Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well being and quality of life. WHO defines oral health as “a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit an individual’s capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking, and psycho social well being.
Oral disease affects 3.9 billion people worldwide, with untreated tooth decay (dental caries) impacting almost half of the world’s population (44%), making it the most prevalent of all the 291 conditions included in the Global Burden of Disease.
Facts about dental and oral health
Dental cavities and gum disease are very common. According to the World Health Organization Trusted Source:
- Between 60 and 90 per cent of school children have at least one dental cavity
- Nearly 100 per cent of adults have at least one dental cavity
- Between 15 and 20 per cent of adults ages, 35 to 44 have severe gum disease
- About 30 per cent of people around the world ages 65 to 74 don’t have any natural teeth left
- In most countries, out of every 100,000 people, there are between 1 and 10 cases of oral cancer
- The burden of oral disease is much higher in poor or disadvantaged population groups
There are many steps you can take to keep your teeth healthy which would greatly reduce dental and oral disease.
This may include:
- Brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day
- Flossing your teeth at least once a day
- Decreasing your intake of sugar
- Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables
- Avoiding tobacco products
- Drinking fluoridated water
- Seeking professional dental care
Symptoms of dental and oral problems
Visiting the dentist should not be prompted by a symptom. Frequent dentist visit will help them detect an issue before any symptoms start to show.
Should you at some point detect the following signs of dental health issues, you should make it a priority to see the dentist:
- Sores or tender parts that take long to heal
- Bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- Receding gums
- Pain triggered by chewing or biting.
- Swollen face or jaw.
- Jaw clicking
- Frequent dry mouth
If any of these symptoms are accompanied by a high fever and facial or neck swelling, you should seek emergency medical treatment.
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 are harmless in small quantities. But a diet high in sugar creates conditions in which acid-producing bacteria flourish. This acid dissolves tooth enamel and causes dental cavities.
Bacteria near your gum line grow vigorously in a sticky cast called plaque. Plaque accumulates, hardens, and migrates down the length of your tooth if not removed regularly by brushing and flossing. This can inflame your gums and cause the condition known as gingivitis.
Increased inflammation causes your gums to pull away from your teeth. This process creates pockets in which pus eventually collects causing a 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
- Use of medications that reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth
- Infections, such as HIV or AIDS
- Hormonal changes in women
- Acid reflux, or heartburn
- frequent vomiting, due to the acid
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- Diagnosing dental and oral diseases
Most dental and oral problems can be diagnosed during a dental exam. During an exam, your dentist will closely inspect your:
Types of dental and oral diseases
Due to the frequent use of our mouth, it is expected for many things to grow over time especially if you neglect your teeth.
With proper oral hygiene though, most dental and oral problems can be prevented.
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 your 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 is as a 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. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which is a more serious infection.
As periodontitis progresses, the infection can spread to your jaw and bones. It can also cause an inflammatory response throughout the body.
If your teeth are sensitive, you might feel pain or discomfort after having cold or hot foods or beverages.
Tooth sensitivity is also referred to as “dentin hypersensitivity.” It may be temporal, usually after a root canal or filling.
Consequently, it can also be the result of:
- Gum disease
- Receding gums
- Cracked tooth
- Worn-down fillings or crowns
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.
There are specific brands of toothpaste and mouthwash for people with sensitive teeth.
Oral cancers include cancer of the:
- The floor of the mouth
- The hard and soft palate
Tobacco use, such as smoking and chewing tobacco, is the biggest risk factor for oral cancer.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) , nearly 50,000 persons will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year. In essence, the earlier that oral cancer is diagnosed, the better.
The link between oral and general health
Oral health has been emphasized in the recent past, as researchers have discovered a connection between receding oral health and underlying systematic conditions.
It turns out that a healthy mouth can help you maintain a healthy body. Mayo Clinic, associates oral bacteria and inflammation with:
- Heart disease
- Endocarditis, or inflammation of the lining of the heart
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
Bacteria can spread from your oral cavity to your bloodstream, causing infective endocarditis. Infective endocarditis is a life-threatening infection of your heart valves.
Your dentist may suggest you take antibiotics as a preventive measure before they perform any dental procedure that could dislodge bacteria in your mouth.
Treating dental and oral problems
Professional tooth cleaning twice a year is recommended despite having kept a good regimen.
