Oral Health Basics: Types, Symptoms, Causes & More

14 min read
Feb 19, 2024
Oral Health Basics: Types, Symptoms, Causes & More
In order to prevent cavities, infections, and other problems, it's important to take regular care of your teeth and gums, which are both part of your oral health. Your heart, among other organs, might gain from maintaining good oral hygiene.
A crucial component of your general health and wellbeing is maintaining good dental and oral health. Diabetes , cancer, and heart disease have all been related to poor oral hygiene, which can also cause gum disease and cavities in teeth.
Elongated devotion is required to keep teeth and gums healthy. Avoiding expensive dental procedures and long-term health problems will be made easier the younger you develop good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing, flossing, and consuming less sweets.

Facts about dental and oral health

Gum disease and dental cavities are highly prevalent. The World Health Organization states that:
  • Most school-age children—between 60 and 90 percent—have at least one cavity in their teeth.
  • Almost all adults have had one dental cavity at some point.
  • Adults 35 to 44 years old make about 15 to 20 percent of those with severe gum disease.
  • Thirty percent of individuals worldwide between the ages of 65 and 74 are missing all of their natural teeth.
  • In most nations, there are one to ten instances of oral cancer for every 100,000 individuals.
  • Oral illness is far more common among underprivileged or impoverished demographic groups.
There are numerous steps you can take to keep your teeth healthy. For instance, the following can significantly lower dental and oral disease:
  • Utilizing fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Using dental floss at least once every day.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar you consume.
  • Consuming a lot of fruits and veggies in your diet.
  • Staying away from tobacco products.
  • The use of fluoridated water.
  • Get dental care from a professional.

Symptoms of dental and oral problems

You should see your dentist as soon as possible, regardless of symptoms. Usually, by visiting the dentist twice a year, they can identify an issue before you ever notice any symptoms.
You ought to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away if you see any of the following indicators of oral health problems:
  • Mouth sores, ulcers, or tender spots that do not go away after a week or two.
  • Gums that swell or bleed after brushing or flossing.
  • Persistently foul breath.
  • Abrupt sensitivity to cold or hot liquids or temperatures.
  • Discomfort or dental pain.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Receding gums.
  • Discomfort during biting or chewing.
  • Cheek and facial swelliness.
  • Jaw clicks.
  • Shattered or cracked teeth.
  • Persistent dry mouth.
You should get emergency care if any of these symptoms are accompanied with a high temperature and swelling in your neck or face. Find out more about the telltale indicators of problems with dental health.

Causes of dental and oral diseases

A diverse range of bacteria, viruses, and fungus can be found in your mouth. A portion of them are a part of your mouth's natural flora and belong there. When present in small amounts, they are usually safe.
However, a diet rich in sugar fosters the growth of microorganisms that produce acid. Tooth enamel is dissolved by this acid, leading to dental cavities.
Plaque is a sticky matrix that supports the growth of bacteria along your gum line. If you don't frequently clean and floss your teeth, plaque builds up, hardens, and migrates down the length of your teeth. This may lead to gum inflammation and the development of gingivitis.
When there is more inflammation, your gums start to separate from your teeth. Pus may eventually gather in the pockets that are created by this process. We refer to this more severe form of gum disease as periodontitis.
Gingivitis and periodontitis are caused by a variety of conditions, including:
  • Smoking
  • Poor brushing habits
  • Frequent snacking on sugary foods and drinks
  • Diabetes
  • The use of drugs that reduce oral saliva production
  • Family history, or genetics
  • Certain infections, such as hiv or aids
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Acid reflux, or heartburn
  • Frequent vomiting, due to the acid

Diagnosing dental and oral diseases

A dental exam can diagnose the majority of oral and dental issues. Your dentist will closely examine the following during an exam:
  • Teeth
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Tongue
  • Cheeks
  • Jaw
  • Neck
To help with a diagnosis, your dentist may use a variety of equipment or instruments to tap or scrape at your teeth. Dental X-rays of your mouth will be taken by a technician at the dentist's office, who will make sure to capture images of every tooth.
Make sure the dentist knows that you are expecting a child. Pregnant women shouldn't undergo X-rays.
Your gum pockets can be measured with a device called a probe. Your dentist can determine whether you have receding gums or gum disease with the help of this tiny ruler.
The depth of the spaces between teeth in a healthy mouth typically ranges from 1 to 3 millimeters (mm). If your measurement is higher than that, you may have periodontal disease.
Your dentist may do a gum biopsy if they discover any unusual growths, lesions, or lumps in your mouth. A tiny sample of tissue is taken out of the tumor or lesion during a biopsy.
After that, the sample is transported to a lab to be examined under a microscope in order to look for malignant cells.
Your dentist might also prescribe imaging tests to check for cancer metastases if oral cancer is suspected. Tests could consist of:
  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • endoscopy

