Your mouth doesn’t get enough credit. It helps you make a first impression; it lets you show affection to significant others; it rips your food into tiny pieces so you don’t choke. You can (usually) control what comes out of your mouth, too. But what about the things your mouth itself says about your oral health without you knowing?
Your mouth, teeth, and gums, like the rest of your body, are a good indicator of health status, and they are constantly saying things about it, whether you like it or not.
Health issues of teeth and gums
The inside of your mouth is filled with bacteria, but that’s a good thing and a bad thing, so don’t run to the mouthwash just yet.
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Like the digestive system, there is a delicate balance of bacteria in the mouth, and Harvard Medical School explains it’s an imbalance of good and bad bacteria that causes problems with oral health.
One of the most common issues in the mouth is gum disease, formally known as periodontal disease.
This is inflammation of the gums for any number of reasons, but this inflammation can destroy tissue and eventually lead to tooth loss.
While poor dental hygiene and a diet high in sugar can lead to gum disease and tooth decay, there are other oral health conditions that have been linked to the teeth and gums, and they shouldn’t be ignored.
Diabetes: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) note that disease of the teeth and gums can be a clue someone is diabetic.
Diabetes is a condition that has to do with an excess of sugar in the body, and that means someone with diabetes also has too much sugar in their saliva. High levels of sugar in the mouth allow harmful bacteria to overgrow, promoting the development of plaque and tooth decay.
Osteoporosis: Experiencing oral health issues may be a symptom of osteoporosis too.
Data from the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center states there appears to be a direct relationship between bone density loss and an increased likelihood of gum disease.
In other words, weakened bone in the mouth is more susceptible to the negative effects of inflammation.
Cardiovascular disease: There is an established link between heart disease and periodontal disease, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), though the exact reasons for the link have not yet been established.
A suspected cause for this is that teeth and gum disease may trigger a systemic inflammatory response that affects the cardiovascular system.
Think that’s all your teeth and gums and oral health have to say about you? Not so fast: there are other health issues that have been linked to gum disease. Research suggests periodontal disease has a link to premature labor and low birth-weight during pregnancy, as well as an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis, and it all has to do with too much bacteria and too much inflammation.
What your tongue says about your overall health
While you’re looking in the mirror, examining your mouth, you should also take a look at your tongue. Does it look healthy to you? Is it discolored? Does it have ridges or abnormal pockets? It could be telling you there’s more than just an oral health issue going on.
Check out these common tongue-related issues from the American Academy of Family Physicians:
- Smooth, glossy appearance: Possible nutritional deficiency.
- Fissured tongue: Possible Down syndrome, psoriasis, Sjögren syndrome, Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome, geographic tongue.
- Bare patches with a raised, discolored border: Generally associated with tobacco use.
- White, hairy lesions on the border of the tongue: Severe viral infection.
- White, lacy pattern: Potential yeast infection.
- Thickened, white line on the border of the tongue: Chewing trauma.
- Thickened, irregular white or red patch: Tobacco or alcohol use.
- Lesion with finger-like projections: Associated with human papillomavirus (HPV).
- White patches on the tongue: Thrush, dehydration, syphilis, chronic mouth breathing.
- Yellow tongue: Usually harmless, though may be a sign of jaundice, or the start of black hairy tongue, a condition caused when the tongue does not shed its cells properly, resulting in an abnormal buildup of tissue.
While many teeth, gum, and tongue-related health issues are not serious, oral cancer is a very real issue that needs prompt attention.
According to the American Cancer Society, you should never ignore sores or mouth pain, no matter how innocent they may seem. Even something as unalarming as bad breath could be an indicator of cancer.
How to improve your oral health
Yes, teeth and gum, or tongue issues can be scary, but the good news is that it’s never too late to improve your oral health.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer these easy tips to improve mouth care at home:
- Drink fluoridated water, and brush with fluoride toothpaste.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Chew sugarless gum.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol.
- Eat less sugar.
- Brush teeth thoroughly.
- Visit your dental care professional twice a year.
It also helps to be aware of where you stand in the dental health world; not all ethnicities receive dental care like they should.
According to the CDC, Hispanics have some of the poorest oral health in the United States. Mexican Americans between the ages of 35 – 44 years of age, for example, have untreated tooth decay nearly twice that of non-Hispanic whites.
What does this mean? It means you should never ignore your oral health, no matter what your age or your ethnicity.
Put down those sugary beverages and toss out the cigarettes. Pass up the alcohol and reach for a water. Your mouth, and your health in general, will thank you for it!