Oral Hygiene - Problems associated with poor oral hygiene

What common problems are related to poor oral hygiene?

Various problems are associated with poor oral hygiene, depending on which area of the mouth is affected.

Tooth decay

When holes form in parts of the enamel of a tooth, it is known as dental caries. A main cause of caries is a build-up of plaque. The germs (bacteria) in the plaque react with sugars and starches in food to form acids. The acids are kept next to the teeth by the sticky plaque and dissolve the tooth enamel. Once there is a hole in the hard enamel which protects the outside of the tooth, the decay process can cause cavities in the tooth structure. If you have tooth decay you may need fillings, crowns or inlays.

Tooth erosion

Tooth (dental) erosion is a common problem. It is the gradual erosion of tooth enamel by the action of acid on the teeth. This is different to damage caused by bacteria resulting in tooth decay and caries. Tooth erosion affects the entire surface of the tooth. In time, tooth erosion can cause thinned enamel, and eventually can expose the softer dentine underneath the enamel. Dentine is sensitive, so erosion can lead to your teeth being more sensitive to hot, cold or sweet foods and drink.

Gum disease

tooth with gum disease

Gum disease (periodontal disease) means infection or inflammation of the tissues that surround the teeth. Most cases of gum disease are plaque-related. Plaque contains many different types of bacteria and a build-up of some types of bacteria is associated with developing gum disease.

Depending on the severity, gum disease is generally divided into two types - gingivitis and periodontitis:

  • Gingivitis means inflammation of the gums. There are various types. However, most cases of gingivitis are caused by plaque.
  • Periodontitis occurs if gingivitis becomes worse and progresses to involve the tissue that joins the teeth to the gums (the periodontal membrane).

Gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. It is also a main cause of bad breath (halitosis). However, gum disease is often treatable. See separate leaflet called Dental Plaque and Gum Disease for details.

Bad breath

Bad breath (halitosis) can be caused by poor oral hygiene. The smell is caused by the build-up of bacteria in the mouth.

Did you find this information useful?

Thanks for your feedback!

Why not subcribe to the newsletter?

We would love to hear your feedback!

Dr Jan Sambrook
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
4891 (v40)
Last Checked:
06 July 2017
Next Review:
05 July 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.