What do we mean by oral health?
When medical professionals such as dentists refer to “oral health,” what they are really talking about is the condition of one’s teeth, gums, and mouth– otherwise known as the oral cavity. Unlike other internal systems in the body, the oral cavity requires regular active, rather than passive, care and maintenance. For example, organs like the liver or kidneys are primarily self-regulating, whereas the teeth and gums are less so.
Because of this, maintaining a healthy oral cavity is directly tied to good oral hygiene, which, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, can drastically increase the likelihood that your teeth last a lifetime. Of course, hygienic practices are not the be-all and end-all of oral health–there are many other important aspects of maintaining good oral health, which we will discuss further along in this article.
Why is oral health important?
The next question you may be asking yourself is, “Why is oral health so important?” Many people fail to recognize that oral health is not only about keeping a pleasant smile. In fact, oral health is important for many reasons, listed below.
- Prevents gum disease
Gum disease, also known as gingivitis and periodontitis, is an unfavorable condition where the gums become inflamed while periodontitis is something beyond this when the food remnants and bacterial colonies occupying the periodontal pocket acquire some Ca++ from saliva rendering them more rigid forming what is known as Calculus. Dr. Guneet Alag elaborates, “This Calculus is pretty dangerous since it can’t be removed by regular home hygiene practice. It exerts pressure over the supporting bone leading to bone resorption, tooth mobility, and in the most severe case, tooth loss.”
- Reduces and prevents cavities (dental caries)
Like gum disease, cavities can vary in degree of severity. In some cases, minor cavities (incipient caries) can be resolved without the intervention of a dentist through good dental hygiene practices and the use of fluoride. However, most cavities, if left untreated, will lead to further tooth decay, Pulpal involvement and may be periapical abscess if left untreated for a long time. Most cavities do require the attention of a dentist, who will remove the cavity and insert a filling into the tooth to keep the tooth as strong as possible after it has decayed.
- Reduces risk of developing oral cancer
Oral cancer has been linked to poor dental health. According to a study done by the National Institute of Health in 2019, oral cancer and oral health are linked because “[poor oral hygiene] aids the carcinogenic potential of other known carcinogens, like tobacco and alcohol.”
- Can reduce effects of chronic diseases linked to oral health issues
Recent evidence proved that poor oral health can exaggerate pre-existing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, other cancers, osteoporosis, auto-immune diseases, and eating disorders. The relationship between oral health and chronic disease is unique to the chronic disease in question and is worth looking into further if you currently struggle with any of the above mentioned diseases or have an increased risk of developing them in the future.
Now that we have established the importance of oral health, here are some tips and practices to keep your teeth and gums healthy:
- Regular hygienic practices
Perhaps the most obvious on this list is to adhere to regular hygienic practices as set forth by medical professionals. This includes brushing your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride, as well as flossing your teeth once a day, before bedtime. You can also use fluoride-containing mouthwashes that will help kill harmful bacteria in the mouth.
- Healthy foods and essential nutrients
Like any other system in the human body, health is at least partially achieved from the inside out. Eating nutrient-rich foods– especially foods rich in calcium, which keeps our bones strong– is essential for oral health. This is particularly important for pregnant women and in childhood.
- Avoid processed foods and excess sugars
Further, excess consumption of processed foods or sugary foods and drinks such as soda and candy can significantly increase the chances of developing cavities, as the bacteria responsible for causing caries break down sugar in the mouth and produce acids that erode the enamel (the protective outer layer of the tooth) and lead to tooth decay.
- Avoid smoking and excess alcohol consumption
Smoking enhances food remnant accumulation on the teeth and gums, (commonly referred to as “plaque”) and also increases the chance of developing gum disease, as it reduces blood flow to the oral cavity, which is essential to fight off harmful bacteria. Alcohol can lead to tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease, as it is known to dry out the mouth and lower the amount of saliva in the mouth, which is very important for oral health.
- Regular dental appointments
Even if you are very attentive to and careful with your teeth and gums in all of the above-listed ways, regular dental appointments are still very important for maintaining overall oral health. Even the best among us cannot clean inaccessible areas between the teeth. Dental cleanings will help with this. Further, dental visits every six months will help detect and stop any potential oral problems in their tracks and ensure that you receive the treatment necessary for overcoming these issues.
It is also important to know the signs of unhealthy teeth and gums. Here is a list for your reference:
- Chronic bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Loose teeth
- Tooth decay
- Oral sores and blisters
- Swollen and tender gums
If you notice any of the above, it is best to seek dental care immediately in order to effectively treat the cause of the problem.