Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

To raise awareness of a leading cause of vision loss among people 50 and older, here is some information about age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Since February is AMD awareness month, we’d like to provide some useful material so you can understand the basics of the condition, know what to look for, and be attentive to your vision health.

What is AMD?

Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that mostly affects those who are 50 or older. It causes vision loss in the center of your field of vision. There are two types­ of AMD – dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration. With dry, the center of the retina deteriorates. With wet, leaky blood vessels grow under the retina. Dry AMD is the most common.

What are the symptoms?

In some cases, you could not have symptoms of AMD, even though the disease is progressing. That’s why visiting your eye doctor and getting annual comprehensive eye exams is so important.

Symptoms include blind spots; a difference in the appearance of color; distorted vision where straight lines appear wavy or bent; blurred or decreased vision when looking straight ahead, either at a distance or close up; and objects appearing different in color, shape or size in one eye compared to the other. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or having trouble with daily tasks like reading, cooking, driving, seeing in dim light or looking at faces, contact your eye doctor as soon as you can and make an appointment.

Are you at risk?

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing AMD. It’s best to discuss these factors with your doctor. Here are some of the risk factors:

  • Family history of AMD
  • Over the age of 50
  • Smoking
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Overweight

To learn more about these and other risk factors, and to learn more about AMD, talk with your doctor and consider these additional resources, Prevent Blindness and American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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Assess Your Dental Benefits for the Year Ahead

Since it’s tax season and you’re reviewing your finances and other paperwork, it’s also a good time to look at your dental insurance. Here are some things to consider.

  1. Check the contract year. Your dental benefits renew at the calendar year or the contract year. The contract year is usually based on when your insurance plan actually took effect. For example, if your dental benefits started in April, your benefits would typically renew 12 months later, in April. If your benefits renew at the calendar year, your benefits will start on January 1. At the beginning of the calendar or contract year, you start over with the deductible and annual maximum.
  2. Check your deductible. Your deductible is a specific dollar amount that you pay out-of-pocket before your dental insurance begins to cover your expenses. Deductibles usually apply to basic or major treatment, not cleanings or exams. Cleanings and exams are considered preventive services and are typically covered regardless of whether your deductible has been met. Find out your deductible so you can plan accordingly for the year.
  3. Check the annual maximum.Just like your deductible is reset with the start of a new calendar year or contract tear, so is your annual maximum. The annual maximum of your dental plan is the maximum dollar amount the plan will pay towards the cost of care, within a specific amount of time (typically January through December).
  4. Check your lifetime maximum. The lifetime maximum of your dental plan is the maximum dollar amount a benefit plan will pay for your dental care over the course of your lifetime. This usually refers to services like orthodontic or prosthodontic treatment. Some treatment doesn’t have a lifetime maximum. If you check your dental plan, you can plan accordingly for care you or your family might need, like braces for your kids.

It’s a good idea to read through your dental insurance to understand all the details and to be aware of any maximums or limitations. You can also contact customer service with any questions.

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How Your Dental and Vision Benefits Do More For Your Overall Health

This February, to partake in the awareness of American Heart Month, we’d like to show how your dental and vision benefits provide an unexpected way to detect issues with your heart and your overall health.

Your eyes and mouth can reveal a lot about your overall health. During dental and vision exams, doctors can spot signs and symptoms of health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Health issues can be detected during an eye exam

During an eye exam, your eye doctor will look at the blood vessels in your eyes. As the American Academy of Ophthalmology explains, because the eye is an important part of our large nervous system, irregularities may indicate the changes in other parts of our bodies. In other words, since the blood, blood vessels and nerve connections in the eyes are connected to the rest of the body, our eyes “can reflect illness that begins” in another part of our body.

For example, an ophthalmologist can detect diabetes by noticing changes or damage in the blood vessels of our retina. Sometimes, an eye exam can detect the early and beginning stages of diabetes even before a blood sugar test. Early detection of diabetes can be crucial to avoiding more serious complications of the disease.

Hypertension or high blood pressure is another health condition that can be detected during an eye exam. The blood vessels can exhibit this condition. Inflamed eyes can be an indication of autoimmune disorders. High cholesterol can be identified by an eye doctor’s examination of the cornea and blood vessels. If these or other health issues are found by your eye doctor, they’ll refer you back to your primary care physician or specialist for further tests and examinations.

