Your oral health impacts more than just your mouth. It can also affect your general health and wellbeing. This World Oral Health Day – 20 March – the theme is ‘Act on Mouth Health’ which aims to highlight the importance of oral health for a healthy body. Here, Dr Neil Sikka, Chief Dental Officer, Bupa UK Insurance, answers some of the most common questions about oral health and offers some tips to help improve your routine.
What causes poor oral hygiene?
Poor oral hygiene is usually caused by a failure to maintain good dental habits. This means brushing your teeth twice a day, for two to three minutes each time, flossing and cleaning between your teeth, and visiting the dentist and hygienist regularly.
Some foods, including those high in sugars and acid, and habits such as smoking can also result in dental diseases. Good dental care and a healthy diet are very important to help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
How can you improve your oral health?
There are various things you can do to help keep your teeth and gums healthy. These include:
Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day – including last thing at night. Use toothpaste with fluoride in it and remember to spit not rinse afterwards. You should also replace your toothbrush regularly.
Clean between your teeth with floss or interdental brushes every day - this helps to remove plaque and small bits of food from between your teeth, where a toothbrush can't reach.
Limit acidic food and drinks - try not to have too many acidic foods and drinks, which can cause dental erosion. These include fruit juices, fizzy drinks and squashes, flavoured waters and vinegar.
Control your sugar intake - sugar combines with bacteria to produce acid which attacks the enamel and dentine in teeth. Try to avoid grazing on sugary food during the day as this increases the acid levels in your mouth
Visit your dentist regularly for a check-up - and follow any advice you are given.
Other things which can help, include stopping smoking, as this can stain your teeth and increase your risk of gum disease and tooth loss. If you are prone to decay, using a fluoride mouthwash can help prevent tooth decay; and chewing sugar-free gum, especially after a meal. This helps increase the flow of saliva, helping to neutralise the acid levels in your mouth.
How is oral health linked to overall health?
Your mouth is swarming with bacteria, mostly harmless, and the body’s natural defences as well as good oral health usually keep these under control. However, poor oral hygiene can cause bacteria to reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Clinical studies have now established a link between gum disease and heart disease. Gum disease has also been linked with conditions such as diabetes, lung diseases and even Alzheimer’s.
What medications can cause dental problems?
Certain medicines can affect the mouth. The three most common side effects are dry mouth, loss of taste and inflammation. Certain medicines can also cause overgrowth of the gums. If you notice any changes in your mouth when taking medication visit your GP and dentist as soon as possible.
How can I make my gums healthy again?
Gum disease is a common condition that affects the tissues around your mouth. There are three main types of gum disease: gingivitis, periodontitis and acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG). Gingivitis is the least serious of the three and is usually caused by a build up of plaque. If gingivitis isn’t treated, the inflammation may spread to the ligaments and bones that hold your teeth in place. This is called periodontitis. ANUG is a serious type of gum disease that develops suddenly. It causes swelling, ulcers, bad breath (halitosis) and pain.
The type of treatment you’ll need will depend on how serious your gum disease is. The aim of the treatment is to control any existing gum disease and prevent further problems.
If you have any of the above conditions your dentist and hygienist will also work with you to show how you can improve your oral hygiene routine to prevent it returning.
Is it good to use mouthwash every day?
Many people use mouthwash as an add-on to brushing their teeth, however, if you’re brushing well and your mouth is healthy, you shouldn’t need to use it. There are two main types of mouthwash: cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic mouthwashes temporarily freshen your breath, but they can’t get rid of bad breath or treat any mouth or teeth problems. Therapeutic mouthwashes can be used to treat specific mouth and gum problems. An anti-bacterial mouthwash or rinse may be prescribed by your dentist or GP for repeated mouth ulcers, inflamed gums (gingivitis), bad breath (halitosis) or mouth infections.
Can a rotten tooth kill you?
Deadly tooth infections are rare, but they aren’t completely unheard of. We are fortunate in the western world to have access to treatment and antibiotics. However, in countries where people aren’t so lucky it is possible that a dental infection can lead to sepsis which left untreated, can be deadly
It is important to take care of your oral health, visit the dentist regularly and do not ignore potential problems.