Types of dental and oral diseases

Since we use our mouths and teeth so frequently, it should come as no surprise that many things can go wrong with them over time, particularly if you don't take good care of them.
Good oral hygiene can help avoid the majority of dental and oral health issues. It's likely that you will deal with dental issues at least once in your lifetime.


Caries or tooth decay are other names for cavities. These teeth sections may even have holes in them due to their irreversible destruction. Cavities occur frequently. They appear when food particles, acids, and bacteria combine to form a plaque on your teeth.
The dentin, or connective tissue, behind the enamel on your teeth, begins to deteriorate due to the acid on them. Over time, this may cause irreversible harm.

Gum disease (gingivitis)

Gingivitis, another name for gum disease, is an inflammation of the gums. It usually happens when plaque accumulates on your teeth as a result of improper brushing and flossing techniques.
When you brush or floss, your gums may enlarge and bleed if you have gingivitis. Gingivitis that is left untreated can develop into periodontitis, a more dangerous infection.


Your jaw and bones may become infected when periodontitis worsens. Additionally, it may trigger an inflammatory reaction across the body.

Cracked or broken teeth

A oral injury, chewing tough food, or nighttime teeth grinding can all cause a tooth to crack or break. A broken tooth can cause excruciating pain. If one of your teeth is damaged or cracked, you should see your dentist as soon as possible.

Sensitive teeth

If you have sensitive teeth, you may experience pain or discomfort when consuming hot or cold foods or drinks.
"Dentin hypersensitivity" is another term for tooth sensitivity. It can occasionally happen momentarily following a filling or root canal. It might also be the outcome of:
  • Gum disease
  • Receding gums
  • A cracked tooth
  • Worn-down fillings or crowns
Some people's teeth are inherently sensitive due to thinning enamel.
The majority of the time, altering your daily dental hygiene routine can help treat teeth that are inherently sensitive. For those with sensitive teeth, there are toothpaste and mouthwash brands specifically designed for them.
Look for mouthwash and toothpaste designed specifically for those with sensitive teeth.

Oral cancer

Cancers of the mouth include those of the:
  • Gums
  • Tongue
  • Lips
  • Cheek
  • Floor of the mouth
  • Hard and soft palate
Oral cancer is typically first detected by a dentist. The largest risk factor for oral cancer is tobacco use, which includes both smoking and chewing tobacco.
The mouth Cancer Foundation (OCF) estimates that this year will see the diagnosis of mouth cancer in close to 50,000 Americans. Generally speaking, the prognosis for oral cancer improves with early diagnosis.

The link between oral and general health

Because of the link that has been found in recent years between poor dental health and underlying systemic illnesses, oral health has become increasingly important. It turns out that keeping your mouth healthy can contribute to your overall health.
The following conditions may be linked to oral bacteria and inflammation, per the Mayo Clinic:
  • Heart disease
  • An inflammation of the heart's lining is known as endocarditis.
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
Infectious endocarditis can be brought on by bacteria that enter your bloodstream through your mouth. An infection of your heart valves that can be fatal is called infectious endocarditis.
In order to avoid the possibility of bacteria being removed from your mouth during any dental procedure, your dentist could advise you to take antibiotics beforehand.

Treating dental and oral problems

You still need to have a professional cleaning twice a year during a routine appointment with your dentist, even if you've been taking good care of your teeth.
In the event that you exhibit symptoms of gum disease, infections, or other issues, your dentist will suggest additional treatments.


