Interview: How to Take Care of Teeth to Protect General Health?

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The Relationship Between Oral Care and General Health is Closer than it Seems, and it Goes Beyond Just Beautiful Teeth. We Interviewed a Dentist to Resolve Doubts About it.

Dentist checking a patient

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: Entrevista: ¿Cómo cuidar de los dientes para proteger la salud general?

The relationship between oral care and general health is closer than it seems, and it goes beyond just beautiful teeth. We interviewed a dentist to resolve doubts about it. The latest WHO "Global Status Report on Oral Health", published at the end of 2022, indicates that almost half of the world's population (45% or 3.5 billion people) suffers from oral diseases. “The most frequent oral diseases are dental caries, severe periodontitis, tooth loss and oral cancer. Untreated dental caries is the condition with the highest prevalence worldwide and is estimated to affect 2.5 billion people. Likewise, it estimates that severe periodontitis impacts one billion people and that 380,000 cases of oral cancer are detected each year.

Also read: Vaccines Against Cancer: An Increasingly Closer Reality

However, oral care and health has an impact on general health. In Latinamerican Post, we spoke with the dentist Juan Sebastián Ramírez to delve into the subject:

1) Frequently, we associate oral health with tooth brushing, the appearance of cavities or other problems in the mouth. However, what is the relationship of dental health to general health?

The relationship is very close. We have to see the human body in a holistic way. The oral cavity is the gateway to our digestive system and all our nutrition depends on it. Everything is connected, that is why it is essential to maintain good oral health for good general health and the other way around, it acts in two ways.

For example, there are mental illnesses or conditions that are having an impact on the oral cavity, and that lately have become much more common, such as bruxism. We see that patients present symptoms of psychological disorders that manifest with bruxism, excessive clenching or grinding of the teeth, and lead to wear of the dental pieces.

2) What can affect poor hygiene and oral care?

Poor oral hygiene impacts in multiple ways. The highest morbidity, or most frequent disease, in humans is caries, and it is closely linked to poor oral hygiene. However, we also have diseases linked to the bones or gums, such as periodontitis, also with high morbidity. Likewise, poor dental hygiene can cause other diseases, or symptoms, such as halitosis or bad breath, as well as metabolic diseases that can alter the oral cavity and metabolism in general.

3) What are the habits or risk factors that most endanger oral health?

It all starts with food. That is why it is important to have a balanced diet, especially low in sugar or even without sugar. Then, you have to have good oral hygiene, with proper brushing three times a day and regular visits to the dentist.

Apart from these two, there are also unhealthy habits that nowadays have a high prevalence in the cause of oral disease. It happens when there is a very energetic brushing or with very hard bristle brushes or when excessively abrasive toothpastes are used, which are leading to abrasions and erosions in the dental enamel. This can lead to tooth sensitivity or fractures.

4) How often should a visit to the dentist be made, and what are the warning factors that we should worry about?

They must always be periodic, regardless of whether there is any alteration with respect to the oral cavity. In children and adolescent patients, two visits per year are recommended, at least every six months. In healthy adult patients, a minimum consultation should be carried out once a year. There are patients with non-oral health conditions who must have semi-annual dental visits. Patients who have active dental treatment can shorten their visits to every 3 or 4 months, depending on what the professional has.

Regarding the alert factors for which we should worry, we must keep in mind the changes at the dental level. For example, stains that did not exist before or if cavities appear, that did not exist before, in the teeth. If there is sensitivity to sweet, cold or hot stimuli, it is also an alert.

On the other hand, it is very important to be aware of the gums. A healthy gum should not bleed easily. So, if there is frequent or sporadic gingival bleeding without any stimulus, it is also necessary to go to the dentist. Likewise, if there are lesions in the mouth that do not heal, it is essential to have a dental appointment. Any lesions in the mouth should heal in approximately 15 days. This is a key factor for the prevention of multiple conditions. For example, if a lesion does not heal, it may be a signal for early detection of oral cancer, which is increasingly common.

Finally, when bad breath appears, the change is noticeable and does not change over time, there is also a sign that it is necessary to review the state of health.

5) According to information from the WHO, untreated dental caries in permanent teeth is the most frequent health disorder in the world. In this regard, what are the key factors to prevent its appearance and detect the need for treatment?

Cavities can be prevented, even from pregnancy. It is very important that pregnant women go to their oral health appointments, because in addition to treating her, they will provide information on how to take care of the baby's teeth from birth, with a good diet, exclusive breastfeeding and brushing teeth with cream for children since the first tooth appears. Thus, there is a prevention from childhood. In addition to the factors that I have already mentioned in the interview, it should be remembered that diet is essential, since cavities are linked to a high consumption of carbohydrates and refined sugars.