This week marks World Oral Health Day (WOHD), presenting Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub and Cumbernauld Family Hub with an ideal opportunity to raise awareness about oral diseases, how they can be prevented and the value of oral hygiene.
Taking place on Saturday 20 March 2021, World Oral Health Day aims to empower people with the knowledge, tools and confidence to secure good oral health. Organised by FDI World Dental Federation, the campaign seeks to enable governments, health associations and the general public to work together to achieve healthier mouths and happier lives.
It may be a subject you’ve not contemplated much, but when you consider that nine out of every 10 people will suffer from an oral disease during their lifetime, and that many of these are avoidable through prevention, early detection and treatment, the importance of taking care of your oral health can begin to be understood.
The most common of all oral health illnesses is toothache or dental caries which occur when plaque forms on the surface of a tooth and converts the free sugars contained in foods and drinks into acids that destroy the tooth over time. This is often referred to as tooth decay.
Notably, a continued high intake of free sugars, inadequate exposure to fluoride and a lack of removal of plaque by tooth brushing can lead to caries, pain and sometimes tooth loss and infection. Bad dental hygiene can also cause dental abscesses, periodontitis, gingivitis and other diseases that may attack your teeth and gums.
Failing to look after your teeth and gums can cause problems not only in your mouth but in many other parts of the body too. In fact, oral health provides an excellent indicator of a person’s overall health and wellbeing.
The good news is that some simple daily care is often all that is needed to prevent such issues from occurring. Below, the key aspects of oral health are explored and communicated, including why it is so important and what can be done to preserve it.
ORAL HEALTH: KEY INFORMATION FOR INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES
Why Is Oral Health Important?
Like other areas of the body, your mouth contains bacteria in multitudes. The human mouth contains around 500 to 1,000 different types of bacteria, although thankfully most of these are harmless. However, bad bacteria can get in and cause disease, especially once they get access to your digestive and respiratory tracts.
Normally the body’s natural defences and good oral health care, such as daily teeth brushing and flossing, keep bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral problems, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Crucially, oral health can affect the way a person looks and sounds, with a significant impact on wellbeing, both in terms of dental health and general health. Whilst it might seem a trivial thing to neglect your teeth and gums, it can lead to all kinds of issues affecting physical health, mental health and overall quality of life.
What Conditions Can Be Linked To Oral Health?
Dental issues and tooth loss are commonly associated with poor oral hygiene in both children and adults. A wide range of dental issues can develop, including caries, periodontal (gum) disease and abscesses. However, there are many other general health conditions, some of them serious, that can either arise from or be accelerated through poor oral hygiene.
One such illness is endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers. This typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of the body, such as the mouth, spread through the bloodstream and attach to certain areas of the heart. Equally, cardiovascular disease has been linked to inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause, although the exact connection is not fully understood.
Periodontal disease has been linked to pregnancy and birth complications, including premature birth and low birth weight. It is also known that certain bacteria in the mouth can be pulled into the lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. Cancers of the lip and oral cavity can also occur as a result of poor oral health.
Furthermore, people with certain health conditions are more likely to experience oral health issues. In this respect, those with diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV / AIDS are encouraged to take extra care of their mouth, teeth and gums. Other conditions that might be linked to a decline in oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
How Can I Protect and Improve My Oral Health?
There are a number of elements which are known to harm oral health, including tobacco use, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets high in free sugars. Hence, it is evident that stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake and improving diet can subsequently lead to enhanced oral health.
To protect your oral health, it is important to practice good oral hygiene daily. This includes brushing your teeth properly at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush using fluoride toothpaste, flossing properly daily, using mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing, replacing your toothbrush every three months (or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn) and scheduling six-monthly dental check-ups and cleanings.
It can also be helpful to rinse your mouth with water after meals, chew sugarless gum, protect your teeth with a mouth guard when playing contact sports and use a night guard if you are prone to bruxism (grinding your teeth) during sleep.
Also, it is worth being aware that certain medications, such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics and antidepressants, can reduce saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and neutralises acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect you from microbes that multiply and lead to disease.
Of course, it is sensible to contact your dentist as soon as an oral health issue arises. Delaying dental treatment is never recommended and can potentially lead to a worsening of problems. Remember, taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.
How Can I Tell If I Have Gum Disease?
Remarkably, four out of five people have periodontal disease and don’t know it. Most people are not aware of it because the disease is usually painless in the early stages. Unlike tooth decay, which often causes discomfort, it is possible to have periodontal disease without noticeable symptoms. Having regular dental check-ups and periodontal examinations are very important and will help detect if gum problems exist.
Periodontal disease begins when plaque, a sticky, colourless film of bacteria, is left on the teeth and gums. The bacteria produce toxins that inflame the gums and slowly destroy the bone. Brushing and flossing regularly and properly will ensure that plaque is not left behind to do its damage.
How Can I Ensure My Child Maintains Good Oral Health?
If you have a baby or are expecting a child, you might wonder how to protect their oral health from an early age. The best way to do this is to start brushing a baby’s teeth as soon as they come through. Tips on how to look after baby teeth can be found by clicking here.
For toddlers and older children, good oral health can be achieved by having a healthy dental care routine. This includes daily brushing, regular check-ups at the dentist and avoiding excess sugary snacks. Dentists can advise, for example, if your child requires braces or orthodontics to straight their teeth. Click here to read more about how to look after children’s teeth.
Can Oral Sex Affect My Health?
Having oral sex can affect not only the health of your mouth but your general health too. As well as increasing the risk of bleeding gums and other oral problems, sexual transmitted infections (STIs) such as herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia, genital warts, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV can all be transmitted through oral sex.
The risk is generally higher if you give rather than receive oral sex. This is because you’re more likely to be exposed to genital fluids. The risk is also higher if you have cuts, sores or ulcers in your mouth.
For oral sex on a man, use a condom to reduce your risk of getting an STI. Try a flavoured one if you do not like the taste of regular condoms. For oral sex on a woman, using a dental dam is recommended. This is a small, thin square of latex or plastic that acts as a barrier between the vagina and the mouth, preventing the spread of STIs.
The theme for this year’s World Oral Health Day is Be Proud Of Your Mouth. For more on World Oral Health Day 2021, including access to a range of free oral health promotional resources, visit www.worldoralhealthday.org.
Scottish Government’s most recent Oral Health Improvement Plan (published in 2018) can be downloaded by clicking on the highlighted link. Parents and carers can obtain further advice and information on improving the oral health of children in Scotland by visiting the Childsmile website.