Your oral health is more important than you might realize. The health of your mouth, teeth, gums, and tongue can all affect your general health. The state of your oral health can help offer clues about what may be going on with the rest of your body, and can potentially help you spot the early signs of other health conditions. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about oral health, including six easy ways you can improve yours.
What Does It Mean to Have Good Oral Health?
Oral health affects nearly every aspect of our lives, however, it is often taken for granted. It is a key indicator of overall health, well-being, and quality of life. Oral health encompasses a wide array of conditions and diseases, some of which include dental caries (cavities), periodontal (gum) disease, tooth loss, oral cancer, and oro-dental trauma. It’s estimated that nearly 3.5 billion people worldwide are affected by some form of oral disease, according to the World Health Organization.
While most people in the United States have access to quality oral care products and services, cavities remain one of the most prevalent chronic diseases among children. What’s more, some 100 million Americans fail to see a dentist each year, despite access to quality dental care. Many people believe that they need to see a dentist only if they are in pain or think something is wrong, but regular dental visits can contribute to a lifetime of good oral health.
Practicing good oral health can be easy, and doing so can help prevent a host of diseases and conditions. In fact, many systemic diseases that affect the body may first become apparent because of mouth lesions or other related oral problems.
Let’s next take a look at why oral health matters, and look at some of the most common conditions that arise when it declines.
Why Oral Health Matters
Like other areas of your body, such as your gut, your mouth is teeming with bacteria. This bacteria, for the most part, is harmless, but if left to accumulate can cause disease. Your mouth is quite literally the gateway to your digestive and respiratory tracts, which means that some of these harmful bacteria can make their way into your lungs or digestive system.
Typically, your body has natural defenses against harmful bacteria. This, coupled with proper oral care, like brushing and flossing, normally keep bacteria under control. However, without proper oral care, bacteria can reach levels that can lead to oral infection, tooth decay, and gum disease.
There are also several health conditions located outside of the mouth that can be linked to poor or declining oral health. These include:
- Endocarditis: This is an infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves, which typically occurs when bacteria from other parts of the body, like your mouth, travel through the bloodstream and into your heart
- Cardiovascular disease: While the connection remains unclear, some research suggests that heart disease may be linked to the inflammation of certain oral bacteria
- Pneumonia: The harmful bacteria that can build in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs as you breathe, causing pneumonia or other respiratory diseases
- Pregnancy and birth complications: Periodontitis (gum infection) has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight
Six Easy Ways to Improve Your Oral Health
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what oral health is and why it matters, we can jump into what steps you can take to improve yours. Achieving healthy teeth takes a lifetime of care. Even if your dentist tells you to have healthy teeth today, it’s important to take care of them every day. Here are six easy ways to improve your oral health, starting first with how often you should be brushing.
Brush Your Teeth Not Once, Not Twice, but Three Times a Day
While we all know that you should be brushing your teeth when you wake up and before you go to sleep, many experts agree that you should be adding one more cleaning to your daily routine. Brushing your teeth after every meal will help prevent food from becoming stuck between your teeth and gums. It will also ensure that your teeth are getting cleaned properly. In addition to keeping your teeth bright, brushing after every meal can help prevent gum disease and bad breath.
Use Toothpaste with Flouride
When it comes to toothpaste, it can feel a little overwhelming when trying to choose the right one. However, there are many more important elements to look for aside from whitening power and flavors. When choosing toothpaste, the single most important thing you should look for is one with fluoride.
Fluoride is one of the best ways to avoid cavities. Fluoride is a leading defense against tooth decay. It works by fighting germs that can lead to decay, as well as providing a protective barrier for your teeth.
Some cities have fluoride in the water supply, but if yours does not then you should consider a fluoride supplement if you have children. Fluoride can help protect their teeth as they grow up, and help them avoid cavities and enamel decay.
Choose a Quality Toothbrush, and Replace it Regularly
Much like toothpaste, there is a seemingly endless number of toothbrushes on the market. From manual to electronic, soft-bristled to hard-bristled, it can be difficult to figure out which one is right for you.
While personal preference can certainly play a role in your toothbrush selection, there are a few options that will yield the best results. A soft-bristled electric toothbrush is the best choice to help keep your teeth bright and clean. Both of these choices allow for gentle cleansing of your teeth without inflicting damage that can be caused by hard scrubbing.
Along with picking the right toothbrush, it’s equally important to change your toothbrush regularly. Brushing your teeth helps to prevent bacteria, and so does replacing your toothbrush. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends changing your toothbrush every three to four months. If you use your brush for much longer than that, the bristles will start to become frayed and worn, and they won’t be as effective at clearing away plaque.
If you didn’t already know, you should be flossing every single day. Yes, that’s correct, every day. Flossing is an essential part of practicing good oral health and shouldn’t be reserved just for when a popcorn kernel gets lodged between your teeth.
While there is no wrong type of floss to use, it’s important to use it properly by flossing between every tooth and getting both the right and left side each time you do so. Most people only focus on one side of their teeth when flossing. While the intention is there, all of that effort is wasted on just one-half of your mouth, meaning you’re missing out on nearly 50 percent of the benefits.
After flossing, you can also follow up with mouthwash to help clean any small areas where your floss may have been missed.
Practice Proper Brushing
While we’ve already touched on the importance of brushing your teeth three times a day, it’s important to understand how you should be brushing your teeth. Proper brushing is important, as it can help prevent cavities and gum disease. That said, most people are unaware of the proper technique they should be using when brushing, which can have serious consequences.
To avoid this, here are some tips to brush the right way:
- Use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, and fluoride-free toothpaste for children. The CDC stresses brushing with too much toothpaste can damage enamel because children could swallow too much fluoride while their teeth are developing. This can lead to dental fluorosis and white marking or discolorization of teeth
- Use a brush with soft bristles to avoid damaging your gums or enamel
Brush in small, circular motions, rather than long back and forth strokes
- Don’t use too much pressure. Apply only a medium amount of pressure, as too much can lead to tooth damage, and too little pressure will not remove plaque and food particles
- Brush for a full two minutes. If you find yourself having difficulty, try splitting your mouth into four quadrants and spend 30 seconds on each one
- Don’t neglect your tongue. Gently brush your tongue every time you brush your teeth, as plaque can build up on it just as it does on your teeth
What Are Some Ways You Improve Your Oral Health?
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