Preventing Oral Health Problems

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team | Published on November 6, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on November 6, 2014

Preventing Oral Health Problems

Poor oral health can undermine a person's self-image, make it hard to find a job, and contribute to poor participation and performance in school. It can also cause discomfort, speech problems, malnutrition, or swallowing problems. A neglected infection or untreated oral cancer can even be fatal. Different groups of people have special dental health concerns.

Children

Early-childhood caries (ECC), or baby bottle syndrome, is a distinctive pattern of tooth decay. This is caused by allowing a child to have a bottle containing anything other than water throughout the day or night after their teeth have grown in. This happens at about 4 months of age. Here are some tips for preventing ECC:

  • Between meals, your child's bottle should contain nothing but water.
  • Don't put your baby to sleep with a bottle. The milk or juice that pools in the mouth will bathe teeth in sugars on which bacteria feed. Juice and soda contain fructose and milk contains lactose.
  • Before their teeth grow in, get your baby accustomed to regular oral care by wiping the gums twice a day with a clean, soft, thin cloth, such as a handkerchief.
  • After the teeth erupt, switch to a baby toothbrush moistened with water. Don't use toothpaste until your child is old enough to spit it out. Swallowing toothpaste while the teeth are developing can cause a condition called fluorosis. This causes the teeth to look mottled or grainy from absorbing too much fluoride.
  • By the time your child is a year old, they should be weaned from the bottle. Introduce a sippy cup. Let them use a spill-proof cup with a valve only after mastering the big-kid version.

Women

Women have different dental concerns during various life stages.

Teenage Years

When a young woman begins to menstruate, her periods may be accompanied by mouth sores or swollen gums.

Early Adulthood

Women of childbearing age have an additional reason to practice good oral hygiene. Periodontal disease increases the risk of preterm birth with low birth weight.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a spike in progesterone and other hormones can upset the body's normal balance. This can result in gingivitis, too little or too much saliva, or benign, tumor-like growths on the gums (granulomas). Frequent vomiting caused by morning sickness can encourage tooth decay. The best way to prevent these problems is to practice good oral hygiene. Consult your dentist or doctor for an accurate diagnosis of any nodules or other unusual symptoms.

Menopause and Postmenopause

When women reach menopause, estrogen deficiency puts them at risk for periodontal disease. Many also report burning mouth syndrome (BMS), a disorder characterized by an unpleasant tingling sensation occasionally associated with changes in taste perception. The condition is treated with medicated creams or lozenges or with oral medications.

Older Adults

It seems there's almost no part of the body that doesn't shrink, slide, weaken, or wither as we age. We may become less able to chew effectively, especially if we have missing teeth or ill-fitting dentures. We may take medications that cause dry mouth. This problem can cause trouble swallowing, which may lead to malnutrition. In addition, having a dry mouth can allow bacteria to build up, causing bad breath, gum disease, and infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-quarter of adults aged 65 to 74 have periodontitis. This is often a result of barriers to good oral hygiene, such as arthritis and memory impairment.

Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities

Residents of long-term care facilities or other group homes include not only elderly adults, but also children and adults with physical or mental disabilities. They often depend on caregivers for proper oral hygiene. Sometimes this care is difficult to administer.

The resident may become agitated if they misunderstand the caregiver's intent. In fact, aggression among residents of long-term care facilities is most likely to be displayed while personal care is being administered, such as when a caregiver is assisting with tooth brushing. As a result, oral care may be rushed or skipped altogether.

Special measures, such as the use of physical restraints or medications, may be needed to discourage combativeness and allow the caregiver to proceed with the oral hygiene regimen.

People with HIV/AIDS

People with HIV/AIDS are vulnerable to opportunistic infections of the oral cavity. A fuzzy white patch on the tongue called hairy leukoplakia is sometimes an early indication of HIV/AIDS infection. In addition, people with HIV/AIDS may develop other fungal infections of the mouth, such as histoplasmosis, aspergillosis, and oral candidiasis.

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