Preventing Oral Health Problems
Good oral hygiene can help protect more than just your teeth. People with poor oral health may also have:
- self-esteem issues
- a harder time finding a job
- difficulty participating and performing well in school
- oral discomfort
- speech problems
- swallowing problems
A neglected infection or untreated oral cancer can even be fatal.
There are some universal ways to maintain your dental health, such as regularly visiting the dentist and regularly brushing and flossing your teeth. Some groups of people, though, may need to take extra precautions. Keep reading to learn more.
Early childhood caries (ECC), or baby bottle syndrome, is a distinctive pattern of tooth decay. When it first appears, you may notice white spots near the gum line. These spots will turn brown as the decay progresses. Early treatment is important to reduce the level of decay.
Sugars left on the teeth can lead to ECC. These sugars may come from milk, juice, or foods. Here are some tips for preventing ECC:
- Restrict bottle feeding to meal times.
- Don't put your baby to sleep with a bottle. The milk or juice that pools in the mouth will bathe teeth in the sugars on which bacteria feed.
- Before their teeth grow in, get your baby accustomed to regular oral care by wiping their gums twice per day with a clean, soft, thin cloth, such as a handkerchief.
- After your baby’s 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 their teeth are developing can cause a condition called fluorosis, which occurs from absorbing too much fluoride and causes their teeth to look mottled or grainy.
- You should wean your child from the bottle by the time they’re 1 year old. Introduce a sippy cup or other spill-proof cup with a valve.
Women have different dental concerns during various life stages.
When a young woman begins to menstruate, her periods may be accompanied by mouth sores or swollen gums.
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.
During pregnancy, a spike in progesterone and other hormones can upset your body's normal balance. This can result in gingivitis, too little or too much saliva, or benign, tumor-like growths on your gums called granulomas. Frequent vomiting caused by morning sickness can encourage tooth decay by dissolving tooth enamel. The best way to prevent these problems is to practice good oral hygiene. Consult your dentist or doctor with any medical concerns.
Don’t skip your dentist appointments while pregnant. It’s safe for pregnant women to receive dental care. Just make sure you let your dentist know that you’re pregnant.
Menopause and Postmenopausal
When women reach menopause, estrogen deficiency puts them at risk for periodontal disease. Many also have burning mouth syndrome (BMS). This disorder is 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.
As you age, you can become less able to chew effectively, especially if you have missing teeth or ill-fitting dentures. You may take medications that cause dry mouth. This problem can cause difficulty 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), 23 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 have severe periodontal disease. 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. This care is sometimes difficult to provide.
A 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 seen while personal care is being given, 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 allow the caregiver to proceed with the oral hygiene regimen.
People with HIV or AIDS
People with HIV or 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 an HIV or AIDS infection. In addition, people with HIV or AIDS may develop other fungal infections of the mouth, such as histoplasmosis, aspergillosis, and oral candidiasis.
Tips for Good Oral Health
While some groups of people may need to pay extra attention to their oral health, everyone should practice good oral hygiene. Here are some tips to get you on the road to good oral health:
- Visit your dentist one to two times a year for a cleaning and checkup.
- Brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste a minimum of two times per day.
- Replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head every three to four months.
- Floss at least once per day.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
- Some people will benefit from fluoride treatments and mouth rinses.
You should schedule an additional visit to your dentist if you notice any of the following:
- red, swollen gums, or gums that bleed
- extreme sensitivity to hot or cold
- difficulty chewing
- persistent bad breath
- a loose permanent tooth
- a persistent toothache
- an abscess