Oral Health – The Importance of Good Oral Health
Good oral health allows us to eat, smile, speak, and express emotions. It helps prevent diseases that affect our mouth, throat, and jaws.
Laws and policies can help meet Healthy People’s oral health targets by reducing barriers to care. These include laws and regulations that support health professions training and increase access to care by allowing more providers to practice at federally qualified health centers.
Dental hygiene is a preventative practice that helps reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. It includes a combination of regular brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash to remove food particles, bacteria, and plaque from the teeth and gums. It also involves visiting the dentist for routine cleanings every six months.
While we often consider oral health a purely cosmetic concern, it’s important for the rest of our body’s well-being. Studies have shown that oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream, damaging tissues and contributing to systemic diseases like heart disease, respiratory infections, and certain types of cancer. This is why it’s important to maintain good oral health through regular hygiene practices, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding bad habits such as smoking or biting your nails.
Good oral hygiene practices include brushing twice daily and flossing once daily to remove food particles or bacteria from the teeth and gums. It also includes regularly visiting the dentist for routine cleanings and inspections of the mouth, which help catch any early signs of problems like gum disease or tooth decay. It’s also important to avoid bad habits like drinking sugary and carbonated beverages, smoking, or biting your nails, as these can damage the teeth and lead to cavities, gum disease, or even jaw pain.
To become a dental hygienist, you must enroll in a bachelor’s degree program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). It will usually take four years to complete, but earning a bachelor’s degree in less time is possible if you’ve already completed an associate’s in dental hygiene. These are known as degree completion programs, and they can be completed entirely online.
Tooth decay is a disease that damages and ultimately destroys teeth. The main factors of tooth decay are eating habits (especially sticky and sugary foods), drinking too much soda, and failing to brush teeth regularly. Tooth decay is a major cause of oral diseases, including gum disease and even loss of the entire tooth. This can impact one’s functionality, smile, and overall appearance.
Tooth decay happens when the bacteria in your mouth digest food and drinks containing sugar and starch, causing them to produce acids that attack the enamel surface of the teeth. This eventually weakens the enamel, causing it to lose minerals and eventually become a hole known as a cavity. The decay process can also erode the dentin, finally exposing nerves and blood vessels. This causes pain and swelling of the affected tooth.
Most people with healthy oral health have a low risk of cavities. However, people who consume a lot of sugary snacks, soda, and fruit are more at risk for developing plaque, which leads to tooth decay. People with a dry mouth (due to medication or other medical conditions such as cancer treatments) and those who smoke are also at greater risk.
Regular visits to the dentist can help prevent tooth decay by detecting and removing any damage or infection before it worsens. Ensure you are using toothpaste with fluoride and brushing your teeth at least twice daily, especially before going to bed. Children can be protected with dental sealants, which are plastic protective coatings that cover the chewing surfaces of their back teeth, where they often decay. Also, ensure your children are not getting too much juice or soft drinks.
The gums play an essential role in our oral health — they attach and support the teeth, helping them withstand chewing forces and resist infections. But when gum disease occurs, these important functions can be lost. The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis, which causes the gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily. If this condition is caught and treated early on, the gums can return to a healthy state, but if it goes untreated, gingivitis can advance to more severe forms of the disease.
The later stages of gum disease are called periodontitis. They can lead to tooth loss, jawbone deterioration, and changes in how teeth fit together when biting or how partial dentures fit. The bacterial toxins produced by plaque buildup irritate the gum tissue and cause it to become inflamed. The gums can then form pockets that collect food, bacteria, and dead gum tissue. These pockets may become infected, and infection-fighting white blood cells can be trapped within them. The pockets can even fill with pus, causing an abscess.
Gum disease is linked to other diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Research suggests that unhealthy mouth bacteria spread through the bloodstream and attach to body parts where they can cause damage.
Good oral hygiene practices are the best way to prevent gum disease and to keep it from progressing. This includes daily brushing and flossing. If you have bridges, implants, or wide spaces between your teeth, you can also use interdental brushes (toothpick-like implements with tiny bristles at one end) to help remove trapped food. Regular dental cleanings at the dentist help to remove harmful plaque and tartar that can contribute to gum disease.
Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can cause mouth infections. Some are common, such as cold sores (herpes simplex) and thrush, which cause painful, swollen red sores in the throat and mouth. Others can be more serious. Herpes can lead to flu-like symptoms and fluid-filled blisters that can scab over and stay dormant for days, but most people do not know they are infected. Oral herpes can also affect the nerves in the mouth and lips, causing persistent sores or numbness. Another viral infection of the gums is shingles, which causes painless blisters and skin around the mouth. Bacterial mouth infections can lead to dental cavities, gum disease, and tooth abscesses. An infected or abscessed tooth is a severe problem. The bacteria that attack a tooth usually enter through a cavity or crack in the tooth and infect the pulp, the innermost part of the tooth containing blood vessels and nerves. The pulp can become inflamed and form a tooth abscess.
Another bacterial infection in the mouth is aphthous ulcers, which are small, painful sores on the cheeks, lips, and tongue lining. They can be caused by various irritants, including rough teeth or poorly fitting dentures, smoking and smokeless tobacco, and certain medications.
Oral infections can disseminate microorganisms to the general circulation within minutes after a procedure, and the given organisms may reach their target tissues (such as the lungs or peripheral blood vessels). If they settle there, they can trigger the immune system to react with an inflammatory response. This inflammation can cause damage to the tissues and increase cardiovascular risk.
The mouth teems with bacteria, most harmless, but the germs that cause tooth decay and gum disease can also travel to your respiratory tract. These can then be inhaled or swallowed, causing an infection like the flu, the common cold, or pneumonia. The bacteria can also enter your bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, where they can cause more serious infections. This is known as the “mouth-body connection” or “oral-systemic health,” and it’s why it’s so important to have good oral hygiene.
Several studies have reported an association between poor oral health and respiratory infections, especially pneumonia. For example, Khadka et al.  performed a systematic review that included studies investigating the presence of pathogenic microorganisms in the oral specimens of people with aspiration pneumonia. They found that these specimens were enriched for bacteria commonly associated with respiratory infections, particularly Pseudomonas and Streptococcus. The researchers also reported that aspiration pneumonia was less prevalent in individuals who received professional oral care than those who did not.
Furthermore, the oral cavity and dental biofilm are a potential reservoir of organisms that can lead to the development of respiratory infections, especially in patients with impaired consciousness or debilitating conditions such as COPD. This may be due to respiratory pathogens in the oral tissues, aspiration of these bacteria from the oral cavity, or colonization of the lower airways by oral pathogens such as Bacteroides, Actinomyces, Peptostreptococcus, and Eubacterium.
These findings suggest that the relationship between oral health and respiratory infections is more complex than previously thought. This is important because these complications can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life, and it’s, therefore, crucial to understand this relationship so that we can prevent the occurrence of respiratory infections.