Did you know that your oral health can provide clues regarding your overall health? Or how dental problems can affect the rest of your body? Like with other parts of the human body, your mouth is full of bacteria (with most of them being harmless). But, your mouth serves as an entry point to your body’s respiratory and digestive systems where bacteria can enter and cause diseases.
In most cases, the body’s natural defences can keep these microorganisms under control. However, if proper oral hygiene is neglected, these bacteria can multiply and cause oral infections such as gum disease and tooth decay. Research suggests that oral bacteria and periodontitis (a severe form of gum disease) might contribute to some diseases. What’s even worse is that diabetes and HIV/AIDS can weaken the body’s resistance to infection, thus exacerbating oral health problems even more.
Paying attention to your oral health can reveal signs of other diseases and allow you to take action sooner rather than later. Here’s what your mouth says about your oral health, from the perspective of the leading dentist in Warrnambool.
1. Oral thrush (candidiasis)
Oral thrush, or candidiasis, is a condition wherein a fungus called Candida albicans builds up on your mouth’s lining. It’s a type of yeast infection that is frequent amongst babies and appears in adults with the following risk factors:
- History of smoking
- Occasional dry mouth
An antifungal medication is usually prescribed to treat patients with oral thrush. In most cases, your primary care doctor can help lower your risk of getting oral thrush in the future by addressing other health conditions like diabetes. Since high glucose levels are likely to contribute to oral thrush, managing diabetes is crucial to limiting the growth of the fungus.
2. Dry mouth
A normal healthy adult generally produces two to four pints of saliva. Saliva plays a major role in maintaining your oral health as not only does it help in tasting and digesting food, but it also keeps your mouth clean and facilitates the healing of oral wounds.
If your body stops producing enough saliva, you may be exposed to greater levels of oral infections. While having a dry mouth is fairly normal when you’re under stress, decreased saliva production is actually part of your body’s fight-or-flight response, meaning that a frequent dry mouth is part of an underlying health problem.
Some of the most common causes of dry mouth can include the following:
- Conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and diabetes
- Medications like antidepressants and blood pressure medicines
- Cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy
- Dysfunction of the salivary glands due to head or neck injury
- Tobacco or methamphetamine use
If you’re experiencing dry mouth frequently due to a side effect of a medication, your primary care doctor may prescribe artificial saliva to help keep your mouth lubricated. You can also ramp up saliva production on your own by chewing sugar-free gum, drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and sucking on sugar-free candy. But these practices are only for temporary relief and addressing the root cause is crucial to prevent dry mouth from becoming a recurring problem.
3. Mouth or jaw pain
Pain in your mouth or jaw can be linked to tooth decay and infection. But in some cases, mouth or jaw pain can lead to more serious problems. Heart disease is one example that is known to cause pain in the patient’s lower left jaw and the pain get progressively worse when exercising or being physically active. If you’re experiencing pain in this region area, it’s best to visit your primary care physician as soon as possible.
Even if your mouth pain isn’t too uncomfortable, it’s something worth noting as it may indicate a sinus problem as well. If you experience anything out of the ordinary, don’t ignore and see a healthcare expert immediately.
4. Symptoms of oral cancer
Oral cancer is a rare form of oral disease that can appear virtually anywhere in the mouth. It’s relatively uncommon, but having a history of smoking and a case of human papillomavirus can increase your risk of getting oral cancer.
Symptoms of oral cancer may include the following:
- Leukoplakia (white spots or patches that are more pronounced than oral thrush)
- Difficulty with swallowing or moving your tongue
- Persistent sore throat
- Lumps or sores in the lips and mouth area
- Throbbing ear pain
- A change in voice
If you exhibit any of the following symptoms, do not be alarmed as it does not immediately confirm you have oral cancer. However, it is a good idea to visit your primary care physician right away for a proper diagnosis.
Keeping your mouth healthy
Your oral health is a window to your overall health and keeping it healthy is vital to lowering your risks of developing serious diseases. Consider following these tips to keep your mouth in great shape:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Be physically active (at least 30 minutes of exercise per week)
- If you have diabetes, make sure to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
- Practice good oral care habits like brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing in between meals.
- Cut down on smoking and eliminate it altogether if possible.
- See your dentist at least once every six months.