Dental and oral health is an important a part of your overall health and well-being. Poor oral hygiene can lead to dental cavities and gum disease, and has also been linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Maintaining healthy teeth and gums is a lifelong commitment. The earlier you learn proper oral hygiene habits — such as brushing, flossing, and limiting your sugar intake — the easier it’ll be to avoid costly dental procedures and long-term health issues.
Facts about dental and oral health
Dental cavities and gum disease are very common. According to the World Health Organization Trusted Source:
Ø between 60 and 90 percent of school children have at least one dental cavity
Ø nearly 100 percent of adults have at least one dental cavity
Ø between 15 and 20 percent of adults ages 35 to 44 have severe gum disease
Ø about 30 percent of people around the world ages 65 to 74 don’t have any natural teeth left
Ø in most countries, out of every 100,000 people, there are between 1 and 10 cases of oral cancer
Ø the burden of oral disease is much higher in poor or disadvantaged population groups
Symptoms of dental and oral problems
You shouldn’t wait until you have symptoms to visit your dentist. Going to the dentist twice a year will usually allow them to catch a problem before you even notice any symptoms.
If you experience any of the following warning signs of dental health issues, you should make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible:
Ø ulcers, sores, or tender areas in the mouth that won’t heal after a week or two
Ø bleeding or swollen gums after brushing or flossing
Ø chronic bad breath
Ø sudden sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures or beverages
Ø pain or toothache
Ø loose teeth
Ø receding gums
Ø pain with chewing or biting
Ø swelling of the face and cheek
Ø clicking of the jaw
Ø cracked or broken teeth
Ø frequent dry mouth
Causes of dental and oral diseases
Your mouth collects all kinds of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Some of them belong there, making up the traditional flora of your mouth. They’re generally harmless in small quantities. But a diet high in sugar creates conditions during which acid-producing bacteria can flourish. This acid dissolves enamel and causes dental cavities.
Bacteria near your gumline thrive during a sticky matrix called plaque. Plaque accumulates, hardens, and migrates down the length of your tooth if it isn’t removed regularly by brushing and flossing. This can inflame your gums and cause the condition referred to as gingivitis.
Increased inflammation causes your gums to begin to pull away from your teeth. This process creates pockets during which pus may eventually collect. This more advanced stage of gum disease is named periodontitis.
There are many factors that contribute to gingivitis and periodontitis, including:
Ø poor brushing habits
Ø frequent snacking on sugary foods and drinks
Ø the use of medications that reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth
Ø family history, or genetics
Ø certain infections, such as HIV or AIDS
Ø hormonal changes in women
Ø acid reflux, or heartburn
Ø frequent vomiting, due to the acid
Diagnosing dental and oral diseases
Most dental and oral problems are often diagnosed during a dental exam. During an exam, your dentist will closely inspect your:
Your dentist might tap or scrape at your teeth with various tools or instruments to help with a diagnosis. A technician at the dentist’s office will take dental X-rays of your mouth, making sure to get an image of each of your teeth. Be sure to inform your dentist if you’re pregnant. Women who are pregnant shouldn’t have X-rays.
A tool called a search are often wont to measure your gum pockets. This small ruler can tell your dentist whether or not you've got gum disease or receding gums. In a healthy mouth, the depth of the pockets between the teeth are usually between 1 and three millimeters (mm). Any measurement above which will mean you've got gum disease.
If your dentist finds any abnormal lumps, lesions, or growths in your mouth, they'll perform a gum biopsy. During a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is removed from the growth or lesion. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope to see for cancerous cells.
If carcinoma is suspected, your dentist can also order imaging tests to ascertain if the cancer has spread. Tests may include:
Ø MRI scan
Ø CT scan
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