Health issues can be detected during a dental exam

Just like your eyes can be indicators of your overall health, the same is true about your mouth. Systemic diseases and health issues can sometimes show signs and symptoms in your mouth. For example, bleeding gums, dry mouth, loose teeth and bad breath can be signs of health problems in other parts of your body.

Heart disease can be detected by inflammation in your mouth. Sometimes a sore jaw or pain with other signs can indicate a looming heart attack. Diabetes can show signs in your mouth such as chronic bad breath and bleeding gums. High stress can lead to many health problems. Your dentist could notice signs of stress like worn down teeth or bone loss from grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. And an oral cancer screening is also usually a part of a dental exam. If these or other health issues are found by your dentist, they’ll refer you back to your primary care physician or specialist for further tests and examinations.

Early detection with regular visits

When you make your eye doctor and dentist appointment, you’re also taking care of your overall health. With these regular visits, twice a year at the dentist and once a year at the eye doctor, you’re preventing small problems with your teeth and eyes from becoming bigger and more costly, while also possibly identifying other health issues.

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How to Get a Fit Smile

We talk about staying fit, working out and eating healthy, so why not consider the “fitness” of your teeth? Along with your daily routine of going for a walk or run, here are some fitness goals for your smile. While you work on building strong muscles, follow this advice to build strong enamel. After all, your dental health is an important part of your overall health.

Stay away from sugary foods and drinks

The harmful bacteria in your mouth will feed on the sugars found in soda and sweets. Then, these bacteria create acids. Acid attacks and wears down your tooth enamel. Those sugary foods and drinks aren’t good for your overall health or your smile!

Eat foods high in calcium

Foods like cheese, broccoli and yogurt are rich with calcium. Calcium can counter the damage from acids, as explained above, by rebuilding enamel. Choose foods high in calcium to keep your teeth strong, and your bones will stay strong too.

Fluoride helps strengthen enamel

When you brush your teeth, twice a day for two minutes, use fluoride toothpaste. The fluoride protects your teeth, helps strengthen your enamel and repairs the first stages of tooth decay. You can also find fluoride in certain mouthwashes and most tap water. Also your dentist provides fluoride treatments.

Brush twice a day, but not too hard

You’re already brushing twice a day for two minutes. But to keep that smile fit and keep your enamel strong, don’t brush too hard or too fast. Improve your brushing technique by brushing gently in an oval-shape motion. Also, to avoid wearing down your enamel, choose a soft-bristle toothbrush.

Keep your gums in good shape too

Healthy gums are another important part of your dental health. Add these steps to your fitness routine to keep yours in good shape.

  • Brush and floss daily – Brushing twice a day is part of your routine, but is flossing too? To keep your gums healthy and strong, when you floss and brush, pay attention to the gumline. Need to improve your flossing technique? Learn five steps to better flossing.
  • Visit your dentist – Your dentist can identify any early signs of gum disease so it can treated early and prevent worse problems. A professional cleaning from your dentist and dental hygienist provide the only way to remove tartar buildup. They can also reach plaque that you may have missed.
  • Don’t smoke – Being fit and healthy corresponds directly with not smoking. Same is true for your dental health. If you smoke, it makes it harder to fight gum disease. Smoking can weaken your immune system and make it difficult for your damaged gums to heal.
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Party Snacks for Your Vision and Dental Health

If you’re hosting an awards show party or throwing a game-day bash, try these foods for healthy teeth and eyes.

Reconsider the trend and try something new

Rosé, champagne and prosecco may be a trendy choice and a fun idea for an award show party or to celebrate your favorite team winning the big game, but these drinks can be hard on tooth enamel. Prosecco, champagne, and rosè have high acid levels, so try sparkling water instead. Or if you’re looking for a unique drink to serve, try a colorful vegetable and fruit smoothie. Pack it with eye-healthy choices like spinach, carrots, apples or beets. With fruit to garnish, your guests will feel indulged and healthy.

Cheese – both appetizing and helpful

Putting together a cheese tray can be an easy choice. It can also protect your teeth if you do decide to treat you and your friends with champagne. Cheese is usually a favorite, and you can add more to the platter like prosciutto and salami.  Add some vision-friendly nuts like walnuts and almonds. How about chickpeas or sunflower seeds, both with nutrients good for vision, to add to the selection? With all these extra choices, your guests won’t miss the crackers. Crackers are starchy and high in carbohydrates. Those carbohydrates turn into sugar that can harm the enamel on your teeth. If you do decide to add some crackers, other snack foods like celery can act as a natural toothbrush to clear the food particles on the surface of your teeth.