Any plaque that you might have missed when brushing and flossing can be removed with a professional cleaning. Tartar will also be eliminated. A dental hygienist often does these cleanings.
The hygienist will brush your teeth with a strong toothbrush once all of the tartar has been eliminated. Rinsing and flossing are next to remove any remaining particles.
Scaling and root planning are other terms for a deep cleaning. It eliminates tartar that is not accessible during a regular cleaning from both above and below the gum line.

Fluoride treatments

To help prevent cavities, your dentist could apply a fluoride treatment after cleaning your teeth. A naturally occurring mineral is fluoride. Your teeth's enamel may become stronger and more resistant to acid and bacteria as a result.


Your dentist may recommend antibiotics to help treat an infection if you have gum disease or a tooth abscess that has spread to nearby teeth or your jaw.
The antibiotic could come in the shape of a gel, capsule, tablet, or mouthwash. During surgical operations, topical antibiotic gel may also be given to the gums or teeth.

Fillings, crowns, and sealants

A filling is used to fix a tooth's cavity, crack, or hole. The damaged portion of the tooth will be removed by the dentist using a drill, and the hole will then be filled up with composite or amalgam.
When a significant amount of your tooth needs to be extracted or breaks off as a result of trauma, a crown is applied. A typical crown, which fits over a natural tooth, and an implant crown, which fits over an implant, are the two types of crowns. Crowns of both kinds cover the space left by your original tooth.
In order to help prevent cavities, dental sealants—thin, protective coatings—are applied to the molars, or rear teeth. When your children erupt their first set of molars, around age six, and again when they erupt their second set of molars, around age twelve, your dentist may advise a sealant. Applying sealants is a simple and painless process.

Root canal

If dental decay penetrates all the way to the nerve inside the tooth, you may require a root canal. In a root canal procedure, the nerve is extracted and replaced with a biocompatible filler, typically composed of adhesive cement and gutta-percha, a substance that resembles rubber.


Although probiotics are primarily recognized for their ability to support digestive health, recent studies have revealed that the good bacteria may also have positive effects on your teeth and gums.
It has been demonstrated that probiotics can alleviate foul breath and prevent plaque. They also aid in reducing gum disease inflammation and preventing oral malignancies.
Although extensive clinical trials are still need to demonstrate their efficacy, the initial results are encouraging. You can consume foods high in good bacteria, such kimchi, kefir, and yogurt, or take a probiotic supplement. Other well-liked probiotic foods are miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut.

Changing daily habits

Maintaining dental health requires regular effort. You can learn from a dental hygienist how to regularly and correctly take care of your teeth and gums.
Your daily practice may also involve using mouthwash, oral rinses, and possibly additional instruments like a Waterpik water flosser, in addition to brushing and flossing.

Surgery for dental and oral problems

More severe forms of periodontal disease are typically treated with oral surgery. Accident-related tooth loss or fractures can potentially be repaired or replaced with specific dental procedures.

Flap surgery

A little incision is made in the gums during a flap procedure in order to raise a portion of the tissue. After that, they clean out bacteria and tartar from under the gums. After that, the flap is sewn back into position around your teeth.

Bone grafting

When gum disease damages the bone around your tooth's root, bone grafting becomes necessary. A graft consisting of your own bone, synthetic bone, or donated bone is used by the dentist to repair the damaged bone.

Soft tissue grafts

Glands that are retreating are treated with a soft tissue graft. To replace the missing gum tissue, a dentist will either take a tiny piece of tissue from your mouth or use donor tissue.

Tooth extraction

Your tooth will probably need to be pulled if your dentist is unable to save it with a root canal or another type of surgery.
If any of your third molars, or wisdom teeth, are impacted, you might also require a tooth extraction. A person's jaw may not always have enough room for their third set of teeth.
When the wisdom teeth attempt to erupt, one or more of them will become stuck or impacted. If wisdom teeth are causing discomfort, inflammation, or other issues, a dentist will usually recommend having them pulled.

Dental implants

Teeth lost as a result of illness or trauma are replaced with dental implants. The jawbone is surgically implanted with an implant. The implant will be surrounded by growing bone after it is inserted. We refer to this as osseointegration.
Following this procedure, your dentist will create a new artificial tooth specifically for you that blends in with the rest of your teeth. A crown is the name given to this artificial tooth.
After that, the implant is fitted with the new crown. A bridge may be made specifically for your mouth if your dentist is replacing multiple teeth.
Two abutment crowns, one on each side of the gap, serve as the structural support for the artificial teeth positioned between them in a dental bridge.

