Dental Health

Dental health, or oral health, involves taking care of your teeth and gums. A healthy mouth is important for overall health and simple lifestyle choices can protect you from dental diseases.

Dental Health Overview

Reviewed: May 19, 2014

Dental health relates to the general health of the mouth, including the teeth, gums, and tissues inside of the mouth and lips. There are strong correlations between good dental health and good general body health.
Symptoms of dental disease include red or swollen gums, bleeding of the gums, loosened teeth, and difficulty chewing. Tooth decay is typically caused by a build-up of bacteria and food that change into acids, which cause holes in the teeth. Gum diseases are typically caused by a sticky, colorless plaque that forms through a combination of bacteria, mucus, and other particles. If it is not removed by brushing, the plaque can harden and form tartar. Some diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and Sjogren's syndrome, and certain medications, including decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, and diuretics, can affect the salivary glands and cause dry mouth.

To maintain dental health, brush your teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. Regular dental check-ups with cleanings every 6 months can prevent and identify most dental health issues. Also, limit sugary snacks and drinks and do not smoke or chew tobacco.

Dental Health Symptoms

Poor dental health or diseases of the oral cavity can lead to pain and infections that can affect speaking and eating. The following symptoms may suggest oral health problems:

  • Red, tender or swollen gums
  • Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
  • Gums that begin pulling away from your teeth
  • Loose permanent teeth
  • Changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align with each other
  • Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Persistent bad breath or an unusual taste in your mouth

Dental Health Causes

The mouth is teeming with bacteria, but most of them are harmless. Normally, the body's natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

In addition, certain medications, such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and diuretics, can reduce saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect you from microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease. Also, certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, can lower the body's resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.

Dental Health Diagnosis

Dentists identify dental diseases and conditions by physical examination and x-rays. Dentists visually examine teeth for cavities and use special instruments to examine the spaces between teeth.

If a cavity is detected, the dentist will usually take x-rays to find exactly how deep the tooth decay has damaged the tooth. X-rays may also be used to confirm a diagnosis or to reveal hidden cavities such as under existing restorations.

Living With Dental Health

Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:

  • Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
  • Pregnancy and birth. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body's resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.
  • HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
  • Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak and brittle, might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
  • Alzheimer's disease. Tooth loss before age 35 might be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.
  • Other conditions. Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include Sjogren's syndrome (an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth) and eating disorders.

Because of these potential links, be sure to tell your dentist if you are taking any medications or have had any changes in your overall health, especially if you have had any recent illnesses or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes.

Dental Health Treatments

To maintain good dental health, practice good oral hygiene every day. For example:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush that fits your mouth comfortably.
  • Floss daily.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are frayed.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups.

Also, contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises.

Dental Health Prognosis