The Wide World of Oral Health
We often think of oral health as being synonymous with dental health, but our mouth consists of much more than teeth; we have the gums, tongue, and jaw to worry about as well. If you experience any trouble with smiling, chewing, swallowing, or tasting, then the problem is an oral health problem. There are also conditions that seem to have no connection to oral health but actually do, such as snoring, dry mouth, and bad breath.
Of all the components of our mouth, the teeth experience the widest range of problems. That’s why there are so many fields of dentistry. General dentistry covers teeth cleanings as well as scaling and root planing to remove tartar. Orthodontics, as many children and even some adults know, is the world of metal braces and clear plastic aligners.
Restorative dentistry is a large field aimed at treating diseases. It covers more than cavities. To address tooth decay, for example, a restorative dentist can create dental inlays or onlays; to fill in gaps between teeth, he or she might provide a dental crown or bridge. Treatments that are concerned with the structure of teeth fall under a branch of restorative dentistry known as periodontics (from the word periodontium, for the tissues that hold up the teeth). Root canals are classified under endodontics, which focuses on the pulp in the teeth.
Prosthetic dentistry is a third branch of restorative dentistry, and as its name implies, it deals in prosthetics like dentures and dental implants. Strictly cosmetic procedures, such as teeth whitening, are also included in this category.
Because pain in the gums can affect surrounding teeth, it’s sometimes mistaken for root canal pain. A well-known condition is gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums; if left alone, it leads to periodontitis, a disease of the bone beneath the gums. If left untreated, the tooth will eventually fall out. A periodontist can address these and many other issues with the gums.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are a common oral health concern. These joints are located in front of your ears and act as the hinge for your lower jaw. TMJ disorders can lead to pain in the face and neck as well as migraine-like headaches. Another common symptom is toothache, which sometimes leads to a misdiagnosis. TMJ disorders can have far-reaching consequences, such as uneven bite and even obstructive sleep apnea. This last condition can be treated by a dentist with appliances like a mandibular advancement device, which holds the lower jaw and tongue forward to keep the airways open.
Tongue conditions can say a lot about bodily health; for example, smokers often get leukoplakia (a white tongue), which in turn may lead to oral cancer. An extremely red tongue, on the other hand, may be caused by vitamin deficiency. The tongue’s coating is usually thin and white, but a thick white coating suggests a weakened digestive system and a yellow coating suggests jaundice.
Above All, a Healthy Mouth
Conditions like tartar buildup and gingivitis can be avoided simply by maintaining good oral hygiene. Everything you’ve known about the subject since you were young is still true: you should brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and visit the dentist for regular teeth cleaning. To avoid as much plaque buildup as possible, cut down on sugars and starch. It’s also important to listen to your body; the tongue can especially be a good indicator of overall health. The mouth has too many sensitive bones, muscles, gums, and teeth to warrant neglect, so make sure to have a healthy mouth above all else.