By Caitlin Carlson; photography by Pixabay
Been blowing off that check-up at the dentist? It’s time to stop.
Did you know total-body health starts in your mouth? Seriously. Oral care is connected to everything from brain function to immunity.
Dental talk: yawn, right? Maybe not – oral health just got a whole lot more interesting, thanks to research showing that what goes on in your mouth can directly reflect what’s happening elsewhere in your body, from your brain all the way down to your private parts. And that conditions such as gum disease can be precursors to scary stuff like cognitive decline, diabetes, and certain STDs.
“Any time you have an infection in your mouth, it doesn’t just stay there”, says periodontist Sally Cram, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA). ” It can travel through your bloodstream, affecting your organs and immune system”.
READ MORE: What Your Teeth Say About Your Oral Health
It’s too bad, then, that fewer adults than ever regularly visit the dentist, according to a new survey by ADA. Blowing off your twice-a-year checkup means you could be missing a manageable mouth problem, allowing it to snowball into a serious oral-and possible medical-situation, says Stuart Froum, president of the American Academy of Periodontology.
Get back in that dental chair and keep an eye out for these subtle warning signs:
They aren’t just an aesthetic oh-no. Though they’re not dangerous on their own, stains typically crop up on plaque-clumps of sticky bacteria -(and not the healthy kind present in every mouth), says dentist Carolyn Taggart-Burns, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. A smile full of splotchy teeth means a mouth teeming with gnarly microbes, too many of which can lead to gum disease.
Hot or cold drinks or food can make teeth tingle. But if you’re getting more “ouch”! than “oh” you might be harbouring a cavity that could, untreated, spread to surrounding nerve tissue. The trick is to catch it early on- by the time you’re in serious pain, it might be too late for a filling, says Taggart-Burns. Hello, root canal.
Sure, it could be the garlic bread you scarfed last night. But if your oral odour stays around for more than two weeks, there might be another culprit: gum disease. When the bacteria that cause the condition mix with healthy mouth bacteria, says Froum, it creates volatile sulphur compounds (or, as you know it, eau de rotten egg).
Spot a few specks of blood when you rise after brushing or flossing? You might just be an overzealous cleaner. If, however, you routinely spy more tinted than clear spit in the sink, see your dentist. Bloody gums could be a sign of oral inflammation or gingivitis, says Cram.
Healthy gums are pale pink and look like mini sheaths for your teeth. If your chompers suddenly seem smaller, your gums could be inflamed. If they look bigger-or if the tooth area closet to the gum line seems whiter-you could have bigger issues. Gum disease is the number one cause of receeding gums, which leaves exposed roots vulnerable to decay, says Froum.
Gross but true: Normal tongues look a little hairy. If yours is on the bald side, you might have a vitamin B deficiency. If it looks whitish, it could be due to inflammation, dry mouth (see “Mend Your Mouth”, right), or even…a yeast infection. Yep, on your tongue. It’s called oral thrush, says Cram, and you’ll need a D.D.S. to diagnose and treat it.
Canker and cold sores are unsightly-and uncomfortable! But they typically resolve on their own without doing lasting damage. But if you spot a whitish, raised sore in or around your mouth that persists for more than three weeks, see a dentist, says Taggart-Burns. Oral HPV infections are rising fast among young women and can lead to oral cancer. One more reason practice A-plus dental hygiene: Per a recent study in Cancer Prevention Research, poor oral health ups your risk for oral HPV.
READ MORE: Are Your Workouts Hurting Your Teeth?
Brush Like This!
It’s simple – so why aren’t you doing it right?
Pick your paste. Though too much fluoride has been linked to memory problems, most dentists still recommend a fluoride toothpaste for fighting cavities.
Think in twos. Brush for two minutes at least twice a day, says Sally Cram, D.D.S. Hold your brush at 45-degree angle to clean your gum line without scrubbing it raw. Don’t neglect your tongue!
String it along. Flossing once a day is equally as important as brushing-it removes food bits, plaque, and slays bad breath, says Carolyn Taggart-Burns. Slide it in between and then up and down the sides of every tooth.
Watch the sauce. Many mouthwashes contain the alcohol ethanol-a preservative that also seriously dries out your mouth. If you have to use a mouthwash, shop for an alcohol-free version.
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