You might think about your mental and physical health every single day. When you make food choices, your health is considered. When you exercise, go to sleep, and seek laughter, support and activities and people that make you happy, your health is the foundation of those decisions.
It’s integrated into our lives to take good care of our mind and body. Yet many people forget about one aspect of their health that can have a dramatic impact on both mental and physical wellbeing. 3551
We’re talking about your oral health, and you may be surprised just how important it is. Over the next few pages, we’ll talk about the importance of good oral health, and why it matters. Then we’ll dive into steps that you can take today to start improving your oral health. 3552
What Is Oral Health?
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), oral health is defined as:
“A state of being free from mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit an individual’s capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking, and psychosocial wellbeing.” (Source: who.int )
The healthier your mouth, the better. Think about what your oral health impacts. It affects your:
- Mouth comfort
- Ability to talk
- Ability to eat
And so much more. In fact, the health of your mouth has a significant impact on the health of your body.
Benefits of Good Oral Health
When your mouth is healthy, it means that your body is healthy too. Infections in your mouth are able to spread to the rest of your body. Through swallowing and through your blood you can quickly transmit infections to your digestive system and blood stream. 2501
Additionally, bacteria and viruses often enter through your mouth. If you have a healthy mouth, these invaders don’t stand a chance. A healthy mouth helps keep your immune system strong. It’s also safe to say that a healthy mouth makes you feel more confident in your interactions. 2502
You may have had days where you knew you had bad breath or times when you weren’t proud of your smile. You know how significantly your oral health can impact your social life and your confidence. A healthy mouth gives you much more confidence to smile, to talk, and to interact with others. 2503
And a healthy mouth means that you’re free from pain. Pain can come in the form of sores, infections, and other issues like red gums or a swollen tongue. All of these issues can inhibit your ability to eat, and eating is essential for life. You have to eat. To do so without pain is a wonderful thing. 2504
The benefits of a healthy mouth are significant and so too are the risks of not taking care of your oral hygiene. 2561
Risks When Not Taking Care of Your Teeth
You might be surprised that simple mistakes can put your teeth and your health at risk. Let’s look at some of those risks when you’re not taking care of your teeth. 3661
The most common risk that people talk about with oral health is cavities. Cavities are locations on your teeth where the tooth is decaying. They’re caused by the acid that is created when sugar and bacteria interact. They’re painful and can cause further infections in your mouth, and even the loss of teeth. 3662
Periodontal disease is also known as gum disease. It causes a host of health conditions and while it’s not painful, it can lead to tooth loss and health problems. In fact, gum disease can cause endocarditis. 3663
Endocarditis is an infection of the endocardium, which is the inner lining of your heart. As bacteria from your gums and mouth spread through your blood stream, they can attach to damaged areas on your heart and cause infection. 3664
Heart disease can also be caused by inflammation and infections from oral bacteria. And you might be surprised to learn that gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight. 3673
It has also been connected to diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels. The infection in the blood stream may be part of the problem. 1784
Osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and oral cancer have all been linked to gum disease and cavities. The more your mouth has to repair injured and damaged cells from inflammation and infection, the higher your risk of disease. 2110
In fact, the incidence of oral cancer is increasing around the globe and across the country. It’s often caused by tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as poor oral health. 2113
In addition, let’s not forget that losing your teeth, oral surgery, and other mouth issues just aren’t fun. They can be painful, embarrassing, and expensive. Before we dive into a wealth of tips and steps to take great care of your teeth, let’s explore a few myths about oral health. 2135
Three Common Myths and Misconceptions about Oral Health
We all have mouths and yet there are many misconceptions or false beliefs about oral health. Understanding the truth can help you make the best decisions for your health and wellbeing.
Myth 1: Gum Disease and Cavities Only Happen If You Don’t Brush Your Teeth
This is not true. You might be surprised to learn that more than half of people over age 30 have gum disease and after age 70 it increases to 65 percent of people. And gum disease and cavities can be caused by drinking sugary drinks, eating foods that are high in sugar, by brushing your teeth too hard, and by not flossing regularly or correctly. 2175
Myth 2: A Hard Toothbrush Does a Better Job
Actually, for most people a softer toothbrush does a better job. Unless you have a very light touch when you brush your teeth, a toothbrush with soft or medium bristles is best. And if you really brush your teeth with vigor, then a sonic tooth brush with soft bristles may be best. You can actually brush away your gums and the surface of your teeth if you brush too hard. 2261
Myth 3: Sugar Causes Cavities
Sugar is part of the problem but we’re not talking about just table sugar. The sugars found in fruits, vegetables, and starchy carbohydrates cause cavities. What happens is the bacteria in your mouth essentially feed on the sugars in the foods that you eat. They then release an acid that causes decay. 2273
The more sugars you have in your mouth, and the longer they stay there, the faster the bacteria can multiply and cause significant problems. The solution is to reduce the amount of pure sugary foods that you eat, to brush your teeth often, and to keep your teeth clean. 2298
There are other myths, of course. The bottom line is that you can improve your oral health. Grab a pencil or a highlighter and get ready. The following steps are ones you can take today. 2300
Ten Steps You Can Take Today to Improve Your Oral Health
We’re not going to start with the obvious step about brushing your teeth. Hopefully, you already know that you’re supposed to brush your teeth at least twice a day. However, we can start by talking about toothbrushes. 3687
1. Get a Good Toothbrush
Your toothbrush should fit your mouth. You should be able to reach all of your teeth comfortably and easily. The bristles should match your brushing habits. For example, if you brush your teeth aggressively, then you should have soft bristles.
