By Cheryl Simas
One of the most common chronic diseases in the United States is also one the easiest to address with preventive care — tooth decay, (cavities). All it takes is brushing and flossing each day.
Poor oral hygiene leads to cavities, and untreated cavities leads to pain, tooth loss, and more serious health conditions. According to the Center for Disease Control:
- 20% of children aged 5 to 11, have at least one untreated decayed tooth
- 13% of 12 to 19 year-olds have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
And, from 2013-2016, 31% of U.S. adults 20-44, had untreated tooth decay.
When we eat starchy or sugary foods, bacteria in the mouth multiple and produce a sticky film. Over time, if the film isn’t cleaned away it can create acids that destroy the tooth’s enamel and hardens into plaque. Once the enamel is worn away the tooth can decay.
If your teeth have ever felt “fuzzy” on your tongue, that’s the built-up bacteria that needs to be brushed away to protect against decay. Left unattended, plaque can also develop under the gum causing infection, threatening the bone below your teeth and possibly moving further into the body.
Practicing Good Oral Hygiene Is Easy
Oral hygiene is simple. The tools are low cost and the time required is minimal. Here are the steps you can take toward oral health.
- Brush your teeth, for two minutes, twice a day with a soft, rounded-tip-bristled toothbrush. Use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Pay special attention to the place where the gums and teeth meet.
- Rinse with water and use an antibacterial mouth wash.
- Floss between teeth at least once a day to remove food particles. (See instructions for flossing in the links at the end of this article.)
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn.
In addition, see your dentist twice a year for a check-up and professional cleaning.
And, consult your dentist if you are considering whitening your teeth, or using fluoride varnishes.
Bad Breath and Worse
Bad breath can be caused by many things including medication, disease, coffee and tobacco, But, failing to care for your teeth and gums is guaranteed to lead to bad breath. Food particles in your mouth break-down and deteriorate. Just as rotting food turns color and creates bad odors, deteriorating food particles in the mouth do the same. And, because those particles are on teeth and gums, poor oral hygiene can lead to infections.
Untreated, infection in the mouth and gums can enter your blood stream and attack organs and other body systems. This is especially dangerous for people with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions.
Poor oral hygiene can aggravate cardiovascular disease, lung conditions and even more common illnesses like the flu. Endocarditis is one such risk, which causes inflammation of the heart muscle and valves, and can sometimes be brought on by infection that spreads from the mouth and gums.
Times for Special Attention
Taking Medications and Over-the-Counter Drugs
Some prescribed medications and common over-the-counter drugs like decongestants, diuretics and antihistamines, effect the production of saliva and can increase the risk of cavities. If dry-mouth is a side effect of medication, requiring more attentive oral care.
The girls’ hormone production during puberty and as they get older can impact inflammation and response to infection. Good dental hygiene will defend against these risks.
Pregnancy is also a time that women should pay special attention to oral care to prevent bacteria from the mouth spreading into other body systems.
Start Good Habits Early
The Center for Disease Control recommends oral care begin during infancy. Here are recommendations for dental care for babies and children.
- Wipe gums twice a day with a soft clean cloth, in the morning after the first feeding and again before bedtime.
- When baby’s teeth begin to come in, gentle brushing should begin, using a small, soft-bristled brush and water.
- Baby’s first visit to the dentist should happen when they are one-year-old.
- When your child is old enough to brush alone, make sure they spit out the toothpaste and rinse the mouth well.
Remember – Brush and Floss! It’s Easy!
For more information: