What is Oral Health?
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 diseases—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.
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.
Link Between Oral Health and Overall Health
Your everyday lifestyle, general health status, and choices can positively or negatively impact your oral health standing.
Your diet and the amount of alcohol you drink weekly can influence how healthy your mouth is. Whether or not you use tobacco products also impacts your dental health.
Hormonal changes throughout life, such as during puberty and pregnancy, put you at a higher risk of developing serious oral conditions. Taking certain medications for health conditions (e.g. diabetes or cancer) or abusing drugs can also take a toll on your oral health.
Common risk factors associated with poor oral health include:
- Heart disease — periodontal disease (advanced gum disease) is linked to higher rates of heart disease. Poor oral health increases the risk of a bacterial infection reaching the bloodstream, which can eventually spread to the heart valves.
- Diabetes and stroke — untreated tooth decay puts you at an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. There is also 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.
Nutrition and Your Oral Health
An unbalanced diet consisting of sugary foods, fast food, and other processed foods increases your risk of developing oral diseases over time.
Sugar plays a direct role in the development of cavities. This is because the bacteria in plaque use sugar as energy and then release acid as a “waste product.” As a result, your enamel dissolves and cavities form.
Tooth decay progresses as you age, and the effects of sugar on the teeth are lifelong. In other words, eating unhealthy foods long-term results in more buildup of dental plaque and cavities. If left untreated, tooth loss and soft-tissue (gum) damage can also occur.
Studies show that there may be a way to minimize the risk of tooth decay if you limit added sugars to 5 percent of your total daily intake.
Natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products are not included in this percentage. Learn more about how your diet impacts your oral health.
Medications and Your Oral Health
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can lead to uncomfortable and serious oral health conditions.
Chemotherapy can cause a variety of side effects. This includes—but is not limited to—dry mouth, cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease, soft tissue reactions, mouth ulcers, and oral thrush.
Some medications (e.g., antidepressants and blood pressure medications) can cause dry mouth. This is a condition where the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva.
Without proper saliva production, your mouth cannot rinse out bacteria effectively, which may result in cavities.
Alcohol Abuse and Your Oral Health
Long-term and excessive alcohol consumption negatively impacts your teeth and gums, which can result in serious dental conditions. These conditions include:
- Enamel erosion
- Dry mouth
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Periodontal disease
- Mouth sores
- Oral cancer
Other minor conditions that may develop due to alcohol abuse include tooth discoloration and bad breath.
Drug Abuse and Your Oral Health
Cavities and periodontal disease are more prevalent in drug addicts than in non-drug users. This is mainly due to the fact that addicts neglect regular dentist visits and therefore have more tartar (hardened plaque) on their teeth.
The long-term use of illegal drugs (e.g. amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates) also cause serious oral health complications. These conditions include:
- Oral cancer
- Gum disease
- Mouth sores
- Teeth grinding
- Dry mouth
In more severe cases, meth addicts can develop “meth mouth.” This condition can result in rotten teeth, cracked teeth, permanent gum damage, and eventually tooth loss.
Tobacco Products and Your Oral Health
Tobacco and nicotine are harmful substances in cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that is responsible for 480,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
More than 16 million cigarette smokers suffer from smoking-related diseases, such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer.
Long-term tobacco and nicotine users commonly suffer from minor and serious oral health conditions. This includes—but is not limited to—bad breath, dry mouth, tooth discoloration, cavities, oral cancer, and silent gum disease.
Teeth whitening can often reverse the effects of tooth discoloration.
Diabetes and Your Oral Health
Diabetes impacts all parts of your body, including the mouth. If you have high levels of glucose (sugar) in your saliva, harmful bacteria can grow faster. Over time, food particles and bacteria result in high levels of plaque (a sticky film that forms on teeth).
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to infections and pain affecting your teeth, gums, tongue, palate, jaw, cheeks, and/or the mouth’s floor.
4 Easy Ways to Maintain Good Oral Health
To reduce the chance of developing a minor or serious oral condition, staying on top of basic oral care practices is essential:
1. Brush Your Teeth
Brushing at least twice a day is one of the most important oral care habits because it keeps the teeth and mouth healthy. Using fluoride-based toothpaste also stimulates the gums, which helps prevent gum disease and cavities.
2. Floss Regularly
Brushing at least twice a day is Properly flossing teeth daily helps reduce the chance of cavities forming between teeth. Flossing removes plaque and food in places where toothbrushes can’t reach. Establishing a normal routine reduces the chance of developing cavities and other oral conditions.
3. Drink Fluoridated Water
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 dental materials to help strengthen tooth enamel.
4. Go to the Dentist
Regular teeth cleanings and dental exams are essential for oral disease prevention. You should get your teeth professionally cleaned every six months.