Your toothbrush should also be replaced every three months to prevent bacteria build-up and to keep the bristles working effectively. If you use an electronic or sonic toothbrush then those heads should also be appropriate for your needs and brushing style.
2. Check Your Fluoride
Fluoride is an element that helps protect your teeth. While most people get enough fluoride in their water supply and tooth care products, you want to make sure that you’re getting enough. If you buy or use natural tooth care products and you don’t drink tap water, you may not be getting the protection from fluoride.
3. Cut Back on Sugar
Right now, today, cut back on the sugary foods that you eat. We’re not just talking about soda and candy. You also want to make sure that sweetened coffee drinks, sports drinks, sports bars, cereal, and starchy carbohydrates are also reduced.
And dried fruit is akin to candy to your teeth. It’s sugary and sticky. If you do have a sweet beverage or snack, be sure to brush your teeth afterwards. You can buy handy pocket-size disposable toothbrushes to keep with you.
4. Check Your Gums
Take a look inside your mouth and examine your gums. How do they look? If they’re pink and firm, you’re in good shape. If they are red, swollen, or if they bleed when you brush and floss then you may have gum disease. Your dentist can help you control and eliminate periodontitis.
5. Brush Your Tongue and the Roof of Your Mouth
When you’re brushing your teeth, make sure to cleanse the other surfaces in your mouth. Brush the top and sides of your tongue. Bacteria collect there too. Run your toothbrush over the roof of your mouth to get rid of food and bacteria there as well.
6. Floss, with the Right Floss
Flossing is essential, yet a habit that most people skip. Sure, you may floss occasionally when you feel something wedged between your teeth. Make flossing a habit. In fact, go and floss right now. Get between every tooth and make sure that you get all the way down into the gums.
The best floss is floss that you can slide between your teeth. In most cases, it is non-waxed but you may prefer the waxed kind. If you don’t like floss, try the flossing sticks instead. They’re disposable and easy to maneuver between tight teeth.
7. Go to the Dentist
More than half of today’s population doesn’t go to the dentist on an annual basis. One of the obstacles for many is money. If you don’t have dental insurance, you might think that dental care is expensive. Check your local dentists, though. Many have their own membership plans that can dramatically reduce your costs and some dentists offer free cleanings.
In addition, if you do have health insurance or you can afford dental care, then what are you waiting for? A dentist can be your best ally to protect your health and to prevent dental problems down the road. Many are also well trained to recognize oral cancer. A trip to the dentist could save your life.
8. Drink More Water
Your body needs water to produce saliva. Saliva is required not only to begin breaking down the food in your mouth but also to wash away bacteria and debris. If you have dry mouth or you’re dehydrated, you put yourself at risk from cavities and gum disease.
9. Quit Tobacco
Tobacco from cigarettes and chew do not only stain teeth – they also increase the acidity and cause inflammation, infection, and decay. If you smoke or chew tobacco, it’s time to quit. It is the leading cause of mouth cancer and leads to a number of other oral health problems.
10. Become More Aware of Your Mouth
Pay attention to your mouth. Don’t dismiss jaw pain, mouth sores, or achy teeth. If you think something might be wrong, have it checked out. As you age you are more at risk from many different dental issues.
For example, in your senior years any fillings that you might have had when you were younger are at risk of cracking and falling out. They may need to be replaced. And fillings can fall out without you noticing it. If you feel sensitivity in your teeth or gums, it’s always important to have that checked out by your dentist.
Becoming friends with your dentist is important. It means that you’re comfortable enough to ask the questions that matter and to listen to their advice. A dentist can check for mouth cancer, make sure that you’re using the best dental care tools and products available, and be there to help ensure your oral health stays strong.
Good oral health is nothing to take for granted. It affects your physical and mental wellbeing too. Embrace these ten steps today and start taking better care of your oral health.