This is the age of the ‘selfie’ and what do you need for a great picture? White teeth and a beautiful smile! Having pearly whites seems to be our main focus when we think about our mouths.
We seldom think about the complexity of the oral cavity or the relationship between our oral health and our overall health. The eyes are said to be the windows to the soul, the mouth on the other hand, can give us clues into what is going on with our bodies. This month (Oral Health Month), let’s look at how to maintain our oral health and broaden our thinking of oral health beyond the perfect smile.
Does Your Oral Health Routine Need Tweaking?
Your home oral hygiene habits and eating a balanced diet are important to your health. Brushing after meals removes food debris, while daily flossing cleans between teeth. When we are not consistent and thorough with our cleansing practices, cavity-causing bacteria multiply. Over time, these bacteria collect to form plaque and tartar which leads to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and eventually, a more serious form of gum disease known as periodontitis can set in. Add a poor diet to this equation (i.e.: lots of sugary snacks), and you may start seeing cavities also. The inflammation that results from poor oral hygiene and diet, seeps into our bodies through the gum tissues sending poisons into our systems that can promote diseases.
What Other Complications Can Poor Oral Hygiene Cause?
Recent research shows that there are many diseases that have symptoms that show up in our mouths. These include stomach & colon diseases (i.e.: Chron’s disease), blood disorders (i.e.: anemia), connective tissue diseases (i.e.: Lupus), lung conditions (i.e.: Sarcoidosis), and drug or medication-related conditions (i.e.: dry mouth) to name a few. In some specific diseases you may see ulcers (HIV/AIDS), thrush (diabetes), or jaundice (hepatitis).
With these conditions, we can see examples of the mouth-body connection. Because oral symptoms of a disease often occur before symptoms are seen in other parts of the body, it is important to establish a dental health home and be seen by your oral health provider regularly. Verification of a systemic disease (diagnosis) is not usually based on what is seen in the mouth only. The signs and symptoms in the oral cavity alert the dentist and hygienist to the possibility of a problem. Your dentist will refer you to other health professionals to investigate the problem further.
What Should I Tell My Dentist?
Having a great diet and home hygiene regimen helps. To be successful in this, we need a little help from our friendly dentist! Regular visits to the dentist are an important step in maintaining oral health. Your visit, mimicking the systemic-oral continuum, will begin with a review of your medical history. It is important to share with your dentist the details of your health, including all medications (prescribed, over the counter, herbal supplements) along with your social habits. This will help your dentist to know you better and to provide the best care possible for you. Additional information that will be reviewed by your dentist includes: a blood pressure check, notice of any recent changes in your mouth, loose or sensitive teeth, any difficulty tasting, chewing, or swallowing as well as the presence of any lumps or swelling in your mouth. You will also be asked about any pain, discomfort, sores, or bleeding in your mouth.
What Happens During An Oral Health Exam?
During a dental exam, the dentist will check everything in your head and neck area. The examination will also review your face, bite, jaw, lymph nodes, salivary glands, inner cheeks, and tongue. They also look at the floor and roof of your mouth, gums and teeth that goes without saying. Did you know that there was all of that stuff in there and how important these structures are as they relate to your well being? The doctor is checking for proper function of all structures and for infections, trauma, decay and condition of fillings and signs of disease. Then x-rays will be taken to see what cannot be seen with the naked eye. They look in between your teeth and at the bone that supports the mouth and face. The dentist also checks for ware and tear on any dental appliances that you have. Appropriate fillings and other restorative therapies will be employed if needed.
How Do We Minimize The Occurrence of Oral Disease?
Brushing after meals, flossing daily, limiting sugary snacks and drinking more water than soda or juice are some of the things that will help us on our quest for healthy teeth. But there is more to great oral health. All structures in the oral cavity need to be healthy. It is important to consider the link between oral health and overall health and to realize that you can’t have one without the other. Seek regular care from an oral health provider who will help you to maintain your pearly whites while looking out for any symptoms suggestive of any number of diseases in the mouth or possibly developing in the body.
Dr. Lawrence is a dentist with more than 20 years experience. She is a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist who has worked in a non-profit dental clinic, private practice, in academia and as a consultant. She believes that everyone should have access to excellent oral health care.