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The importance of maintaining good oral health

You only get one set of teeth so take good care of them

September is National Oral Health Month and considering oral health can impact a person's ability to bite and chew, talk and speak clearly, and in some instances even their self-confidence and psychological state of mind, it makes sense to do all you can to ensure you maintain this important aspect of your health throughout your lifetime.

Many among us may take a sense of taste for granted, but a taste disorder can impact your overall health and quality of life negatively. It is also not that unusual a problem as well over 200 000 people visit their doctors every year because of difficulties associated with taste and smell. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in the United States scientists have indicated that as much as 15 percent of adults might have a taste or smell problem, but that they generally do not seek healthcare assistance for their problem.

What causes taste disorders?

While some people are born with taste disorders, many tend to develop them after an injury or illness. Some of the causes of taste problems listed by the NIDCD include:

  • Upper respiratory and middle ear infections
  • Radiation therapy for cancers of the head and neck
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and some medications, including some common antibiotics and antihistamines
  • Head injury
  • Some surgeries to the ear, nose, and throat (such as middle ear surgery) or extraction of the third molar (wisdom tooth)
  • Poor oral hygiene and dental problems

Maintaining adequate oral care through the life stages

Infants - Although baby teeth usually only appear at around six months old, there are some oral health do's and don'ts every parent should be aware of.  The most common oral disease during this stage is baby bottle decay. Many babies get into the bad habit of wanting something to suck on to fall asleep.

To avoid tooth decay in these instances, never let your child sleep with a bottle in their mouth if the contents of the bottle contain a sugary substance such as formula or juice. Instead, give them a bottle of water or pacifier. In addition, research indicates that babies who develop cavities in their baby teeth are more likely to develop cavities as an adult which is even more reason to keep your baby and toddler cavity-free.

Children - Childhood is when the foundation for practising good oral health is laid. Teach your children to get into the habit of brushing and flossing regularly from a young age.  Sugar is the enemy when it comes to tooth decay, so it is advisable to try and limit sugary foods and beverages.

It is also a good idea to take your child for regular dental check-ups so that any oral diseases or conditions can be picked up at an early age. Many dentists conduct X-rays to ensure the teeth are coming down properly and that they are properly aligned. They will also ensure there are no bite irregularities and that the teeth and gums are healthy.

Adolescents - While the same childhood oral health practices are carried into adolescence and adulthood, there are additional challenges some teenagers may face such as braces and wisdom teeth extraction.  In certain cases, wisdom teeth don't have enough room to emerge and can damage nearby teeth or cause infection and will need to be removed.

Common oral diseases and conditions

Tooth decay - Probably the most common of all oral diseases, tooth decay results from the sugars in both food and beverages which can result in acid forming, thereby damaging the tooth enamel. This can eventually lead to cavities. Regular brushing, flossing and dental check-ups will minimise your chances of developing cavities.

Periodontal (gum) disease - After 35, more teeth are lost due to periodontal disease than actual tooth decay. Gum disease most commonly results from plaque and tartar building up on the teeth, untreated it can cause the teeth to become loose and in some instances fall out. Long-term, untreated periodontal disease can even cause damage to your jawbone.

Dental filling break down - Although generally speaking dental fillings can last for many years, they can sometimes eventually start to break down, causing food and germs to get caught underneath. The resulting decay can penetrate deep down into the tooth and affect the nerve, and usually requires root canal treatment.

Temporomandibular joint disorders - Habits such as grinding your teeth or an irregular bite can lead to these kind of joint disorders. Sometimes having teeth extracted can cause the teeth in your mouth to shift position, which can change your bite. Over time this can affect the movement of your jaw and cause pain and sometimes even cause your jaw to lock.

This often needs surgical intervention where dental implants are inserted. In addition to putting stress on your joints, grinding your teeth can wear down the enamel on your teeth so it is best to get your dentist to make you special protective guards that you can insert over your teeth.

Oral cancer - Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is where a tumour develops in the lining of the mouth. It may be on the surface of the tongue, the insides of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), or the lips or gums. It is usually picked up during a routine check up, emphasising the importance of regular visits to the dentist.


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