What can go wrong?

The bone that supports your teeth may eventually deteriorate due to periodontal disease. Numerous difficulties may result from this. Most likely, dental work will be required to preserve your teeth.
The following are some risks and consequences of untreated periodontal disease:
  • Tooth abscesses
  • Other infections
  • Migration of your teeth
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Exposure of the roots of your teeth
  • Oral cancer
  • Tooth loss
  • An elevated risk of respiratory illnesses, diabetes , heart disease, and cancer
An infection resulting from a dental abscess may spread to other areas of your head or neck if treatment is not received. Even sepsis, a potentially fatal blood infection, may result from it.

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy

Common sense and overall well-being are the cornerstones of healthy dental health. The following are the greatest approaches to avoid issues with dental health:
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.
  • One of the best things you can do to stop disease in your mouth is to floss at least once a day.
  • Every six months, have a dental professional clean your teeth.
  • Steer clear of tobacco products.
  • Adopt a diet that is high in fiber, low in fat, low in sugar, and rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Minimize sugary drinks and snacks.
Items that contain added sugars include:
  • Condiments like barbecue sauce and ketchup
  • Applesauce or sliced fruit in jars or cans with added sugar
  • Flavored yogurt
  • Pasta sauce
  • Sweetened iced tea
  • Soda
  • Sports drinks
  • Juice or juice blends
  • Granola and cereal bars
  • Muffins
Find out more advice on guarding against oral health issues. Particularly for populations like youngsters, expectant mothers, and senior citizens, good dental health is essential.

What you should know about your child’s oral health

By the time a child is one, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that they begin visiting a dentist.
Children, particularly those who are bottle fed, are particularly vulnerable to tooth decay and dental cavities. Too much sugar left on teeth after bottle feeding may be the cause of cavities.
You should take the following precautions to prevent infant bottle tooth decay:
  • Only give bottles during mealtimes.
  • By the time your child turns one year old, wean them off of a bottle.
  • If you must give them a bottle before bed, fill it with water.
  • When baby teeth erupt, start brushing them with a soft baby toothbrush; use just water until your child learns not to swallow the toothpaste.
  • Get your child checked out by a pediatric dentist on a regular basis.
  • Consult the dentist for your child about dental sealants.

What men need to know about oral health

The American Academy of Periodontology reports that men are less likely than women to maintain proper oral and gum health. Men are less likely than women to seek preventative dental treatment, brush twice a day, and floss often.
Men tend to have oral and throat cancer more frequently. According to a 2008 study, males with a history of periodontal disease have a 14% higher risk of developing cancers other than cancers of the gums and tissues. Men should take early action and understand the risks of poor oral health.

What women need to know about oral health

Women are more susceptible to certain oral health problems because of the fluctuations in hormones that occur throughout their lifetimes.
When a woman initially begins her menstrual cycle, she could get gum swelling or mouth sores throughout her periods.
Increased hormones during pregnancy may have an impact on saliva production. Tooth deterioration may arise from morning sickness-induced vomiting that occurs frequently. Pregnancy does not prevent you from receiving dental care, but you should inform your dentist of your condition.
Reduced estrogen levels during menopause can raise your risk of gum disease. During menopause, some women may also develop a disease known as burning mouth syndrome (BMS).

What diabetics should understand about their oral health

The body's capacity to fend off microorganisms is impacted by diabetes . This implies that gum disease, periodontitis, and oral infections are more common among diabetics. They have a higher chance of developing thrush, an oral fungal infection.
Those with diabetes must keep their blood sugar under control in order to take responsibility for their dental health. This is in addition to seeing the dentist and brushing and flossing.

The bottom line about dental and oral health

Not simply your teeth are impacted by your dental health. Unhealthy teeth and mouth might aggravate speech, eating, or self-esteem problems.
They may also have an impact on your general well-being and level of comfort. Many oral and dental health issues arise silently. Regular checkups and exams at the dentist are the greatest method to identify issues before they worsen.
Your own efforts will ultimately determine how well you do in the long run. While it may not always be possible to prevent cavities, maintaining good oral hygiene can lower your chance of developing serious gum disease and losing teeth.

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