Oral care doesn’t just keep your teeth strong; it can have a significant effect on your general wellness, too. Nearly one in 10 people have some sign of poor dental health, and in some instances that number goes up to almost 100 percent. The most common oral diseases are:
Very few patients escape dental cavities, which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 60 to 90 percent of school children have and almost all adults. Caries are caused mainly by the buildup of plaque on teeth, which produces acid that destroys the tooth enamel. You can avoid this by brushing and flossing daily, and booking semiannual dental checkups to remove this bacteria before it hardens into tartar – which you can’t remove on your own. The typical treatment for cavities are fillings, but if a tooth is badly destroyed your dentist may opt to remove or cover it with a dental crown.
Several forms of gum disease can occur in adults, and their severity ranges from mildly swollen, to bleeding gums to complete tooth loss. Most gum disease begins with gingivitis caused by plaque irritating the soft tissues along the gumline, which gradually gets worse as the bacteria increases. This causes the gums to recede from the teeth, and may result in tooth loss or further gum infection requiring antibiotic treatment.
If your dentist finds your gum disease has progressed to this stage (you’re not alone; it affects one in five middle-aged adults in the U.S.), he or she may recommend root planing and scaling, a professional deep-cleaning treatment to remove all plaque from your mouth. During a scaling, the practitioner scrapes plaque and tartar from the teeth both above and below the gumline. This is followed by smoothing the rough spots on the root of the tooth where bacteria accumulates, helping the gums reattach to the teeth once the surface is clean again.
The most well known of the infectious oral diseases is oral herpes, which occurs in patients who have been exposed to the herpes simplex virus. Fungal and viral infections are also frequently seen in patients who are HIV positive. These conditions often cause cold sores and fever blisters to develop on the lips, under the tongue and in the soft tissues inside your cheeks – and can be quite contagious when in contact with others. If you take action in the early stages of a cold sore, antiviral medication can prevent them from developing fully. Once you spot a sore, however, take over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers and use a soothing mouthrinse while your immune system goes to work to heal it.
Although not actually a disease, WHO estimates up to 40 percent of children worldwide experience injuries to their mouths as a result of unsafe conditions, accidents and violence. Your best bet for preventing injuries during sports is to wear a mouthguard, but in the event of an unexpected injury off the field, get medical care as early as possible. A tooth that has been knocked out can be replaced if you rinse it with water and see the dentist quickly enough. Your chance of reimplanting the tooth in its socket are best within 30 minutes of the accident, but it can still prove successful for up to two hours afterward depending on the case.
Cancers of the mouth or throat are seen in 45,000 Americans each year, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Regular dental checks are the most important method of detecting them, because they often don’t produce clear signs and symptoms in their early stages. For most oral cancers, surgeons treat the patient by removing the affected area of the mouth, followed by radiation and chemotherapy if necessary.
Some oral diseases are preventable by practicing good oral hygiene, but those who carry one can still thrive on regular dental screenings that ensure they stay healthy from one visit to the next.