Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body
The mouth is a window into the health of the body. It can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection. For example, systemic diseases—those that affect the entire body, such as diabetes, AIDS and Sjögren’s syndrome—may first become apparent because of mouth lesions or other oral problems.
The mouth is filled with countless bacteria, some linked to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Researchers have found that periodon- titis (the advanced form of periodontal disease that can cause tooth loss) is linked with other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and bacterial pneumonia. Likewise, pregnant women with periodontitis may be at increased risk of delivering preterm and/or low-birth-weight infants.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Given the potential link between periodontitis and systemic health problems, prevention may be an important step in maintaining overall health.
Brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day. Clean between your teeth with floss or another type of interdental cleaner once a day. Your dentist may recommend using an antimicrobial mouthrinse as part of your daily oral hygiene routine.
Eat a balanced diet and limit snacks, which may reduce your risk of developing tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Schedule regular dental checkups. Professional cleanings are the only way to remove calculus (tartar), which traps plaque bacteria along the gum line.
If you notice any of these signs, see your dentist:
- gums that bleed during brushing and flossing;
- red, swollen or tender gums;
- gums that have pulled away from your teeth;
- persistent bad breath;
- pus between your teeth and gums;
- loose or separating teeth;
- a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite;
- a change in the fit of partial dentures.
Tell your dentist about changes in your overall health, particularly any recent illnesses or chronic conditions. Provide an updated health history, including medication use—both prescription and over-the-counter products. If you use tobacco, talk to your dentist about options for quitting.
If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, pay particular attention to your teeth and gums. That’s because pregnancy—and the changing hormone levels that occur with it—can exaggerate some dental problems. Taking good care of your oral health is important for you and your infant.
How to Protect Yourself & What to Look For?
As with many forms of cancer, early detection of oral cancerous lesions can improve the chances of successful treatment. You can take an active role in detecting signs of oral cancer early by checking your oral tissues periodically. Take a few minutes to examine your lips, gums, cheek lining and tongue, as well as the floor and roof of your mouth.
You’ll want to note any of the following:
- a color change in the oral tissues (whitish or red spots, for example);
- a lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area;
- a sore that bleeds easily or does not heal;
- pain, tenderness or numbness anywhere in the mouth or on the lips;
- difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving the jaw or tongue;
- changes in the voice;
- a change in the way your teeth fit together.
In addition, watch for changes beyond the mouth that could signal oral cancer, such as:
- drastic weight loss;
- a lump or mass in your neck.
If any of these conditions persists, contact your dentist for an examination.
Diabetes and Oral Health
The most common oral health problems associated with diabetes are:
- tooth decay;
- periodontal (gum) disease;
- salivary gland dysfunction;
- fungal infections;
- lichen planus and lichenoid reactions (inflammatory skin disease);
- infection and delayed healing;
- taste impairment.
It’s important to keep your medical records up to date.
- Let your dentist know the following:
- if you have been diagnosed with diabetes;
- if the disease is under control;
- if there has been any other change in your medical history;
- the names of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking.
Diet and Tooth Decay
When diabetes is not controlled properly, high glucose levels in saliva may help bacteria thrive. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and cleaning once a day between your teeth with floss or an interdental cleaner helps remove decay-causing plaque.
Plaque that is not removed can eventually harden (calcify) into calculus, or tartar. When tartar collects above the gumline, it becomes more difficult to thoroughly brush and clean between teeth. This can create conditions that lead to chronic inflammation and infection in the mouth.
Because diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, the gums are among the tissues likely to be affected. Periodontal diseases are infections of the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place.
Periodontal disease often is linked to the control of diabetes. For example, patients with inadequate blood sugar control appear to develop periodontal disease more often and more severely, and they lose more teeth than do people who have good control of their diabetes.
See your dentist immediately if you notice any of the following:
- gums that bleed easily;
- red, swollen or tender gums;
- gums that have pulled away from the teeth;
- pus between the teeth and gums when the gums are pressed;
- persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth;
- permanent teeth that are loose or separating;
- any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite;
- any change in the fit of partial dentures.
CARING FOR YOUR TEETH
Preventive oral health care, including professional cleanings at the dental office, is important if you are to control the progression of periodontal disease and other oral health problems. Regular dental checkups and periodontal screenings are important for evaluating overall dental health and for treating dental problems in their initial stages. Your dentist may recommend more frequent evaluations and preventive procedures, such as teeth cleaning, to maintain good oral health.
In addition to brushing twice a day and flossing or using an interdental cleaner once a day, your dentist may suggest using an antimicrobial mouthrinse or toothpaste to control gingivitis.
Watch for signs and symptoms of oral disease and contact the dental office immediately when a problem arises.
Practice good oral hygiene at home, follow your physician’s instructions regarding diet and medications, and schedule regular dental checkups to maintain a healthy smile.