, tea and cola; limit your alcohol intake; maintain a healthy weight; unless otherwise advised by your doctor, drink enough water to keep your urine ‘light-coloured’; eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains; exercise those muscles on the pelvic floor and don’t smoke.



Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

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