A professional cleaning can get rid of any plaque you may have missed while brushing and flossing. It will also remove tartar. These cleanings are usually performed by a dental hygienist. After all the tartar is removed from your teeth, the hygienist will use a high-powered toothbrush to brush your teeth. This is followed by flossing and rinsing to wash out any debris.
Deep cleaning is also known as scaling and root planing. It removes tartar from above and below the gumline that can’t be reached during routine cleaning.
Following a dental cleaning, your dentist may apply a fluoride treatment to help fight off cavities. Fluoride can help strengthen the enamel of your tooth and make them more resilient to bacteria and acid.
If you show signs of a gum infection or you have a tooth abscess that has spread to other teeth or your jaw, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help get rid of the infection. The antibiotic may be in the form of a mouth rinse, gel, oral tablet, or capsule. The topical antibiotic gel may also be applied to the teeth or gums during surgical procedures.
Fillings, crowns, and sealants
A filling is used to repair a cavity, crack, or hole in the tooth. Your dentist will first use a drill to remove the damaged area of the tooth and then fill the hole with some material, such as amalgam or composite.
A crown is used if a large portion of your tooth has to be removed or has broken off due to an injury. There are two types of crowns: an implant crown that fits over an implant, and a regular crown that fits over a natural tooth. Both types of crowns fill in the gap where your natural tooth appeared.
Dental sealants are thin, protective coatings that are placed on the back teeth, or molars, to help prevent cavities. Your dentist may recommend a sealant for your children as soon as they get their first molars, at around age six, and again when they get their second set of molars around age 12. Sealants are easy to apply and completely painless.
You might need a root canal if tooth decay reaches inside the tooth to the nerve. During a root canal, the nerve is removed and replaced with a filling made of a biocompatible material, usually a combination of a rubber-like material called gutta-percha and adhesive cement.
Changing daily habits
Keeping your mouth healthy is a daily commitment. A dental hygienist can teach you how to properly take care of your teeth and gums daily. In addition to brushing and flossing, your daily routine can include mouthwash, oral rinses, and possibly other tools.
Surgery for dental and oral problems
Oral surgeries are usually performed to treat more serious cases of periodontal disease. Certain dental surgeries can also be done to replace or fix missing or broken teeth caused by an accident.
During flap surgery, a surgeon makes a small cut in the gum to lift a section of the tissue. They then remove tartar and bacteria from underneath the gums. The flap is then stitched back into place around your teeth.
Bone grafting is needed when gum disease causes damage to the bone surrounding the root of your tooth. The dentist replaces the damaged bone with a graft, which can be made from your bone, a synthetic bone, or a donated bone.
Soft tissue grafts
A soft tissue graft is used to treat receding gums. A dentist will remove a small piece of tissue from your mouth or use a donor tissue and attach it to the areas of your gums that are missing.
If your dentist can’t save your tooth with a root canal or other surgery, the tooth will likely need to be extracted.
You may also need a tooth extraction if your wisdom teeth, or third molars, are impacted. Sometimes, a person’s jaw isn’t large enough to accommodate the third set of molars. One or more of the wisdom teeth will become trapped or impacted when it tries to emerge. A dentist will typically recommend that wisdom teeth be extracted if they cause pain, inflammation, or other problems.
Dental implants are used to replace missing teeth that are lost due to a disease or an accident. An implant is surgically placed into the jawbone. After the implant is placed, your bones will grow around it. This is called Osseointegration.
Once this process is complete, your dentist will customize a new artificial tooth for you that matches your other teeth. This artificial tooth is known as a crown.
The new crown is then attached to the implant. If you’re replacing more than one tooth, your dentist may customize a bridge to fit into your mouth.
A dental bridge is made of two abutment crowns on either side of the gap, which then holds the artificial teeth in between in place,Keeping your teeth and gums healthy
Good oral health boils down to good general health and common sense. The best ways to prevent oral health problems are to:
- Brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day
- Floss at least once a day (one of the most beneficial things you can do to prevent disease in your oral cavity)
- Have your teeth cleaned by a dental professional every six months
- Avoid tobacco products
- Follow a high-fibre, low-fat, low-sugar diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Limit sugary snacks and drinks
Oral health is your responsibility. Keeping yourself in check, following a healthy routine and frequently visiting your dentist may save you from an irreversible health issue.