By Dr. Laura L Wellener DDS
Millions and millions of bacteria call our mouths home. It sounds disgusting, but it’s true. It’s been said that human mouths are dirtier than dogs’ mouths. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it does make you think.
Not all of the bacteria in our mouths are harmful, but many of them can be. The harmful bacteria in our mouths are responsible for cavities, infections and periodontal or gum disease.
We often think sugar causes cavities, but cavities are actually caused by the bacteria in the mouth. Eating a lot of sugar creates an environment where the bacteria thrive, which causes acid production that then dissolves the tooth structure. This eventually creates a little cave in the tooth and creates a home for the bacteria where it can continue to grow and multiply, ending with a cavity in the tooth.
Periodontal disease occurs when the bacteria affect the gums, which may cause a spectrum of issues. This can range from mild gingivitis to gum recession to bone loss and tooth loss. Many times, periodontal disease is painless. Those bacteria are quietly causing destruction, and you’re not even aware. Periodontal disease is of ever-increasing importance, because bacteria in our mouths can enter the blood stream and travel throughout our bodies. Not only causing damage in our mouth, periodontal disease has been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and other conditions.
It is vital to keep the effects of harmful bacteria under control. Start by visiting your dentist. Your dentist can diagnose cavities, infections and periodontal disease as well as oral cancer. Your dental team can also educate you on how to take care of your mouth at home in order to maintain and hopefully minimize problems. Brushing twice a day, flossing your teeth once a day, using fluoride and other personalized recommendations can all help fight bacteria in your motuth.
If you don’t currently have a dentist, you can find one by contacting the North Carolina Dental Society at 800- 662-8754, visiting www.NCDental.org or asking a friend or family member for a recommendation.
Personally, if after a long day I’m tired and don’t feel like brushing or flossing, I just think about all the bacteria in my mouth. Thinking of all those bacteria is an excellent motivator for me to practice good oral hygiene. I hope it will motivate you as well.
This article originally appeared in OutreachNC • May 2013.