Make a difference this Movember

10 November 2020
3 min read

Although many people joke about why women live longer than men, the numbers don’t lie. The average life expectancy at birth for men in the UK is around 79 years but for women, it is almost 83 years. More men than women also die prematurely, with statistics showing that, on average, men are dying six years earlier than the opposite sex and for largely preventable reasons. It is clear that men’s health is in crisis, which is why it is important to raise awareness and improve our understanding of the health risks that men face. There’s no better time to start doing this than Movember.

Poor health outcomes in men have been linked to several factors besides genetics. For instance, men tend to participate in more risk-taking behaviour – including smoking and drinking alcohol to excess – compared to women, and experience greater levels of occupational exposure to various hazards. Moreover, it is thought that traditional ideas of masculinity influence men’s attitudes towards health, making them less likely to visit a doctor when they are ill. Even if they do visit a doctor, the chances of reporting symptoms of disease or illness are lower among men than women. This is as true for physical ailments as for mental ones – around one in eight men have a common mental health problem, but many are reluctant to seek professional support or to disclose such an issue to loved ones.

In fact, a 2016 survey by Opinion Leader for the Men’s Health Forum found that the majority of men would take time off work to get medical help for physical complications such as bloody stool or urine, unexpected lumps or chest pain, yet fewer than one in five said they would do the same for anxiety or if they were feeling low. The risk of this behaviour is that men are more likely to use potentially harmful coping mechanisms like drug or alcohol abuse in response to distress and, sadly, some men simply become overwhelmed. Three quarters of people in the UK who kill themselves are men and suicide remains the leading cause of death for men under the age of 50.

The picture isn’t much better for men’s physical health. Although the research is complicated, men are typically at greater risk than women of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) at some point in their lives. Indeed, deaths caused by coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke remains higher among men than women, with 75 per cent of premature deaths from CHD being male. Men are also at higher risk of type 2 diabetes and it is estimated that men account for 56 per cent of those diagnosed with this condition in the UK. Furthermore, of all the cancers that can affect both sexes, men are 56 per cent more likely to develop one of these cancers and 67 per cent more likely to die from the disease. Prostate cancer, in particular, is a leading cause of death in males, with around 11,700 prostate cancer deaths occurring in the UK every year, which equates to 32 men dying every day.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that men lag behind women again when it comes to oral health. Figures show that approximately 77 per cent of women brush at least twice a day compared to only 69 per cent of men, who are also less likely to floss. Additionally, more than three in five men regret not taking better care of their oral health earlier in life, according to the Oral Health Foundation. Considering their less-than-ideal oral care habits and their tendency to avoid visiting the dentist, it’s no wonder that men are more likely to develop periodontal disease, the prevalence of which is demonstrably higher in men compared to women. These statistics are worrying, given that conditions such as diabetes and CVD can be exacerbated by the inflammatory nature of periodontal disease. Furthermore, men with a history of periodontal disease are at an increased risk of developing cancer compared to men who have healthy gums.

It is vital that dental professionals educate men about the importance of effective oral hygiene, especially as it is key to maintaining overall health. Oral care guidance should be provided that involves combining daily interdental cleaning with twice-daily toothbrushing for two minutes using a fluoride toothpaste. Mouthrinses, such as Perio Plus+ Forte, can be recommended to temporarily support at-home oral care in the case of patients who are at higher risk of oral disease, including those who are currently recovering from invasive dental treatments such as periodontal therapy or dental implant surgery.

The improvement of men’s health is an ongoing challenge with no straightforward solution. However, we can all make a difference by providing a safe and secure space for men to come forward and discuss their health concerns, so that they can be appropriately addressed. The dental team plays a vital role in supporting and encouraging men to take action now for the benefit of ensuring they lead longer, happier and healthier lives.

References available on request.