Connecting Oral and Overall Health
Regular dental exams not only help decrease your risk of oral health problems, such as cavities and gum disease, but also may help to diagnose other, sometimes life-threatening, medical conditions. Serious diseases like diabetes and cancer often can be detected from signs and symptoms inside your mouth. In fact, many diseases with oral manifestations may first present orally. Dentists are a very important part of your health care team, as they can recognize the symptoms of these diseases when they assess your oral health.
More than 25 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes. Diabetes is associated with high levels of blood sugar and is known to lower resistance to infection and increase the chances of:
Additionally, patients with diabetes, especially those with dentures, are more likely to experience oral fungal infections, including thrush and oral candidiasis.
During your regularly scheduled dental checkup, your dentist will search for signs of oral cancer, including:
Sores that bleed easily or do not heal
While dentists check all patients for these signs and symptoms, patients with a history of smoking, using smokeless tobacco, or drinking heavily are at an increased risk for developing oral cancer.
Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, physically damage both your oral and overall health. These disorders, which include patterns of insufficient or excessive food intake, can rob the body of much-needed vitamins and minerals, creating deficiencies that may present themselves orally.
Without proper nutrition, gums can lose their healthy pink color and become increasingly soft and tender, bleeding easily. Additionally, disorders that involve excessive vomiting, such as bulimia, repeatedly expose the teeth to stomach acid and can cause tooth discoloration and erosion. In addition to loss of tooth enamel and thin, sensitive teeth, those with eating disorders also may experience swollen salivary glands and dry mouth.
Alcohol Use Disorders
Alcohol use disorders affect more than 17 million adults in the U.S. alone. In addition to causing irreparable social and medical problems, alcohol use disorders can severely impact your oral health. Dentists treating patients with alcohol abuse problems may observe the following signs and symptoms.
Regularly scheduled dental exams allow your dentist to detect and monitor diseases that damage your mouth, teeth, and gums. During your visit, make sure to inform your dentist about any medical conditions you have and any medicines you are currently taking. Remember, maintaining a healthy body includes taking care of your oral health.
Choosing and Caring for Your Toothbrush
Your toothbrush is the most important item in your oral health toolkit. But with such a wide variety of toothbrushes available, how do you choose the brush that's best for you? And once you've made your selection, how do you care for and clean your toothbrush? Learn how to improve your oral health care habits by properly selecting and caring for your toothbrush.
What should I look for when choosing a toothbrush?
The best toothbrushes have a long, wide handle that facilitates a firm grip. The toothbrush head should be small enough to reach all areas of the mouth, with soft nylon bristles that won't hurt the gums.
Should I use an electric toothbrush?
Electric toothbrushes, which use an oscillating or rotary motion to clean the teeth, are beneficial because they can cover a larger area of the mouth faster than a manual toothbrush. They're especially well-suited for those with braces, those who need extra motivation to brush, and those who have difficulty operating a manual toothbrush due to age, disability, or other factors.
If you use an electric toothbrush, avoid pressing down too hard; instead, use light force and slow movements, letting the brush do the work for you. Those using an electric toothbrush for the first time may experience slight bleeding from the guns, which will subside over time. Children age 10 and under should be supervised while using an electric toothbrush.
How often should I change my toothbrush?
Old toothbrushes with worn and frayed bristles will not clean your teeth effectively, and they also may harbor harmful bacterial. You should change your toothbrush - or brush head, in the case of an electric toothbrush - every three to four months. However, if you get sick with a cold or the flu, you will need to change your toothbrush as soon as the illness begins and again once the illness has subsided. This will help to get rid of any germs and bacteria on your toothbrush.
How can I keep my toothbrush clean?
Wash your hands both before and after brushing to avoid transferring bacteria and food particles to your toothbrush. After brushing, rinse your toothbrush thoroughly to remove excess toothpaste and other debris, and soak the brush in antiseptic mouth rinse to eliminate any lingering bacteria. Remember: Never share toothbrushes, as this habit can lead to the transmission of colds and/or bacteria.
How should I store my toothbrush?
Store your toothbrush upright and let it air dry before using it again. Microorganisms are more likely to grow in a moist environment, so don't cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container. Because bacteria can travel easily from brush to brush, don't store your toothbrush in the same container as someone else's. Finally, keep your toothbrush as far away from the toilet as possible to avoid contamination from the airborne bacteria that are released with each flush.
Talk to your dentist if you have questions about choosing or caring for your toothbrush. No matter which kind of toothbrush you have, make sure to brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day and visit the dentist regularly to maintain good oral health.
COMMON ORAL SORES AND IRRITATIONS
Your oral health is not limited to your teeth. Spores or irritations can develop in and around the mouth. Fortunately, they usually heal on their own with a week or two.
Although several types of soft-tissue disturbances can affect your mouth, we will address four common ones: canker sores, cold sores, leukoplakia and oral candidiasis.
Canker sores develop inside the mouth as small white or gray sores that have a red border. They are not contagious. They may occur as one sore or several. In some cases, the cause is unknown, but trauma to oral soft tissues is a common cause of canker sores. Canker sores usually heal on their own within a week or two. They are painful and over-the-counter topical anesthetics and antimicrobial mouth rinses may provide temporary relief. Spicy, salty, or acidic foods such as citrus fruits or juices can irritate the sore.
Cold sores (also called “fever blisters”) appear as clusters of red, raised blisters outside the mouth, typically around the lips, although they can develop under the nose or around the chin as well. The blisters are filled with fluid and can break open, allowing the fluid to leak out. They then can scab over until they heal. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are highly contagious. The initial infection with the herpes virus can be accompanied by cold or flu-like symptoms and can cause painful oral lesions. There is no cure for the herpes virus; once you are infected the virus stays in the body and causes occasional flare-ups associated with the cold sores. Cold sore blisters usually heal by themselves in about a week. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide some pain relief. Your dentist may prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce the healing time for these sores.
Leukoplakia is an overgrowth of cells that result in a rough patch of whitish tissue. It can develop anywhere in your mouth. These patches typically are not painful and are not contagious. They can result from irritations such as ill-fitting dentures or the habit of chewing on the inside of the cheek. Leukoplakia also occurs among tobacco users. Treatment begins with identifying the source of the irritation. Once the irritant is removed – which may mean giving up tobacco – the patches should disappear. Sometimes, leukoplakia is associated with oral cancer, so it’s important to see your dentist if you notice any of these patches developing. Your dentist may recommend a biopsy if the patch appears suspicious.
Candidiasis (also called “oral thrush”) is a yeast infection that develops on the soft, moist tissues inside the mouth. It appears as a smooth white patch with a red base, which can be sore or can bleed. Candidiasis is caused by a fungus and typically develops when the immune system is weakened. People who are in poor health, the very old or very young, and people with systemic diseases such as diabetes are at risk of developing oral candidiasis. Some medications, such as steroids or cancer therapies, may increase the risk of developing this infection. Antibiotics also increase the risk of developing infection because they can alter the normal balance of bacteria in the mouth.
Treatment consists of controlling the conditions that caused the outbreak. Because candidiasis is common among denture wearers, a thorough daily cleaning of one’s dentures is important. Removing dentures at night also allows the denture-bearing tissues to regenerate.
Talk with your dentist if you develop candidiasis. He or she can counsel you on ways to treat the condition, which may include use of anti-fungal medications.
Talk with your dentist if you develop any sores or irritation in or around your mouth that does not heal within a couple of weeks. He or she may want to examine the lesion more closely or prescribe a medication to treat the sore or to help you manage any discomfort caused by the sore or irritation.