Oral Health

Oral health–What is oral health?
Good oral health does not just mean you have pretty teeth. Your whole mouth needs care to be in good health. The word “oral” refers to the mouth, which includes your teeth, gums, jawbone, and supporting tissues. Taking good care of your oral health can prevent disease in your mouth. Oral health can also affect the health of your body. It is easy to take your oral health for granted. But good oral health is key to your overall health.

How might problems in your mouth be linked to health problems in other parts of your body?
The health of your mouth can be a sign of your body’s health. Mouth problems are not just cavities, toothaches, and crooked or stained teeth. Many diseases, such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, and some eating disorders, can cause oral health problems. For instance, people with diabetes can develop tooth and gum problems if their blood sugar stays high. Regular dental exams help you maintain good oral health and avoid related health problems.

What are the most common oral health problems?
The most common oral health problems are cavities and gum disease.

Dental cavities
We are all at risk of tooth decay, or cavities. Bacteria (germs) that naturally live in our mouths use sugar in food to make acids. Over time, the acids destroy the outside layer of your teeth. Then holes and other tooth damage occur.

Gum diseases
Gum diseases are infections caused by bacteria, along with mucus and other particles that form a sticky plaque on your teeth. Plaque that is left on teeth hardens and forms tartar. Gingivitis (jin-juh-VEYE-tuhss) is a mild form of gum disease. It causes red, swollen gums. It can also make the gums bleed easily. Gingivitis can be caused by plaque buildup. And the longer plaque and tartar stay on teeth, the more harm they do. Most gingivitis can be treated with daily brushing and flossing and regular cleanings at the dentist’s office. This form of gum disease does not lead to loss of bone or tissue around the teeth. But if it is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis (pair-ee-oh-don-TEYE-tuhss). Then the gums pull away from the teeth and form infected “pockets.” You may also lose supporting bone. If you have periodontitis, see your dentist for treatment. Otherwise your teeth may loosen over time and need to be removed.

Your risk of gum disease is higher if you:

have a disease such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS

As a woman, why do I have to worry about oral health?
Everyone needs to take care of their oral health. But female hormones can lead to an increase in some problems, such as:

cold sores and canker sores
dry mouth
changes in taste
higher risk of gum disease
Taking good care of your teeth and gums can help you avoid or lessen oral health problems.

I’m pregnant. Do I need to take special care of my mouth?
Yes! If you are pregnant, you have special oral health needs.

Before you become pregnant, it is best to have dental checkups every 6 months. You want to keep your mouth in good health before your pregnancy.

If you are pregnant and have not had regular checkups:

Have a complete oral exam early in your pregnancy. Because you are pregnant, your dentist might not take routine x-rays. But if you need x-rays, the health risk to your unborn baby is small.
Remember dental work during pregnancy is safe. The best time for treatment is between the 14th and 20th weeks. In the last months, you might be uncomfortable sitting in a dental chair.
Have all needed dental treatments. If you avoid treatment, you may risk your and your baby’s health.
Use good oral hygiene to control your risk of gum diseases. Pregnant women may have changes in taste and develop red, swollen gums that bleed easily. This condition is called pregnancy gingivitis. Both poor oral hygiene and higher hormone levels can cause pregnancy gingivitis. Until now, it was thought that having gum disease could raise your risk of having a low-birth-weight baby. Researchers have not been able to confirm this link, but studies are still under way to learn more.

For More Information…

For more information on oral health, call womenshealth.gov at 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:

Division of Oral Health, NCCDPHP, CDC, OPHS, HHS
Phone: (770) 488-6054
Internet Address: www.cdc.gov/OralHealth

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDR), NIH, HHS
Phone: (301) 496-4261
Internet Address: www.nidr.nih.gov