Oral and Dental Health
Oral health refers to the health of your mouth, teeth and gums, and is a very important part of your overall health. Developing good oral hygiene habits and regularly visiting the dentist are crucial to your oral health.
- How does oral health affect overall health?
- What is gum disease?
- What causes gum disease?
- Visit the dentist twice a year
- Lower cost dental options
How does oral health affect overall health?
Oral health often provides clues about your overall health. In addition, problems that start in your mouth can affect the rest of your body. Gum disease, for example, is a disease of the mouth, but can have negative effects on other parts of the body as well.
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What is gum disease?
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues and bones that surround and support the teeth, and can range from mild to severe.
Gingivitis is mild gum disease, and affects only the gums (the tissue that surrounds the teeth). It causes red, swollen gums that bleed easily when the teeth are brushed. It can often be reversed with daily brushing and regular cleanings by the dentist.
Periodontitis is severe gum disease that causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, leaving spaces where bacteria can grow and damage the bone that supports the teeth. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
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What causes gum disease?
Your mouth constantly lays a sticky, colorless substance called plaque on the teeth, and the plaque contains bacteria that can irritate the gums and cause them to break down. If you don’t do a good job of removing plaque (with brushing and flossing), it can harden into a substance called tartar that must be removed by a dentist.
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
- Constant bad breath
- Pus between teeth and gums
- Loose or separating teeth
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- HIV infection: painful lesions (discolored sores) in the mouth are common in people with HIV/AIDS, and can be used to diagnose and determine the specific stage of HIV infection.
- Diabetes: studies have shown that people with diabetes are at increased risk for gum disease; in addition, gum disease can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood-sugar levels.
- Cardiovascular disease: heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke have been linked to long-term inflammation from gum disease and other oral bacteria.
- Endocarditis: endocarditis is an inflammation of the inner lining of the heart and heart valves; when bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream they travel to other parts of the body, in this case the heart, where they can cause damage.
- Pregnancy: gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low-birth weight babies; toxins and bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream, cross the placenta and harm the developing fetus.
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Visit the dentist twice a year
Even if you take great care of your teeth at home, dental and health organizations recommend seeing the dentist twice a year. Regular check-ups and cleanings not only keep your teeth healthier, but also allow your dentist to catch early signs of disease. Whether you’re living at home or on your own, schedule dental visits every six months. If you’re living away from home at college, make sure to schedule visits during summer and winter breaks when you’re more likely to be home!
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Lower cost dental options
Young adults are more likely to skip a visit to the dentist than middle-aged adults. There isn’t enough research to explain why, but one possibility is that young adults are less likely to have dental insurance, making visits to the dentist more expensive. If cost is something that is holding you back from visiting the dentist, there are lower cost options out there! For example, some dental schools perform services at a reduced cost. Do a quick google search to find similar programs near you.
To track your progress on your brushing and flossing goals, use your WAY2GO! Dashboard.
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Kristin Reese, public health education intern
- Melissa Raby, R.N.
- Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Visit our Other Dental Health Pages
- National Institutes for Health's Medline Plus
- "Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body," from the American Dental Association.
- The Mouth and Face as a Mirror of Health and Disease," National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.