Health, as defined by the WHO is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing not merely the absence of disease. The mouth can be described as a mirror to our body, reflecting the state of health of the body. A healthy mouth is much more than just a nice smile. It encompasses the health of all the structures that make up the mouth; teeth, tongue, lips, palate (hard and soft), gingiva, maxilla, mandible and the salivary glands (major and minor glands). The mouth is the opening of the gastrointestinal tract and as such it plays a key role in chewing and in the early stages of digestion. The mouth is also necessary for speech.
Our oral health and general health have a 2-way relationship. It is not possible to achieve a state of health without having sound oral health, as the mouth cannot be isolated from the rest of the body. Several diseases can occur in the mouth, the commonest of which are dental caries (hole in the tooth) and bleeding and swelling of the gums (gingivitis)
Inflammation of the gingiva (gingivitis) is seen to affect more than 75% of the population at some point in time. This presents with the hallmarks of inflammation; pain, swelling and bleeding from the gums.
Inflammation of the supporting tissues of the teeth known as the periodontium results in increased mobility of the teeth. Studies have shown an association between Periodontitis and pre-term delivery / low birth weight.
Dental caries when left untreated progresses to cause sensitivity, pain and a possibly a dentoalveolar abscess. If this is still not properly managed, it further progresses to Ludwigs angina, which is a medical emergency.
Malalignment of teeth is another condition that affects the oral cavity and can indirectly affect the social and mental wellbeing of the individual. Depending on the severity, it can also affect the ability of the individual to chew. Halitosis (bad breath) also affects the mental and social health of the affected individual and the commonest causes are in the mouth.
Systemic conditions like Diabetes millietus is often first picked in the Dental clinic because of its unique intra oral manifestations. The organisms in the mouth (oral micro flora) have also been linked with infective endocarditis. Malignancies like leukaemias also have a unique oral presentation. Nutritional deficiencies like scurvy present in the mouth with swelling of the gingiva and bleeding. Other deficiencies can present with glossitis, angular stomatitis, hypocalcification of the teeth etc.
Medications have also been associated with oral side effects like dry mouth seen with alpha methyldopa, hyperplasia of the gingiva seen with calcium channel blockers like nifedipine, anticonvulsants like phenytoin.
Oral cancers have been associated with certain risk factors, principal among them is tobacco use (smoke and smokeless) and alcohol consumption. Traumatic injuries are commonly seen to affect the mouth, requiring urgent surgical intervention.
It is never too early to start paying attention to the state of health of your mouth, your body will thank you later. A healthy diet, lifestyle modifications that eliminate tobacco use in all forms and limiting alcohol consumption is the right step to take. Adopt good oral hygiene habits of brushing twice a day, for 2 minutes with either a manual or an electric toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste. Use dental floss to clean in between the teeth.
Prevention is always better than cure. Early detection and treatment of dental diseases will go a long way to improve the quality of life of an individual, and guarantee a state of health. Routine dental check-up at least once in 6 months will help in early detection and treatment of disease. If we can achieve this, then we all can proudly say AAH! Think Mouth Think Health.