Oral Health Conditions

Oral health refers to the health of the teeth, gums, and the entire oral-facial system that allows us to smile, speak, and chew. Some of the most common diseases that impact our oral health include tooth decay (cavities), gum (periodontal) disease, and oral cancer. Oral conditions are frequently considered separate from other chronic conditions, but these are actually inter-related.

Tooth Decay

Cavities are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel by acids produced by bacteria located in plaque that collects on teeth, especially along the gumline and in the crevices on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Eating and drinking foods high in carbohydrates cause this bacteria to produce the acids that can cause the outer coating of the tooth (enamel) or root surface to break down (demineralize).

Although tooth decay is largely preventable, it remains one of the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting up to two-thirds of adolescents.1 Cavities also affect adults; among those aged 20-64 years, more than 90% had at least one cavity, and 27% had untreated decay.2 Untreated tooth decay can lead to abscess (a severe infection) under the gums which can spread to other parts of the body and have serious, and in rare cases fatal, results.

Community water fluoridation and school-based dental sealants programs are both cost-saving, proven strategies to prevent tooth decay.3, 4

Gum Disease

Periodontal diseases are mainly the result of infections and inflammation of the gums and bone that surround and support the teeth. Certain chronic conditions increase one’s risk for periodontal disease including diabetes, a weakened immune system, poor oral hygiene, and heredity. If early forms of periodontal diseases (i.e. gingivitis) are not treated, the bone that supports the teeth can be lost, and the gums can become infected. Teeth with little bone support can become loose and may eventually have to be extracted.

Oral Cancer

In 2012, there were nearly 40,000 new cases of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx diagnosed in the United States and nearly 9,000 deaths. The 5-year survival rate for these cancers is about 59 percent Cdc-pdf[PDF-538K]. Mortality from oral cancer is nearly twice as high in some minorities (especially black males) as it is in whites. Preventing high risk behaviors, that include cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking, use of smokeless tobacco, and excessive use of alcohol are critical in preventing oral cancers. Early detection is key to increasing the survival rate for these cancers. Oral Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease, can cause cancers in the back of the throat, called “oropharyngeal cancers.” More research is needed to determine whether HPV itself causes oropharyngeal cancers, or if other factors (such as smoking or chewing tobacco) interact with HPV to cause these cancers.

Resources

References

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (2000). Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health. Rockville, MD.
  2. Dye BA, Thornton-Evans G, Li X, Iafolla TJ. Dental caries and tooth loss in adults in the United States, 2011–2012. NCHS data brief, no 197. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.
  3. Community Preventive Services Task Force. The Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing dental caries: community water fluoridation (abbreviated). Available at: https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/dental-caries-cavities-community-water-fluoridationExternal.
  4. Community Preventive Services Task Force. The Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing dental caries: school-based dental sealant delivery programs: Task Force findings and rationale statement (abbreviated). Available at: https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/dental-caries-cavities-school-based-dental-sealant-delivery-programsExternal.