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5 biggest threats to your oral health

Oral health is important, but not everybody keeps it at the top of their priorities list.

Apart from an unsightly smile or bad breath, most people may not know the extent of the harm that can come from neglecting their dental health.

Diabetes, heart and lung disease, stroke, premature births, low birth weight, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia are just a few of the potential outcomes of poor dental health.

These are serious risks that affect a large part of the population; 47.2% of adults 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease.

Luckily, most dental problems are preventable. Here are some common threats to your oral health, and how you can avoid them.

1. Tobacco

A widely known threat to dental health is tobacco; particularly chewing tobacco and snus, a smokeless tobacco product.

Snuff and chew deteriorate the gum tissue and tooth enamel, grinding away and wearing it down. Over time, the gums recede and expose the roots of the tooth, increasing the risk of tooth decay and sensitivity.

Many smokeless tobacco products have sugars added to sweeten the flavor. Sugar is one of the mouth’s worst enemy and a leading cause of dental health issues.

Smoking tobacco is just as harmful to periodontal health. This includes cigars and pipes, too.

On top of yellow teeth and bad breath, smokers are at increased risk of cancer of the gums, throat, cheek, esophagus and lining of the lips, as well as the following health risks:

  • Plaque and tartar build-up
  • Inflammation
  • Bone loss in the jaw
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth loss
  • Root canals
  • Mouth pain
  • Cavities
  • Gum recession

Tobacco causes a weakness in the body’s immune system, making it difficult to fight off gum disease and oral cancer. Tobacco also creates a longer healing time for oral surgery or a serious injury to the mouth, as smoking limits blood vessel growth.

The only way to eliminate the harm tobacco has on your oral health is to stop tobacco use. The American Lung Association has resources to help people who want to quit smoking.

2. Poor diet

Diet and nutrition are inherently related to oral health. The most well-known diet-related hazard to dental health is sugar. Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay, which can turn into cavities over time.

Sugary beverages are one of the biggest sources of tooth decay in the American diet. More than half of Americans consume at least a soda a day.

But sugar isn’t the only bad guy.

A nutritionally insufficient diet can lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition isn’t limited to poverty-stricken areas. Diets lacking in proper nutrition are rampant across America, regardless of income status.

Without a nutritious diet, your body doesn’t receive the nutrients it needs to fight infections and disease. This weakens the body’s ability to protect itself from oral health threats.

Make sure your diet isn’t putting you at risk for oral health problems. Limit your sugar intake and eat a well-balanced diet to boost immunity and keep your mouth healthy.

3. Skipping dentist visits

100 million Americans neglect to see their dentist on a regular basis.

Regular visits to the dentist are essential to your preventative care. Dentists can spot symptoms of oral health issues in their early stages before they turn into serious health problems.

Dentists do more than simply clean your teeth. They examine family medical history, check gum health, and look for cavities and signs of oral cancer. Many dental visits include X-rays, which help your dentist determine if you could potentially have a more serious oral issue developing.

Seeing your dentist regularly allows you to build a trusting relationship where you feel comfortable asking any questions you may have. This also gives your dentist the chance to share any of the latest developments that might be relevant to you and your oral health.

Schedule regular cleanings with your dentist for every six months. If you don’t already have one, we’ll help you find a top dentist who can meet your needs.

4. Letting problems linger

“I’ll take care of it later” or “it’s probably nothing” are phrases that might sound familiar if you’ve put off scheduling a dentist appointment to discuss molar pain or swollen gums.

But you may be suffering from untreated tooth decay.

Neglecting your dental issues now can lead to more serious, more painful and more expensive issues down the road. A quarter of adults 65 years and older have no teeth left to treat due to ignored oral health symptoms.

What might seem small and insignificant can indicate larger oral health issues. Chronic bad breath or bleeding gums could be the first symptom of gum disease. Loose teeth? Perhaps it’s a sign that there’s a larger autoimmune disease at play.

Just one untreated cavity can result in an infection or complete extraction. Leaving dental issues unaddressed can lead to severe pain, poor physical appearance, low self-esteem, missed work or school and difficulty concentrating. Those problems aren’t so small anymore.

If you have a dental issue, don’t put it off. Call your dentist and ask questions to get an expert opinion on how to monitor or treat the issue on your own, and determine if it’s time to come in for an appointment.

5. Neglecting your gums

When we think of the dentist, we always think of tooth health. We don’t always think of our gums — and the fact that they are equally as important to our oral health.

Gum disease (periodontitis or periodontal disease) affects nearly half of Americans. Despite its prevalence, if gum disease often goes untreated.

But the problems related to untreated gum disease can be devastating. Beyond pain in the mouth and teeth, gum disease can create bone loss around the teeth, loose teeth and ultimately tooth loss.

See your dentist regularly and monitor your gums. Make frequent flossing and brushing twice-a-day part of your at-home routine.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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