Oral health is one factor that contributes to a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips to help you look after your oral health.
- Schedule regular visits to your dentist.
- Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Check your mouth regularly to become familiar with what is normal for you. This will help you recognize when something in your mouth looks or feels different or abnormal.
- Avoid activities that might harm your mouth or teeth such as smoking, oral piercings and recreational drugs.
- Try to reduce the impact stress has on your oral and overall health.
- Alert your dentist to any herbal remedies, over-the-counter or prescription drugs you are taking.
- Wear a mouthguard to protect your teeth when you are playing sports. Read more about mouthguards.
What should my mouth look like on the inside?
Between dental visits check your mouth for warning signs of gum disease and oral cancer.
Warning signs of gum disease may include:
- puffy, red, sore, shiny or sensitive gums
- bleeding when you brush or floss
- bad breath that won’t go away
Warning signs of oral cancer may include:
- numbness and tingling
- open sores that don’t go away within a week to 10 days
- unexplained bleeding
- lumps or thickening on the bottom or sides of your tongue, cheeks, or roof of your mouth.
If you notice any of these signs, or have any concerns, call your dentist immediately.
Back to top
People may overlook the effect stress has on our oral health. However, our mouths can be just as affected by stress as the rest of our bodies are. Stress can have real consequences for our oral health as well as overall well-being.
Stress can make people neglect their oral-health routines. They may not brush or floss as often as they should or miss dental appointments. People under stress sometimes make poor lifestyle choices – smoking, consuming too much alcohol and eating more sugary foods – which can lead to serious issues including oral cancer, gum disease or tooth decay.
Stress is a contributing factor to other serious oral-health conditions, including:
- Bruxism, or teeth grinding. People under stress may clench or grind their teeth, especially during sleep. Over a long period of time, bruxism can wear down tooth surfaces. Teeth can also become painful or loose from severe grinding or prone to fractures.
- Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) affects the jaws joints and groups of muscles that let us chew, swallow, speak and yawn. Symptoms include tender or sore jaw muscles, headaches and problems opening or closing your mouth. Bruxism is a major cause of TMD – clenching your jaw muscles can cause them to ache.
- Periodontal (gum) disease. Research has shown that stress affects our immune systems, increasing our susceptibility to infections, including the bacteria that cause gum disease.
- Xerostomia, or dry mouth, can also be caused by medications to treat stress. Saliva is vital to keep your mouth moist, wash away food and neutralize the acids that are produced by plaque. Left untreated, dry mouth can damage your teeth.
It may be impossible to eliminate all stress from your life, but you can take simple steps to reduce its impact on your health.
- Find relaxation techniques or exercises to help you cope with stress.
- Brush at least twice a day and floss daily.
- Schedule and keep regular appointments with your dentist.
- Talk to your dentist about getting a custom-fitted nightguard to protect your teeth while you sleep.
- Eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Stay active. If you don't have time to exercise, a 30-minute walk every day is a good start.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Back to top
It’s important to know that all types of tobacco including cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco are harmful for your oral health. In addition to containing nicotine — which is addictive — they have been all been known to cause:
- gum disease
- tooth loss
- oral cancer (cancer of the lip, tongue)
- cancer of the esophagus and voice box
- pancreatic, esophagal, colon and bladder cancer
Almost 75% of gum disease in adults is caused by smoking. Also, your gums may recede as a result of smoking. This may lead to tooth decay and an increased sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks.
Find out more about tobacco cessation and how your dentist can help.
Back to top
If you are considering an oral piercing, it’s important to know the potential side-effects. Here are some of the complications that may occur:
- Your mouth contains a lot of bacteria. Oral piercing may lead to infection
- Your piercing may result in pain, swelling or gum tissue damage
- Your piercing may cause chipped or cracked teeth
- A pierced blood vessel may cause uncontrollable bleeding
- In some cases, your swollen tongue can actually block your airway and inhibit your breathing
Back to top
Did you know that there are consequences for your oral health when you decide to use recreational drugs? It’s true! Here are some examples:
- Tooth loss: Using tobacco, ecstasy, amphetamines and methamphetamines, can lead to the constriction of the capillaries in your gums. This affects the attachment of the bone to the tissue of your teeth and may lead to tooth loss.
- Dry mouth: Marijuana, ecstasy, amphetamines, methamphetamines, heroin and replacement therapies may decrease the saliva production that occurs in your mouth. This will in turn, increase your risk for gum disease and tooth decay.
