What is Oral Health?
Oral health covers the health of the teeth, gums, and mouth. However, it is also linked to the entire body and is a key indicator of overall health, well-being, and quality of life. For example, an oral infection can be carried through the bloodstream and affect other areas of the body, like the heart.
What is Oral Hygiene?
Oral hygiene is the application of maintaining the proper health of the teeth, gums, and mouth–keeping it clean and disease-free. Practices involve daily brushing and flossing and regularly visiting the dentist for exams and cleanings. Oral hygiene is preventative care–stopping oral health problems before they can occur.
What are Dental Conditions?
Conditions that affect oral health are referred to as dental problems, diseases, or disorders. “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dental diseases are among the most common chronic diseases worldwide.” They pose a major health burden and can adversely affect people throughout their lifetime. They can cause discomfort or pain, disfigurement, may impact the ability to eat, has the potential to affect self-esteem, and can even lead to death.
A study conducted by The Global Burden of Disease in 2017 estimated around 3.5 billion people globally experience oral disorders with dental cavities being the most common at 2 billion people suffering worldwide. Despite this, most oral conditions are largely preventable and can be effectively treated in their early stages.
There are major disparities when it comes to oral diseases. In most low-income and middle-income countries, dental conditions are prevalent due to inadequate exposure to fluoride, availability of sugar, and poor access to health care services. Other modifiable risk factors include tobacco use, alcohol use, and poor hygiene.
Common Dental Problems
There is a wide range of dental problems that affect oral health.
Tooth cavities, also known as decay or dental caries, develop when plaque forms on the tooth’s surface and when sugars in food transform into acids and destroy the enamel that covers the teeth. The CDC found that around 9 in 10 adults have tooth decay. Frequent consumption of sugar paired with inadequate exposure to fluoride and failure to effectively remove plaque leads to caries.
Gum disease develops when there is too much plaque build-up, causing infection of the tissue that surrounds and supports the tooth. In its early stages, called gingivitis, gum disease can cause irritation, swelling, and some bleeding. It can then progress to a more severe disease called periodontitis if left untreated. Receding gums and tooth loss may occur at this stage. Based on a national survey from 2009-2014, in the United States, 4 in 10 adults aged 30 years or older were reported to have some form of gum disease. Severe periodontal diseases affect approximately 14% of the adult population around the world.
Tooth erosion occurs when acids wear down the teeth’s enamel. People with dry mouth or who consume diets that are high in sugar and acids promote erosion. With dry mouth, there is not enough saliva to rinse and combat the acid.
Cracked or chipped teeth can be caused by a number of factors, including chewing or biting down too hard, grinding at night, or accidents and injuries. In terms of oro-dental trauma resulting from injury, around 20% of people are affected at some point in their life.
Tooth sensitivity can occur when the teeth’s enamel has been damaged, exposing the nerve endings of the teeth. Discomfort or pain may be experienced when eating hot or cold foods.
Oral cancer is comprised of any cancer in the mouth, including cancer that affects the lips, tongue, or tonsils. The American Cancer Society reports that “Around one person dies from oral cancer every hour in the U.S.” Globally, it is estimated that 4 out of 100,000 will suffer from oral cancer. Tobacco and alcohol are among the leading causes of oral cancer.
Tooth loss can occur as a result of multiple factors including dental cavities and periodontal disease. If left untreated, the ability to eat can be affected, and the quality of life can be diminished.
Oral Health by Age Group
Children Oral Health
Among children, cavities, caries, or tooth decay is the most common dental diseases worldwide. The Global Burden of Disease study estimates that 520 million children around the world suffer from caries of primary teeth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States:
Adult Oral Health
Baby boomers or people born from 1946-1964 make up the first generation where the majority of people will retain their natural teeth throughout their lifetime. Today, more people are keeping their natural teeth, and complete tooth loss or edentulism among 20-64-year-olds declining. However, many continue to face dental problems such as tooth loss, cavities, and gum disease. In the United States, 26% of adults have untreated tooth decay, and about 46% aged 30 years or older show signs of gum disease with 9% severely affected.
Older Adult Oral Health
Many older adults aged 65 or older suffer from untreated tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, oral cancer, and chronic disease. The CDC reported 96% of seniors to have a cavity while 1 in 5 has untreated decay. 68% of seniors have gum disease and 1 in 5 are completely edentulous. Complete tooth loss is twice as common for adults 75 and older than adults 65-74 years old.
What Conditions are Linked to Oral Health?
Years of clinical studies have proven that oral health is closely related to other health conditions.
Diabetes. 95% of individuals that have diabetes were also found to have some form of periodontal disease or tooth loss in the United States.
HIV and AIDS. Patients with HIV or other immune system-weakening conditions are at higher risk for oral problems.
Heart disease and stroke. Patients with periodontal disease are twice as likely to be diagnosed with heart disease due to the bacteria that is carried through the body. It is able to clog and narrow arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Dementia. Older adults who suffer from tooth loss are at higher risk of developing dementia and cognitive impairment, according to the American Medical Directors Association.
Respiratory Conditions. Bacteria from periodontal disease have the potential to travel to the lungs where they can directly and adversely affect the respiratory system. Therefore, patients with gum disease have a greater risk of suffering from bronchitis or pneumonia, per the Journal of Periodontology.
Cancer. Men with gum disease are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas or kidney and 30% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer of the blood.
Other related conditions:
General Symptoms of Dental Disease
Many of the common dental problems share the same symptoms, including toothaches, loose teeth, swelling, clicking jaw, jaw pain, dry mouth, or the presence of sores.
How to Prevent and Treat Dental Problems
In general, it is vital to maintain oral hygiene by brushing the teeth twice a day with a soft brush and fluoride toothpaste and practicing daily flossing. Brushing with baking soda can assist in whitening teeth. For babies, the gums can be wiped twice a day to rid of bacteria. The spread of bacteria can also be minimized by changing the toothbrush every two months. Changing behaviors and habits, such as limiting sugar intake, avoiding tobacco, drinking water, limiting alcohol consumption, and regularly visiting the dentist can help reduce wear and tear on the teeth, erosion, and cavities. Eating foods that are firm, such as carrots, apples, and celery can help scrape off plaque and tartar from the teeth.
For treatment, dentists may prescribe antibiotics, or perform deep cleanings, scaling, or root planing, depending on the condition. For tooth erosion, for instance, a dentist may treat with tooth bonding, veneers, or crowns to prevent further damage. To treat sensitive teeth, a dental sealant may be recommended or a filling. For advanced periodontitis, surgery may be needed.
Global Burden of Disease Study 2017
What to know about dental problems and oral health
Children’s Oral Health
Adult Oral Health
Older Adult Oral Health
Update on Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States
oral health, the dental lab, oral diseases, oral conditions, oral hygiene
Angel Chang is a Drexel University graduate with a background in Marketing. She has experience with digital analytics, SEO, social media management, content creation, copywriting, and web development.