Most everyone knows that they should brush their teeth every morning and evening, floss daily, and see their dentist twice a year. However, many people don’t follow this advice or understand why oral health is important. They believe that as long as they don’t have any pain or obvious signs of cavities, they are fine.
Good oral health is about more than just avoiding cavities, though. The condition of your mouth is often called a window to your general health, as it is closely tied to your overall well-being. Taking care of your teeth and gums can help prevent serious diseases, reduce the risk of complications from chronic conditions, and support your mental health—and is even tied to your achievement in your education and career.
Penn Dental Medicine joins other dental providers in recognizing March 20 as World Oral Health Day. This day is dedicated to building awareness of the importance of oral health and how dental health affects overall health—and sharing ways that individuals can get and keep healthy teeth and gums.
So why exactly is oral health so important? Good dental health is crucial to being able to eat and speak. Without healthy teeth, chewing can be painful or even impossible, causing you to limit your diet, which can affect your health.
What you might not realize is not being able to enjoy your favorite foods is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to oral health.
Taking care of your oral health prevents tooth loss due to gum disease or decay. The American College of Prosthodontists estimates 173 million Americans are missing one tooth, and more than 40 million people are missing all of their teeth. Losing even a single tooth can be detrimental to the remaining teeth, causing them to shift, increasing the risk of further decay and potential bone loss.
And while losing teeth can cause facial structure changes that make you look older, tooth loss is also associated with a shorter lifespan. Evidence shows that people who have all or most of their natural teeth at age 70 live longer than those with fewer than 20 of their natural teeth left.
Oral health problems have been shown to increase the risk of certain diseases, like endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves. Research suggests that mouth bacteria can enter your bloodstream, infecting other parts of the body and causing inflammation that leads to heart disease and more. These same bacteria have also been linked to respiratory infections and pneumonia.
Pregnant women are also at risk of complications due to poor oral health. Gum disease, in particular, has been linked to preterm labor and low birth weight, underscoring the importance of keeping up with regular dental care during pregnancy.
If you have a chronic condition like diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, or HIV/AIDS, taking care of your teeth is especially vital. Diabetes, for example, reduces your body’s resistance to infection, leaving you vulnerable to gum disease. At the same time, gum disease makes it harder to control blood sugars, underscoring why oral health needs to be a priority for people with diabetes.
Tooth loss can take a heavy psychological toll on individuals, causing them to feel less confident, more inhibited, and self-conscious about their appearance. The American Dental Association also reports that many people, especially Millennials, find that poor oral health negatively impacts their ability to interview for jobs.
It’s not just adults who face difficulty as a result of poor oral health, either. A CDC study revealed children with untreated tooth decay miss more school days and receive lower grades than others who receive regular dental care.
Teaching children from a young age why oral health is important is critical to helping them maintain their well-being throughout their lives. Parents should help children understand the importance of oral hygiene in daily life and develop good oral hygiene habits, including brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits, beginning when their first teeth appear.
But while poor oral hygiene is a leading factor in oral health issues, other behaviors can contribute to tooth decay, gum disease, and eventually, tooth loss. An unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol use, and tobacco use are all associated with dental health problems. A lack of access to quality dental care is also blamed for poor oral health. According to the ADA, only 30% of Millennials see a dentist regularly, with many citing financial challenges and a lack of insurance as barriers to dental care.
Penn Dental Medicine is committed to helping people in the Philadelphia area prevent oral health problems throughout their lives by providing education and low-cost dental services. Under the direction of experienced faculty, Penn Dental students provide high-quality, comprehensive dental care, including endodontics, periodontics, oral medicine, orthodontics, pediatrics, and more.
We invite you to make an appointment to start your journey to better oral health. You can also download our complimentary whitepaper, “Oral Medicine at Penn Dental Medicine: Oral Conditions and Treatments.” In these pages, you’ll learn more about the practice of oral medicine, the conditions it treats, and how Penn Dental Medicine can help you maintain maximum oral health, both now and in the future.