A different veggie tray

I know it’s tempting to just grab a couple of bags of chips, but they are high in carbohydrates and starches, and no good for your smile. Instead, put together a veggie tray. Vegetables will provide the same satisfying crunch your guests crave while providing vitamins good for your vision and dental health. If you’re looking for something different than the usual celery, carrots and broccoli, try parsnips, jicama, snap peas, artichokes and asparagus. Raw red peppers are filled with vitamin C which is a good nutrient for your eyes.

Berries for sweetness

I suppose it wouldn’t be a party without something sweet. So here is an option that can have some benefits while also delighting your friends and family. Try berries drizzled with dark chocolate – dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate or white chocolate and strawberries are filled with vitamin C, good for your teeth and eyes.

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Sugar and Your Eyes

Last week we talked about how sugar affects your teeth, which is probably commonly considered. Candy, soda and other sweets often trigger fears of cavities. But what’s less likely to be considered is how sugar can be harmful to your eyes.

How are they connected?

One way sugar and our eyes are connected is through blood sugar levels. Since we have blood vessels in our eyes, the amount of sugar we consume that goes into our blood can affect our vision.

As explained on AllAboutVision.com, “Fluctuating blood sugars are known to cause fluctuating vision.”  There is a connection between blood sugar levels and the lens in your eye being able to maintain focus.

According to BostonSight, “sugar consumption is linked to a number of serious eye health conditions.” One example provided was from a study that found limiting sugar can reduce the risk or the advancement of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD can cause you to lose your vision. As discussed in an article on WebMD, it’s better to eat foods that are low on the glycemic index and that won’t make your blood sugar levels spike quickly.

Cataracts are another eye condition that research has linked to sugar intake. High amounts of sugar in your blood can cause the lens in your eyes to swell. According to the American Optometric Association, this may increase your risk of developing cataracts.

Excessive pressure in your eye can lead to glaucoma, another serious eye disease. High blood sugar can cause the blood vessels in your eyes to create a buildup of fluid. This fluid can create that excessive pressure.

Diabetes and eye disease

If you have diabetes, there are other diseases you’re at risk of developing – diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema.

Talking with your eye doctor to learn more and going for a comprehensive eye exam regularly can detect some of these conditions early.
Though it may seem common knowledge to watch your sugar intake because of the negative effects it can have on your health, it’s important to consider all the ways it can impact your health – including your eyes and vision.

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Sugar and Your Teeth

When you reach for a cookie or a piece of candy and you place that sugar-filled food in your mouth, you might only think about how wonderful and delicious it tastes. Now I’m going to challenge you to think of it from a different perspective. Here’s what happens to your teeth when that sugar enters your mouth.

Bacteria in your mouth

There’s good bacteria and bad bacteria in your mouth. The harmful bacteria uses the sugar from the cookie or piece of candy to create acid.

Acid hurts your enamel

The acid that was just formed from the bacteria and sugar in your mouth will now work to destroy the enamel of your teeth. Enamel is like a protective coating on your teeth. But the acid removes important minerals on your enamel, and eventually causes it to weaken and form a hole in your tooth, also known as a cavity.

A cavity forms

With the destroyed enamel and hole in your tooth caused by the acid, that cavity can actually continue to spread into the deeper layers of your tooth. This is when you will feel pain or sensitivity.

Reverse the damage

Even though this process is happening when you eat sugar, there are other things going on in your mouth to fight against a cavity. Saliva is working hard to repair your teeth through a process called remineralization. The minerals in your saliva, calcium and phosphate, help to replace the minerals attacked by the acid. Fluoride in your water or in your toothpaste do the same thing to help your enamel.

Other steps to take

Besides cutting back on sugary foods and beverages, there are other steps you can take. If you’re eating sweets, try to do so during a meal. Avoid sticky foods because they will stick to your teeth and that gives them more time and opportunity to do damage. Sticky foods include starchy foods like crackers and chips. Drinking and rinsing with water can help. Choices like cheese or other dairy foods have calcium and phosphates. Those minerals help your enamel, like described above. Also, chewing sugarless gum or eating fresh fruits and vegetables, like celery, increases saliva production.

And, of course, there is our ever constant reminder to brush twice a day for two minutes to prevent cavities. We care about the health of your smile and sugar is a big deterrence from keeping your smile cavity-free. Remember what’s going on in your mouth when you chew on that candy bar!

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