Before you say a single word, your smile expresses a good deal about your confidence, friendliness, openness, and trustworthiness. Discoloration, misalignment, missing teeth, gaps, chips, and other imperfections can prevent you from enjoying the beautiful and fully functional smile you deserve. And while the majority of people desire a pretty smile, the significant connection between oral and overall health is too often overlooked or underemphasized.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why Oral Health Matters and How It Impacts Life
- 2 How to Have Good Oral Hygiene
- 3 1. Brush Your Teeth
- 4 2. Floss Between Your Teeth
- 5 3. Rinse Your Mouth
- 6 4. Clean Your Tongue
- 7 5. Steer Clear of Sugary Foods and Drinks
- 8 6. Avoid Smoking, Chewing Tobacco, and Excessive Alcohol Use
- 9 7. Consider Dental Sealants
- 10 8. Get Routine Dental Checkups Every Six Months
- 11 Common Oral Health Misconceptions
- 12 Brushing Your Teeth is Only Necessary to Remove Food and Debris
- 13 Cavities are the Only Cause of Tooth Loss
- 14 Bad Breath Is Only Caused by Poor Oral Hygiene
- 15 Bleeding Gums are Normal
- 16 Protect Your Oral Health and Well-Being
Why Oral Health Matters and How It Impacts Life
Good oral health not only enables you to talk, smile, and eat with confidence, it also plays an integral role in social and professional interactions and career advancement. Conversely, poor dental health is associated with serious consequences including painful, disabling, and costly health conditions and diminished self-esteem.
Gum disease: When left untreated, oral bacteria can enter your bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response and increased levels of C-reactive protein, a key biomarker of inflammation that can affect your entire body. Sustained high levels are associated with a heightened risk of heart attacks.
Advanced periodontitis is associated with worsening symptoms in people with diabetes, respiratory disease, and heart disease and research suggests it significantly raises the risk of kidney, pancreatic, and blood cancers in men.
Several studies have shown an association between periodontal disease and adverse outcomes in pregnancy such as premature deliveries, fetal growth restriction, and other complications.
Although inconclusive, newer research suggests periodontal bacteria can initiate the formation of the brain plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease.
Tooth Loss: Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Tooth loss can lead to declining oral health and function, thereby negatively impacting your ability to eat a well-balanced diet. Even a single missing tooth can cause bone loss and shifting of surrounding teeth, while the spaces can harbor bacteria and cause a gum infection that can spread to other parts of your body when left untreated.
How to Have Good Oral Hygiene
Professional organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) publish guidelines and blogs about what constitutes a proper oral health routine. With that said, it’s important to remember that your oral care needs are as unique as your personality. To keep your smile strong and healthy, it’s essential to talk to your dentist about your specific issues and follow their recommendations, in addition to following these steps.
1. Brush Your Teeth
Brush your teeth a minimum of twice a day and preferably after every meal. Choose a soft-bristled brush with a head size that comfortably fits in your mouth to allow easy access to all areas.
Your toothbrush should be replaced every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed.
Overly aggressive tooth brushing, especially with too hard a brush can lead to gum recession, thereby exposing sensitive tooth roots and eventually leading to tooth loss.
The ADA recommends using a fluoride toothpaste approved by them, but if you have any issues/sensitivities and are considering a natural toothpaste, discuss this with your dentist.
2. Floss Between Your Teeth
Tooth decay-causing bacteria can accumulate between your teeth. Flossing once a day helps remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth and under the gum line. This can prevent buildup of harmful dental plaque that can cause cavities and bleeding gums, a sign of early-stage gum disease called gingivitis.
Some people find it easier to use floss picks rather than traditional string floss. If you’re considering a Waterpik flosser, read consumer reviews and buy an ADA-approved product.
3. Rinse Your Mouth
Using a mouthwash once a day stimulates saliva flow and circulates antibacterial, oxygen-rich saliva to all areas of your mouth, flushing out food debris and targeting bacteria lurking in hidden places.
It’s best to choose a mouthwash with the ADA seal of approval. Avoid any rinses that contain alcohol because it’s highly acidic, can worsen dry mouth, and has even been tied to a higher risk of oral cancer.
