Oral Health

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Oral health is fundamental to general health and wellbeing. It enables an individual to speak, eat and socialise without active disease, discomfort or embarrassment. However, without proper oral hygiene, health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease may occur. Risk factors for oral diseases also include an unhealthy diet, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use.

Whether you are interested in learning more about oral health in general, or would like more specific information about teeth, mouth or gum health – the following pages contain up-to-date information and helpful hints and tips. 

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The World Health Organization defines oral heath as a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that affect the oral cavity. Oral health is fundamental to general health and wellbeing. It enables an individual to speak, eat and socialise without active disease, discomfort or embarrassment.

Like many areas of the body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria – most of them harmless. Normally the body's natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease. Other common oral health problems include oral cancer, trauma from injuries, and hereditary lesions.

Risk factors for oral diseases include an unhealthy diet, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use. In addition, certain medications, such as antihistamines and painkillers, can reduce saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and neutralises acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect you from microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease.

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Dental problems are often extremely uncomfortable and can end up being very costly to fix. The good news is though, that most of them can be easily prevented. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing at least once a day, eating properly and seeing the dentist regularly will help ensure these common oral health problems don’t occur.

  • Tooth decay: Tooth decay, also known as cavities, is the destruction of your tooth enamel – the hard, outer layer of your teeth. The process begins when plaque on the surface of the teeth combines with sugars and starches in the food you eat. The result is an acid-like substance that eats at the tooth’s protective enamel.
  • Gum disease: Gum disease can be quite serious, especially since it is linked to heart attacks and strokes. Gum disease is an infection in the gums surrounding the teeth and can lead to tooth loss. The two major stages are gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Bad breath: Bad breath, also called halitosis, can be uncomfortable as well as embarrassing. It’s also important to note that in 85% of cases where bad breath is persistent, there is another dental problem to blame. Instead of simply masking the odour with mouthwash, visit your doctor so you can ensure no further issues are occurring.
  • Tooth sensitivity: Tooth sensitivity is a common problem that affects millions of people. When the root gets exposed, pain and discomfort can occur in the tooth. It may also be a result of exposure to hot and cold items, acidity, or because of cracked teeth. The good news is that sensitive teeth can be treated.
  • Mouth sores: There are several different types of mouth sores. The American Dental Association recommends getting mouth sores that last longer than a week examined by a dentist. Common mouth sores are canker sores, herpes, cold sores, ulcers and thrush.
  • Teeth grinding: Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is common and destructive. It can cause troubles like a sore jaw, hearing loss, and cracked and loosened teeth.
  • Oral cancer: Oral cancer appears as a growth or sore in the mouth that does not go away. It is caused by an uncontrollable growth of cells that invade and damage surrounding tissue. Oral cancer, which includes cancers of the lips, tongue, cheeks, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and throat, can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.
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In general, sores of the mouth, lip and tongue have no cure and often reoccur. Despite this, you may be able to reduce their frequency with the tips below:

  • Follow good oral hygiene habits: Regular brushing after meals and flossing once a day can keep your mouth clean and free of foods that might trigger a sore. Use a soft-bristled brush to help prevent irritation to delicate mouth tissues, and avoid toothpastes and mouth rinses that contain sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Avoid foods that cause irritation: Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding foods that seem to irritate your mouth. These may include foods that have a lot of acid (such as citrus fruits or tomatoes) and sharp, dry or harsh foods (such as bread crusts, corn chips, or potato chips). Also, stay away from any foods to which you're sensitive or allergic.
  • Don't chew and talk at the same time: Chew your food slowly and carefully. Try not to talk and chew at the same time as this may cause minor trauma to the delicate lining of your mouth.
  • Reduce your stress: If your mouth sores seem to be related to stress, learn and practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga and guided imagery.
  • Protect your mouth: If you have braces or other dental appliances, ask your dentist about orthodontic waxes to cover sharp edges.
  • Visit your dentist: Visit your dentist for check-ups regularly. This is especially important if you have a sharp or broken tooth or misfitting dentures
  • Get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet: To help prevent nutritional deficiencies that may cause mouth sores, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Limit alcohol and tobacco use: Limit your consumption of alcohol and do not smoke or use tobacco. Alcohol and tobacco are known to increase your risk of oral cancer.
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