Oral health affects our ability to eat, speak, smile, and show emotions. Oral health also affects a person’s self-esteem, school performance, and attendance at work or school.
Dental and oral health is an essential part of your overall health and well-being. Poor oral hygiene can lead to dental cavities and gum disease and has also been linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Maintaining healthy teeth and gums is a lifelong commitment. The earlier you learn proper oral hygiene habits — such as brushing, flossing, and limiting your sugar intake — the easier it’ll be to avoid costly dental procedures and long-term health issues.
Causes of dental and oral diseases
Your oral cavity collects all sorts of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Some of them belong there, making up the normal flora of your mouth. They’re generally harmless in small quantities. But a diet high in sugar creates conditions in which acid-producing bacteria can flourish. This acid dissolves tooth enamel and causes dental cavities.
Increased inflammation causes your gums to begin to pull away from your teeth. This process creates pockets in which pus may eventually collect. This more advanced stage of gum disease is called periodontitis.
Many factors contribute to gingivitis and periodontitis, including:
- poor brushing habits
- frequent snacking on sugary foods and drinks
- the use of medications that reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth
- family history, or genetics
- certain infections, such as HIV or AIDS
- hormonal changes in women
- acid reflux, or heartburn
- frequent vomiting, due to the acid
Types of dental and oral diseases
We use our teeth and mouths a lot, so it’s not surprising how many things can go wrong over time, especially if you don’t take proper care of your teeth. Most dental and oral problems can be prevented with proper oral hygiene.
Cavities are also called caries or tooth decay. These are areas of the tooth that have been permanently damaged and may even have holes in them. They occur when bacteria, food, and acid coat your teeth and form a plaque. The acid on your teeth starts to eat away at the enamel and then the underlying dentin, or connective tissue. Over time, this can lead to permanent damage.
Gum disease (gingivitis)
Gum disease, also called gingivitis, is inflammation of the gums. It’s usually the result of plaque building up on your teeth due to poor brushing and flossing habits. Gingivitis can make your gums swell and bleed when you brush or floss.
As periodontitis progresses, the infection can spread to your jaw and bones. It can also cause an inflammatory response throughout the body.
Cracked or broken teeth
A tooth can crack or break from an injury to the mouth, chewing hard foods, or grinding the teeth at night. A cracked tooth can be very painful.
If your teeth are sensitive, you might feel pain or discomfort after having cold or hot foods or beverages. Some people naturally have sensitive teeth because they have thinner enamel.
Most of the time, naturally sensitive teeth can be treated with a change in your daily oral hygiene regimen.
Oral cancers include cancer of the:
- the floor of the mouth
- hard and soft palate
A dentist is usually the first person to recognize oral cancer. Tobacco use, such as smoking and chewing tobacco, is the biggest risk factor for oral cancer.
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy
Achieving healthy teeth takes a lifetime of care. Even if you’ve been told that you have nice teeth, it’s crucial to take the right steps every day to take care of them and prevent problems. This involves getting the right oral care products, as well as being mindful of your daily habits.
1. Don’t go to bed without brushing your teeth
It’s no secret that the general recommendation is to brush at least twice a day. Still, many of us continue to neglect to brush our teeth at night. But brushing before bed gets rid of the germs and plaque that accumulate throughout the day.
2. Brush properly
The way you brush is equally important doing a poor job of brushing your teeth is almost as bad as not brushing at all. Take your time, moving the toothbrush in gentle, circular motions to remove plaque.
3. Don’t neglect your tongue
Plaque can also build up on your tongue. Not only can this lead to bad mouth odor, but it can lead to other oral health problems. Gently brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth.
4. Use a fluoride toothpaste
When it comes to toothpaste, there are more important elements to look for than whitening power and flavors. No matter which version you choose, make sure it contains fluoride.
Fluoride is a leading defense against tooth decay. It works by fighting germs that can lead to decay, as well as providing a protective barrier for your teeth.
5. Treat flossing as important as brushing
Many who brush regularly neglect to floss. Flossing is not just for getting little pieces of food or broccoli that may be getting stuck in between your teeth, as Jonathan Schwartz, DDS. points out. “It’s really a way to stimulate the gums, reduce plaque, and help lower inflammation in the area.”
Flossing once a day is usually enough to reap these benefits.
6. Drink more water
Water continues to be the best beverage for your overall health — including oral health. Also, drinking water after every meal can help wash out some of the negative effects of sticky and acidic foods and beverages in between brushes.
7. Limit sugary and acidic foods
Ultimately, sugar converts into acid in the mouth, which can then erode the enamel of your teeth. These acids are what lead to cavities. Acidic fruits, teas, and coffee can also wear down tooth enamel.
Foods with hidden sugars include:
- condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce
- sliced fruit or applesauce in cans or jars that have added sugars
- flavored yogurt
- pasta sauce
- sweetened iced tea
- sports drinks
8. See your dentist at least twice a year
You shouldn’t wait until you have symptoms to visit your dentist. Going to the dentist twice a year will usually allow them to catch a problem before you even notice any symptoms
Your everyday habits are crucial to your overall oral health. Still, even the most dutiful brushers and flossers need to see a dentist regularly. Not only can a dentist remove calculus and look for cavities, but they will also be able to spot potential issues and offer treatment solutions.
9. Avoid oral piercings
Body piercing is a popular form of self-expression. Oral piercings or tongue splitting may look cool, but they can be dangerous to your health. That’s because your mouth contains millions of bacteria, and infection and swelling often occur with mouth piercings. For instance, your mouth and tongue could swell so much that you close off your airway or you could possibly choke if part of the jewelry breaks off in your mouth. In some cases, you could crack a tooth if you bite down too hard on the piercing, and repeated clicking of the jewelry against teeth can also cause damage. Oral piercing could also lead to more serious infections, like hepatitis or endocarditis.
Also, these are some more tips to maintain your oral health:
- Drink fluoridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste.
- Do not use any tobacco products. If you smoke, quit.
- Limit alcoholic drinks.
- If you have diabetes, work to maintain control of the disease. This will decrease the risk for other complications, including gum disease. Treating gum disease may help lower your blood sugar level.
- If your medication causes dry mouth, ask your doctor for a different medication that may not cause this condition. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco products and alcohol.
- See your doctor or a dentist if you have sudden changes in taste and smell.
- When acting as a caregiver, help older individuals brush and floss their teeth if they are not able to perform these activities independently.
Note that you do not have to do all these tips together. You can use floss to start. Floss your teeth before going to bed. After a few days of getting used to it, you can brush your teeth after going bathroom and then floss, and gradually after a while, you will form a routine to take care of your oral health.
To sum up, oral health touches every aspect of our lives but is often taken for granted. Your mouth is a window into the health of your body. It can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection.
Many people believe that they need to see a dentist only if they are in pain or think something is wrong, but regular dental visits can contribute to a lifetime of good oral health.
You can practice good oral hygiene by always brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between your teeth once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner, replacing your toothbrush every three or four months, and by eating a balanced diet and limiting between-meal snacks. Don’t forget to schedule regular dental check-ups to keep your smile, and yourself, healthy.