man looking at mouth in mirror

How Well Do You Know Your Mouth?

man looking at mouth in mirrorAccording to a new report from the American Dental Association, “95% of adults say they value keeping their mouth healthy.”

Yay, dentistry! Yay, oral health!

And yet – you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – other data from the report makes you wonder how many people really know what makes a mouth healthy or what it takes to keep it that way. Only half of adults nationally – and less than half here in California – could correctly answer 8 basic true/false questions about oral health.

If you truly value something, isn’t it worth knowing how to tend to it?

Helping people get and keep healthy, attractive smiles is one of the reasons why education is such an important part of what we do here at the office – including keeping up this blog. The more you know, the more able you are to do what it takes to keep your mouth healthy for the long haul.

Here are the 8 true/false questions that survey participants were asked. To see how you do, then scroll down for the answers:

  1. Some medical conditions like diabetes affect the health of your mouth.
  2. People who smoke are more likely to have cancer in their mouth.
  3. Children do not need to see a dentist until they start school.
  4. Because they do not stay in your child’s mouth very long, baby teeth are not that important.
  5. Some medicines can affect the health of your mouth.
  6. Blood on your toothbrush is a sign of gum disease.
  7. If I am not having any pain in my mouth, then my mouth is disease free.
  8. Sugary foods and drinks cause tooth decay.

1. TRUE – Some medical conditions like diabetes affect the health of your mouth.
Inflammatory conditions such as diabetes – and heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and more – increase your risk of gum disease, and vice versa. In fact, one recent study found that people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to experience tooth loss – a consequence of gum disease – than people without diabetes.

2. TRUE – People who smoke are more likely to have cancer in their mouth.
Tobacco use is, by far, the number one cause of oral cancers. According to data from the Cancer Centers of America, “about 80% of people with oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers use tobacco in the form of cigarettes, chewing tobacco or snuff.” Other common risk factors include heavy drinking and HPV exposure.

3. FALSE – Children DO need to see a dentist before they start school.
The ideal is to schedule your child’s first dental visit around their first birthday or as soon as their first tooth erupts. Part of this is simply to begin to familiarize them with dental visits and the office environment. But also, by bringing them in early, we can keep a good eye on their orofacial development and, ideally, identify and deal with any emerging problems early on, when they are easier – and less expensive – to treat. Supporting this aspect of your child’s growth is one key to their overall health as they get older.

4. FALSE – Although they do not stay in your child’s mouth very long, baby teeth ARE important.
Baby teeth are placeholders while the adult teeth develop. Early tooth loss can disrupt the process, leaving insufficient room for the adult teeth to come in. Any decay that develops should be treated appropriately, not just left there “since the tooth is just going to fall out anyway.” The pathogens (harmful microbes) that cause caries can affect neighboring teeth and even other parts of the body, including the brain. Decay doesn’t necessarily stay confined to the individual tooth.

5. TRUE – Some medicines CAN affect the health of your mouth.
One of the most common side effects of pharmaceutical drugs is dry mouth. Those that do include some antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, antidiarrheals, and muscle relaxants – to name but a few. No big deal, you think? Unfortunately, chronic dry mouth, in turn, raises your risk of tooth decay, gum disease and gum recession. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to counteract chronic dry mouth.

6. TRUE – Blood on your toothbrush IS a sign of gum disease.
In fact, it’s one of the most obvious and common signs. And since gum disease is painless until it’s considerably advanced, it’s a sign you want to take seriously. Blood on your toothbrush – or in your spit – is not normal. If your hands bled when you washed them, you’d worry and do something about it, wouldn’t you? Why do any less if it’s your gums that are bleeding whenever you brush or floss?

7. FALSE – A lack of pain doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of disease.
By the time pain sets in, the oral disease process is usually well advanced. And if a toothache goes away, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the tooth is healed. It can mean that the infection has gone deep enough to kill the nerves and pulp. When that happens, the tooth is dead. So when you notice problems, it’s in your best interest to see a dentist about it promptly. The longer you wait, the more invasive and expensive treatment usually becomes – and that’s the best case scenario. Worst case is that you lose teeth that then need to be somehow replaced.

8. TRUE – Sugary food and drinks cause tooth decay.
Though strictly speaking, it’s oral pathogens – bacteria, viruses, fungi – and their metabolic waste that cause decay, they are vastly less able to do so when not fed a consistent diet of sugars. We’re not talking just the sweet stuff here but all hyper-processed, refined carbohydrates, including white flour products. These are the preferred food of those harmful microbes. Kick them out of your diet and you effectively starve the bad guys.

Image by ancient history, via Flickr