Dental and oral health
When you hear about dental and oral health, you might just think of good-looking teeth. But the truth is, your total mouth health can offer clues about your overall health too. In fact, almost 9 in 10 diseases can cause symptoms in your mouth.1 That means your dentist can spot certain health conditions before they become serious, like osteoporosis, diabetes, eating disorders and stress. The good news? Most dental plans include coverage for regular preventive dental visits that may help catch these types of issues early. Let’s learn more about how good oral care can give you more than a sparkling smile.
Why is oral health important?
This may surprise you – but the fact is that everyone’s mouth is full of bacteria. Don’t worry – it’s mostly harmless. A daily routine of brushing and flossing is your best defense against bad bacteria. With regular care, you can help keep your oral health in tip top shape and keep bad bacteria at bay. That matters because if bad bacteria builds up (called plaque), it can cause things like tooth decay, gum disease and other infections.2 But that’s not all. Bad bacteria can even get into your digestive system and respiratory tracts. That’s why it’s important to make good oral care part of your everyday routine.
What’s the difference between dental health and oral health?
You may assume dental health and oral health are the same thing – but their differences are worth noting. Think of dental health (health of your teeth) as just one part of oral health. Oral health is the bigger picture. It’s the health of your teeth, gums and the whole oral-facial system that lets you smile, talk and chew.3
What should I know about oral health and oral health diseases?
Many of us head to our yearly dentist appointment just hoping we’ll get our cavity-free sticker. But cavities are just one part of the story when it comes to oral health. If certain oral conditions go untreated (like a gum infection), you could lose some teeth and even get infections in other parts of your body. Let's look closer at some oral health diseases and warning signs to watch out for.
Getting to know what oral health diseases are may help you understand what to look out for when it comes to your oral health. Common oral health diseases include:4
- Tooth cavity (tooth decay or dental caries): This happens when plaque builds up on your teeth and eats away at your enamel (the hard outer shell of your tooth).
- Gum inflammation (gingivitis): This happens when plaque builds up on your gums, and releases acids that break down your enamel and cause decay. That plaque and decay inflames your gums and can cause them to bleed when you floss.
- Gum or periodontal disease (periodontitis): When that plaque keeps building up, the inner layer of your gum and bone eventually pulls away from your teeth and forms pockets. These pockets collect bacteria and cause infections below the gum line. That can make your teeth loose and cause them to fall out.
- Oral cancer: This shows up as a growth or sore in your mouth that doesn’t go away. Different kinds of oral cancer include: cancers of the lip, tongue, cheek, mouth, throat and more.
Catching an oral condition fast can help you fight it off before it becomes serious. Certain things can be fairly harmless – like jaw pain caused by grinding your teeth or bad breath from the garlic toast you had for lunch. But it’s always best to be aware of what your mouth is telling you. Possible warning signs include:5
- Gum, tooth or jaw pain
- Bleeding gums
- Loose or lost teeth
- Recurring bad breath
- Sores, irregular patches or lumps in your mouth
Of all the ways we try to keep our body healthy, protecting our oral health may be one of the easiest. All it takes is a few minutes each day and a commitment to simple lifestyle habits. See for yourself:6
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes (bonus points for an electric toothbrush)
- Floss daily
- Use mouthwash to remove food particles
- Limit foods with added sugar
- Replace your toothbrush every three months (or when bristles are worn down)
- See your dentist regularly
- Stay away from tobacco
Pro tip: If you eat something extra sugary or chewy (like gummy fruit snacks or jelly beans), be sure to give those teeth a thorough brushing before bed to make sure all the residue is off your teeth and gums.
Does dental insurance cover preventive care?
You might be wondering if dental plans cover preventive dental care. Common preventive services include regular oral exams (usually every 6 months), teeth cleaning and routine X-rays. Some dental plans cover all preventive care, while others may only cover certain services. Sign in to your health plan account to learn what may be covered under your plan.
When should I schedule dental visits?
It’s important to see your dentist for regular preventive visits every 6 months or so. Or, if you’re noticing changes in your teeth, gum health, or any other part of your mouth or jaw, make an appointment. Those warning signs we mentioned are also reasons to see your dentist. They’ll let you know if you need to see a specialist, like a periodontist.