Maintaining your teeth isn’t only about looking good. Keeping you oral and dental hygiene in check can help prevent gum disease, tooth decay, bad breath and can help you retain your teeth as you get older. Oral health is also essential to overall health. Good oral health improves your ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and make facial expressions. The American Dental Association warns that the health of your mouth mirrors the condition of your body as a whole.
What are some conditions that poor oral hygiene can cause?
- Gum disease Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and under your gum line. This plaque causes infections that hurt the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place. Your gums are not supposed to bleed when you brush and floss. If yours do, this can be a sign of gum disease. Gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease, makes gums red, swollen, and quick-to-bleed, in response to the bacteria in the plaque. More than half of Americans have gingivitis. If the plaque spreads, the immune response heightens and can destroy tissues and bones in the mouth, creating pockets between the teeth that can become infected. At this advanced stage, gum disease is now called periodontitis and it can become chronic.
- Tooth decay 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. Cavities are fairly common. 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. It should be noted that major causes of tooth decay are sugary, sticky foods and beverages. Sugar combines with plaque to weaken the enamel leaving you vulnerable to tooth decay.
- Halitosis The medical term for bad breath is halitosis and it may affect as much as 65% of the American population. A number of conditions have halitosis as a symptom – the number one is poor oral hygiene. Food particles that linger long after meals can start to stink, and the less you brush and floss, the more potentially malodorous bacteria build up in your mouth. Brushing twice a day helps to disrupt this process and keeps your breath fresh and clean.
- Oral Cancer Cancer of the mouth can grow in any part of the mouth or throat. Regular dental visits are important because in the early stages, oral cancer typically does not cause pain and early detection saves lives. Symptoms you may see include open sores, white or reddish patches, and changes in the lips, tongue and lining of the mouth that lasts for more than two weeks. Even if you have lost all your natural teeth, you should still see your dentist for regular oral cancer exams.
What are the most important tips to achieve good oral health?
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and make sure to use fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss daily. Use a slow and gentle sawing motion between each tooth.
- Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars.
- Drink more water. Water continues to be the best beverage for your overall health, including oral health. It is recommended to drink water after every meal. This can help wash out some of the negative effects of sticky and acidic foods and beverages in between brushes.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn.
- Visit your dentist on a regular basis, even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures (mentioned again because it is that important!)
- Avoid tobacco use. (Yes, that advice shows up in almost every blog!)
- If you have diabetes, work to maintain control of the disease. This will decrease risk for other complications, including gum disease.
What health risks can be linked to oral health?
Your mouth is a hotbed of bacteria, which can be controlled with good oral hygiene. But neglect your teeth and gums, and it’s not just your mouth that will suffer. Your overall health may also be on the line. Your oral health might contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
- Endocarditis This infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves (endocardium) typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart.
- Cardiovascular disease Although the connection is not fully understood, some research suggests that heart attacks and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
- Pregnancy and birth complications Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
- Pneumonia Certain bacteria in your mouth can be aspirated into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
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