Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, wellbeing, and quality of life.
Oral health is defined as “a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit an individual’s capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking, and psychosocial wellbeing.”
Oral diseases are the most common noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and affect nearly 100% of the world’s population during their lifetime, causing pain, discomfort, disfigurement and even death.
Oral diseases create an unnecessary financial burden on patients and the entire healthcare systems. Oral diseases can affect every aspect of life, including personal relationships, self-confidence, as well as school and work attendance and performance.
The prevalence of oral diseases continues to increase notably due to inadequate exposure to fluoride and poor access to primary oral health care services.
There is a range of oral diseases that pose a major public health threat worldwide. If left untreated, oral diseases negatively impact the mouth as well as the rest of the body.
Seven oral diseases and conditions account for most of the oral disease burden. They include dental caries (tooth decay), gum diseases, oral cancers, oral manifestations of HIV, cleft lip and palate and oro-dental trauma.
Common Risk Factors
Most oral diseases and conditions share modifiable behavioral risk factors (such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets high in free sugars) common to the four leading NCDs (cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes).
Dental Caries (tooth decay)
Untreated dental decay in permanent teeth is the single most prevalent non-communicable disease on the planet, whilst it is easily preventable through the promotion of healthy eating and oral hygiene.
Dental caries is considered as among the most widespread health problems worldwide and in all age groups. Globally, it is estimated that 2.4 billion people suffer from caries of permanent teeth and 486 million children suffer from caries of primary teeth.
It results when microbial biofilm (plaque) formed on the tooth surface converts the free sugars contained in foods and drinks into acids that dissolve tooth enamel and dentine over time.
Plaque is the sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on teeth. In contrast to an accumulation of individual bacteria, a biofilm is a complex, communal, 3-dimensional arrangement of bacteria.
Bacterial biofilms are ubiquitous and are potentially found in a variety of sites within the human body.
There is a causal link between high sugars consumption and diabetes, obesity and dental caries.
With a continued high intake of free sugars, inadequate exposure to fluoride and without regular microbial biofilm removable, tooth structures are destroyed, resulting in the development of cavities and severe pains, impacts on oral-health-related quality of life, and, in the advanced stage, tooth loss and systemic infection.
Gum disease affects the tissues that both surround and support the tooth. Bacteria cause the formation of toxins to form, which irritate the gums. This often presents as bleeding or swollen gums, pain and sometimes as bad breath.
In its more severe form, loss of gum attachment to the tooth and supporting bone causes “pockets” and loosening of teeth. The main causes of gum disease are poor oral hygiene and tobacco use.
Gum disease is contagious. Gum disease-causing bacteria can be passed from parents to children and exchanged between men and women living together by kissing, sharing silverware, utensils, saliva, drinking cups and other items.
Chronic bad breath is a sign of gum disease. Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth may be a warning sign of gum disease. Other dental causes of bad breath include poorly fitting dental appliances, yeast infections of the mouth, dry mouth and dental caries.
Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect you from microbes that multiply and lead to disease.
Certain medications — such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants — can reduce saliva flow.
Many other diseases and illnesses may cause bad breath. Here are some: respiratory tract infections such as chronic sinus infections, bronchitis or pneumonia diabetes, allergic rhinitis, chronic acid reflux, and liver or kidney problems.
Gum disease may be linked to other serious conditions, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and more.
As a child, losing a tooth feels like a rite of passage on the journey to adulthood. But as a grown-up, it’s a distressing and irreversible experience with long-lasting consequences for the look and feel of your mouth and even your self-confidence.
Dental caries and gum diseases are major causes of tooth loss. Severe tooth loss is widespread and particularly seen among older people.
Tooth loss affects overall health and quality of life. Teeth play an important role in speech, eating ability, facial appearance, and quality of life.
Losing a tooth can cause surrounding teeth to shift and bacteria to accumulate under the gum line, resulting in further gum disease and loss of bone and tissue.
Oral cancer includes cancers of the lip and all subsites of the oral cavity, and oropharynx. The incidence of oral cancer in the world is estimated at 4 cases per 100 000 people.
Oral cancer is more common in men, in older people, and varies strongly by the socioeconomic condition.
Oral cancers are most often discovered after they’ve spread to the lymph nodes of the neck. Tobacco and alcohol are among the leading causes of oral cancer.
A diet low in fruits and vegetables may play a role in oral cancer development. Regular dental check-ups that include an examination of the entire head and neck can be vital in detecting cancer early.
Oro-dental trauma is an impact injury to the teeth and/or other hard or soft tissues within and around the mouth and oral cavity.
Traumatic dental injuries often occur as a result of an accident or sports injury. The world prevalence of traumatic dental injuries is around 20%.
Cleft Lip and Palate
Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy.
Cleft lip and palate are heterogeneous disorders affect more than 1 in 1000 newborns worldwide. They are thought to be caused by a combination of genes and other factors, such as things the mother comes in contact with in her environment, or what the mother eats or drinks, or certain medications she uses during pregnancy.
Although genetic predisposition is an important factor for congenital anomalies, other modifiable risk factors such as poor maternal nutrition, tobacco consumption, alcohol, and obesity during pregnancy also play a role.
Oral thrush, also known as candidiasis, is a fungal infection in the mouth and throat area. It is caused by types of the yeast fungus called Candida that grow on the mucous membranes lining the mouth and throat.
Many people have a small amount of this kind of fungus on their mucous membranes without having any noticeable problems. But given the right conditions, the yeast fungus can start reproducing very quickly.
The infection appears as a white creamy coating and red inflamed areas in the mouth and throat region. It is sometimes painful and can impair the sense of taste, as well as making it difficult to speak or eat.
The risk of oral thrush is higher in people who have a weakened immune system, for instance, due to taking certain medications such as antibiotics or corticosteroids, a chronic disease, smoking or an intensive treatment such as chemotherapy. It is also common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
What Conditions Can Be Linked to Oral Health?
Infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers or valves typically occurs when bacteria from the mouth, spread through the bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart.
Certain bacteria in the mouth can be pulled into the lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
Worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers and an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth.
Prevention of Oral Diseases
Almost all oral diseases are either largely preventable or can be treated in their early stages. Oral diseases can be reduced through public health interventions by addressing common risk factors.
Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.
To protect your oral health, practice good oral hygiene daily, brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush using fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing, eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars, replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed, avoid tobacco use and schedule regular dental checkups.
If you need a snack, choose nutritious foods such as plain yogurt, cheese, fruit, or raw vegetables. Vegetables, such as celery, help remove food and help saliva neutralize plaque-causing acids.