- Erosion and tooth decay: Ecstasy raises your body temperature and you will want to consume sugary liquids. Marijuana and heroin also cause sugar cravings. Frequent consumption of sugary drinks and sweets will weaken your tooth enamel. Vomiting after alcohol consumption may also erode your teeth.
Back to top
It’s important to be aware of how prescriptions and over-the counter-drugs may affect your oral health. For example:
- Asthma inhalers that are high in acid can dissolve tooth enamel when used frequently
- Cough syrups that have a high sugar content may result in tooth decay
- Antihistamines may cause dry mouth
- Aspirins, blood thinners and some herbal remedies may affect the ability of the blood to clot normally
The following medications may cause damage to your gums:
- oral contraceptives
- immunosuppressive drugs
- chemotherapy drugs
Talk to your dentist about how the prescription drugs you are taking might affect your oral health.
Back to top
A Risky Fashion Option
When it comes to oral piercings, most dental professionals say no. The possible complications or problems one might encounter immediately after an oral piercing are similar to what you’d expect after any puncture wound or incision, says Dr. Jerry Smith, a dentist in Thunder Bay, Ont., and ODA President-Elect (2013-14). Namely, pain, swelling and infection, as well as scar tissue formation. However, secondary infections following oral piercings can be quite serious, he says, especially ones involving the tongue. Dr. Smith has had patients who have required surgery to correct the damage done. “In some cases, the damage wasn’t reversible or completely repairable,” he says.
What, exactly, is an oral piercing?
Oral piercings usually consist of a barbell through the tongue or labret (the space between the lower lip and chin). Other common oral piercing locations include the lips, uvula and cheeks. The jewelry comes in different styles, including labret studs, barbells and rings. They can be made of stainless steel, gold, titanium, plastic or nickel.
What problems can an oral piercing cause?
Complications vary depending on the location of the piercing, says Dr. Ian McConnachie, a pediatric dentist in Ottawa and an ODA Past President, who regularly treats patients with oral piercings. For piercings through the tongue or lip, or below the tongue, there’s a risk of teeth chipping from the stud at the end of the device. Piercings through the floor of the mouth below the tongue or through the tongue have the highest risk of developing into a serious infection. “These areas have a high blood supply and they’re located close to major structures such as the airway that can become obstructed as a result of infection,” says Dr. McConnachie. “While rare, this can be life-threatening.”
There is also a risk of nerve or muscle damage from the piercing. “While this is not usually serious or permanent, it’s a little disconcerting for the patient,” says Dr. Rick Caldwell, a dentist in New Liskeard, Ont., and President of the ODA (2013-14). “There can also be damage to the gum tissue, particularly with certain labrets,” he adds. The jewelry can cause gums to recede and leave the tooth root more vulnerable to decay and periodontal disease. Not a pretty picture. Especially when you factor in other possible complications such as bad breath, drooling and problems with chewing and swallowing.
Dr. Caldwell says oral piercings have become increasingly less popular with his teen patients. “A particularly bad infection as the result of a tongue piercing was in the news a few years ago. That may have dampened the enthusiasm of some youth,” he says.
What are the best precautionary measures?
Dr. McConnachie encourages anyone who is considering a piercing either close to or within the mouth to discuss the matter with a dentist first and to keep these safety measures in mind.
- Check out the cleanliness of the place doing the piercing. Do they have an infection-control policy posted? A recent investigation by the Toronto Star and the Ryerson University School of Journalism found that half of the complaints filed against personal service settings in Toronto, such as tattoo and piercing parlours, involved items not being properly cleaned or sterilized.
- Ensure that the practitioner performing the piercing is experienced and uses strict infection-control practices (an autoclave sterilizer, for example, for non-disposable equipment, and new needles and gloves) to avoid serious infections such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV. Ask for detailed after-care instructions.
- Disinfect your oral jewelry regularly and brush the jewelry the same as you would your teeth.
- If piercings are in close proximity to the teeth, make sure the ends, or even the entire stud, are made of plastic.
- Try to avoid the tongue or the floor of the mouth for piercing because of its higher risk of infection.
- Seek immediate medical or dental attention if you experience excessive bleeding, swelling or pain following a piercing, or if there is any evidence of infection (an odour or fluid from the piercing, for example).
- Visit your dentist regularly so that he or she can closely monitor the piercing and any potential damage to teeth and gums.
Good to know:
Plastic jewelry is less damaging than metal, and nickel may cause allergic reactions.
Good to know:
Constantly playing with and manipulating jewelry once it’s been placed in the mouth increases the chances of getting an infection.
Good to know:
Check the tightness of your jewelry periodically (with clean hands) to prevent swallowing or choking if the jewelry becomes dislodged.