Oral Health Basics
Good oral health and hygiene begin with clean teeth, proper dental care habits, and awareness of daily behaviors. Brushing and flossing properly from a young age helps prevent oral disease—such as cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer—as you age. Nutrition, regular teeth cleanings, and your medical history also impact your oral health standing. In addition to these factors, your oral health also impacts your overall health and vice versa.
Why Is Oral Health Care Important?
If you do not practice good oral hygiene, you are at a higher risk of developing serious oral conditions and diseases. These diseases include cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease, bruxism-related conditions, cracked tooth syndrome, and more. In addition, if your mouth is healthy, it is easier to smell, taste, chew, swallow, speak, and smile, among others.
Common Oral Conditions
There are many oral conditions that affect both children and adults. Some conditions are minor, while others can result in more serious oral health complications over time.
Common oral conditions include, but are not limited to:
- Bruxism — a condition that results in excessive grinding of the teeth, typically during sleep
- Bad Breath — also called halitosis, which is characterized by chronic bad breath
- Dry Mouth — also called xerostomia, which is when the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva
- Toothaches — pain near or in a tooth, usually caused by tooth decay or an abscess
- Cracked Teeth — minor to severe cracks in teeth that are caused by an injury, bruxism, or other factors
- Tooth Sensitivity — when a tooth is sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet substances
- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction — a condition that results in extreme jaw pain
- Mouth Breathing — when a person regularly breathes through his or her mouth, often while sleeping
- Gum Recession — when the gums begin to wear away or pull back from the teeth, resulting in more exposure of a tooth and/or the tooth’s root
- Burning Mouth — a regular burning and/or tingling sensation in the mouth
- Gingival Hyperplasia — the overgrowth of gum tissue around a patient’s teeth
Common Oral Diseases
Oral diseases are often more serious than most oral conditions. If left untreated, some diseases can result in tooth loss or permanent damage to the teeth and/or the surrounding structures (e.g., the gums).
Common oral diseases include, but are not limited to:
- Gingivitis — irreversible, minor gum disease
- Periodontal Disease — severe gum disease that results in permanent bone loss
- Cavities — minor or severe tooth decay
- Oral Thrush — a yeast infection of the mouth
- Canker Sores — mouth ulcers that typically resolve on their own in a few weeks
- Dental Abscess — a pocket of pus in a tooth
- Oral Cancer — a serious form of cancer than affects the mouth and/or throat
Oral Health and General Health
A healthy mouth is essential for a healthy body. Tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, and/or unhealthy diets cause the oral cavity to deteriorate over time. As a result, your general health will also be at risk. General health conditions can also worsen your oral health standing. Common risk factors associated with poor oral health include:
- Heart Disease — if you neglect oral care long-term, gingivitis (minor gum disease) is likely to develop. If you do not receive treatment for this condition, it will lead to periodontitis (severe gum disease). Further, this form of gum disease is linked to higher rates of heart disease (cardiovascular disease). This is because poor oral health increases the risk of a bacterial infection reaching the bloodstream, which eventually spreads to the heart valves.
- Other Chronic Diseases — if you have untreated dental decay (cavities), you are also at risk of developing chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, there is a higher chance of a stroke occurring as you age.
- Weakened Immune System — poor dental health results in a weakened immune system, which makes you more prone to developing illnesses, infections, and diseases.
How to Take Care of Your Teeth
To reduce the chance of developing a minor or serious oral condition, staying on top of basic oral care practices is essential. Many people don’t realize they may be flossing or brushing incorrectly, which can also lead to more serious problems down the road:
Brushing at least twice a day is one of the most important oral care habits because it keeps the teeth and mouth healthy. Using a fluoride-based toothpaste also stimulates the gums, which helps prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and cavities.
Fluoride is a natural mineral found in soil and rocks that helps prevent cavities. Over the last 70 years, small amounts of fluoride have been added to drinking water, toothpaste, mouthwashes, and professional dental materials to help strengthen tooth enamel in children and adults.
The mineral is naturally present in some water supplies around the United States. However, fluoride is also added to many municipal water sources that have naturally low fluoride levels.
Dental Care Treatment Options
Depending on needs and the severity of an oral condition or disease, there are many different dental specialists to choose from:
General Dentist Visits
General dentists are the “go-to” for preventive procedures and treatments. Unlike specialists, general dentists do not specialize in one specific area of dentistry. They offer direct and indirect restorations, fillings, sealants, routine teeth cleanings, x-rays, and fluoride treatment for people of all ages.
Rather than providing a wide range of services, dental specialists focus on one area of dentistry. Specialists include endodontists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, orthodontists, and periodontists. For example, if a patient needs specialized treatment for a root canal, they would likely visit an endodontist to receive high-quality care.
Pediatric Dental Care
Pediatric dentists specialize in treating babies and children into adolescence. Babies should begin seeing a pediatric dentist around 1 year of age or within six months of their first tooth eruption. Doing so helps prevent primary tooth decay and cavities.