Taking good care of your mouth, teeth and gums is a worthy goal in and of itself.
Good oral and dental hygiene can help prevent bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease and can help you keep your teeth as you get old.
A healthy mouth may help you ward off medical disorders. The flip side? An unhealthy mouth, especially if you have gum disease, may increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labor.
People with poor oral health may also have:
- Self-esteem issues,
- A harder time finding a job,
- Difficulty participating and
- Performing well in school,
- Oral discomfort,
- speech problems,
- Swallowing problems.
What’s in your mouth reveals much about your health
Saliva is a also good diagnostic tool and one of your body’s main defenses against disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. It contains antibodies that attack viral pathogens such as the common cold and HIV. And it contains proteins called histatins which inhibit the growth of a naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans.
When these proteins are weakened by HIV infection or other illness, candida can grow out of control resulting in a fungal infection called oral thrush.
Your mouth as infection source
If you don’t brush and floss regularly to keep your teeth clean, plaque can build up along your gum-line creating an environment for additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between your gums and your teeth.
This gum infection is known as gingivitis. Left unchecked, gingivitis can lead to a more serious gum infection called periodontists.
The most severe form of gum infection is called acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, also known as trench mouth.
Bacteria from your mouth normally don’t enter your bloodstream. However, invasive dental treatments sometimes even just routine brushing and flossing if you have gum disease can provide a port of entry for these microbes.
Medications or treatments that reduce saliva flow and antibiotics that disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth can also compromise your mouth’s normal defenses allowing these bacteria to enter your bloodstream.
If you have a healthy immune system, the presence of oral bacteria in your bloodstream causes no problems. Your immune system quickly dispenses with them, preventing infection. However, if your immune system is weakened, for example because of a disease or cancer treatment, oral bacteria in your bloodstream (bacteremia) may cause you to develop an infection in another part of your body. For example;
In which oral bacteria enter your bloodstream and stick to the lining of diseased heart valves, is an example of this phenomenon.
Poorly controlled diabetes .
If you have diabetes, you’re already at increased risk of developing gum disease.
But chronic gum disease may in fact make diabetes more difficult to control, as well. Infection may cause insulin resistance, which disrupts blood sugar control.
Oral inflammation due to bacteria (gingivitis) may also play a role in clogged arteries and blood clots.
It appears that bacteria in the mouth may cause inflammation throughout the body, including the arteries. This inflammation may serve as a base for development of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries, possibly increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Some research suggests that people with gum infections are also at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The more severe the infection, the greater the risk appears to be. And gum disease and tooth loss may contribute to plaques in the carotid artery. In one study, 46 percent of participants who’d lost up to nine teeth had carotid artery plaque; among those who’d lost 10 or more teeth, 60 percent of them had such plaque.
Severe gum disease may increase the risk of preterm delivery and giving birth to a low birth weight baby.
The theory is that oral bacteria release toxins, which reach the placenta through the mother’s bloodstream and interfere with the growth and development of the fetus.
At the same time, the oral infection causes the mother to produce labor-triggering substances too quickly, potentially triggering premature labor and birth.
Preventing Oral Health Problems
Early childhood caries (ECC), or baby bottle syndrome, is a distinctive pattern of tooth decay.
When it first appears, you may notice white spots near the gum line. These spots will turn brown as the decay progresses. Early treatment is important to reduce the level of decay.
Sugars left on the teeth can lead to ECC. These sugars may come from milk, juice, or foods.
Here are some tips for preventing ECC:
- Restrict bottle feeding to meal times.
- Don’t put your baby to sleep with a bottle. The milk or juice that pools in the mouth will bathe teeth in the sugars on which bacteria feed.
- Before their teeth grow in, get your baby accustomed to regular oral care by wiping their gums twice per day with a clean, soft, thin cloth, such as a handkerchief.
- After your baby’s teeth erupt, switch to a baby toothbrush moistened with water.
- Don’t use toothpaste until your child is old enough to spit it out. Swallowing toothpaste while their teeth are developing can cause a condition called fluorosis, which occurs from absorbing too much fluoride and causes their teeth to look mottled or grainy.
- You should wean your child from the bottle by the time they’re 1 year old. Introduce a sippy cup or other spill-proof cup with a valve.
Women have different dental concerns during various life stages.
When a young woman begins to menstruate, her periods may be accompanied by mouth sores or swollen gums.
Women of childbearing age have an additional reason to practice good oral hygiene. Periodontal disease increases the risk of preterm birth with low birth weight.
During pregnancy, a spike in progesterone and other hormones can upset your body’s normal balance. This can result in gingivitis, too little or too much saliva, or benign, tumor-like growths on your gums called granulomas.
Frequent vomiting caused by morning sickness can encourage tooth decay by dissolving tooth enamel. The best way to prevent these problems is to practice good oral hygiene.
Consult your dentist or doctor with any medical concerns.
Don’t skip your dentist appointments while pregnant. It’s safe for pregnant women to receive dental care.
Menopause and Postmenopausal
When women reach menopause, estrogen deficiency puts them at risk for periodontal disease. Many also have burning mouth syndrome (BMS). This disorder is characterized by an unpleasant tingling sensation occasionally associated with changes in taste perception.
The condition is treated with medicated creams or lozenges, or with oral medications.
As you age, you can become less able to chew effectively especially if you have missing teeth or ill-fitting dentures.
You may take medications that cause dry mouth. This problem can cause difficulty swallowing which may lead to malnutrition. In addition, having a dry mouth can allow bacteria to build up, causing bad breath, gum disease, and infection.
Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities
Residents of long-term care facilities or other group homes include not only elderly adults but also children and adults with physical or mental disabilities. They often depend on caregivers for proper oral hygiene. This care is sometimes difficult to provide.
A resident may become agitated if they misunderstand the caregiver’s intent. In fact, aggression among residents of long-term care facilities is most likely to be seen while personal care is being given, such as when a caregiver is assisting with tooth brushing. As a result, oral care may be rushed or skipped altogether.
Special measures, such as the use of physical restraints or medications, may be needed to allow the caregiver to proceed with the oral hygiene regimen.
People with HIV or AIDS
People with HIV or AIDS are vulnerable to opportunistic infections of the oral cavity. A fuzzy white patch on the tongue called hairy leukoplakia is sometimes an early indication of an HIV or AIDS infection. In addition, people with HIV or AIDS may develop other fungal infections of the mouth, such as histoplasmosis, aspergillosis, and oral candidiasis.
Tips for Good Oral Health
While some groups of people may need to pay extra attention to their oral health, everyone should practice good oral hygiene.
Tips to get you on the road to good oral health:
- Visit your dentist one to two times a year for a cleaning and checkup.
- Brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste a minimum of two times per day.
- Replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head every three to four months.
- Floss at least once per day.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
- Some people will benefit from fluoride treatments and mouth rinses.
Note : You should schedule an additional visit to your dentist if you notice any of the following:
- swollen gums, or gums that bleed
- Extreme sensitivity to hot or cold
- Difficulty chewing,
- Persistent bad breath
- A loose permanent tooth
- A persistent toothache
- An abscess.
A compelling case for good habits
If you didn’t already have enough reasons to take good care of your mouth, teeth and gums, the relationship between your oral health and your overall health provides even more.
Resolve to practice good oral hygiene every day. You’re making an investment in your overall health, not just for now, but for the future, too.
By Tina Mulumba @ Health Torch Uganda
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