4. Clean Your Tongue
While research is scant, scraping your tongue can temporarily improve bad breath and remove harmful bacteria that can cause gum inflammation and cavities. It’s easy to add this as the last step in your morning and nightly oral hygiene routine.
Stick your tongue out, then apply light pressure to run the scraper across the entire surface of your tongue once or twice, starting at the back and working your way towards the front. Be sure to do this gently and wash the scraper in warm water after each pass, then rinse your mouth with water.
5. Steer Clear of Sugary Foods and Drinks
When sugar is consumed, it interacts with bacteria in dental plaque to produce acid. The acid slowly dissolves tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay. Research shows a clear association between consumption of sugar-containing foods and beverages and the incidence of dental cavities in both primary (baby) teeth and permanent teeth.
Most experts recommend limiting sugar intake to 5% of daily intake, not only to prevent oral health issues but also obesity.
6. Avoid Smoking, Chewing Tobacco, and Excessive Alcohol Use
Tobacco users and people who drink alcohol excessively have higher rates of tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. Cigarette smoking can cause many adverse oral effects, including gum recession, oral cancer, periodontal disease, premature tooth loss, impaired healing following gum treatment and oral surgery, tooth discoloration, bad breath, enamel erosion, and cavities due to sugars added to products.
Nicotine and other chemicals found in cigarettes weaken the underlying bone and make it more challenging for implants to fuse with the bone.
Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of dental cavities. The high concentration of organic and inorganic acids and habitually keeping an alcoholic drink in the mouth can lead to chronic gum inflammation.
Drinking alcohol can also increase the negative side effects from any metal in older crowns, bridges, orthodontic devices, and various other restorations.
7. Consider Dental Sealants
Dental sealants are an effective method for sealing pits and fissures in the occlusal (chewing) surfaces of teeth because they form a physical barrier against harmful bacteria and prevent dental cavities.
In 2016, the ADA recommended the use of dental sealants in primary and permanent molars in children and adolescents.
8. Get Routine Dental Checkups Every Six Months
Visiting your dentist every six months is essential for several reasons. Dentists check for signs of oral cancer and early detection can potentially save your life. They also look for signs of decay, infection, and gum disease and provide evidence-based treatments to resolve all these issues or make referrals to qualified specialists for oral health problems outside their areas of expertise.
Professional dental cleanings are the only method for removing plaque that has hardened into tartar from your teeth and gum line. Hygienists also examine you for signs of oral diseases, provide preventive care and tips for improving oral hygiene, and take digital X-rays.
Common Oral Health Misconceptions
Brushing Your Teeth is Only Necessary to Remove Food and Debris
The real purpose of brushing your teeth is to remove dental plaque, a sticky and nearly invisible layer of saliva, cells, food debris, and microorganisms that collect on the surfaces of your teeth and gums. If plaque isn’t removed, it can harden into tartar and cause cavities and gum disease.
Cavities are the Only Cause of Tooth Loss
Gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss among adults—accounting for 70% of missing teeth. Age, poor oral hygiene, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis are risk factors for tooth loss.
It’s not uncommon for tooth loss to occur after a serious injury. Even major tooth damage such as a severe crack may necessitate extraction to prevent infection and ensure optimal dental health.
If left untreated, cavities can lead to a dental infection, the need for a root canal, and possible loss of the tooth, in rare instances.
Bad Breath Is Only Caused by Poor Oral Hygiene
The majority of bad breath cases are linked to increased bacterial growth, which can result from poor oral hygiene. Other causes include dry mouth, tonsil stones, chronic health conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes, metabolic disorders, liver, and kidney disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and several autoimmune diseases.
In addition, dietary choices, alcohol use, and smoking have been linked to bad breath.
Bleeding Gums are Normal
If your gums bleed when brushing or flossing, this is due to gum inflammation. Gums can become inflamed and start bleeding due to excessive plaque buildup, the onset of gum disease, or other causes. If you have chronic bleeding gums, prompt treatment is important.
Protect Your Oral Health and Well-Being
Good oral hygiene at home is an effective way to help prevent and reduce dental problems. It’s also important to follow good nutritional habits, curtail snacks between meals, limit sugar intake, floss between your teeth, and refrain from smoking and excessive alcohol use.
The importance of visiting a dentist for routine oral exams and professional cleanings can’t be overstated!