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.
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 (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 (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 (halitosis) can be caused by poor oral hygiene. The smell is caused by the build-up of bacteria in the mouth.
Further reading and references
Oral health promotion: general dental practice; NICE Guidance (December 2015)
Halitosis; NICE CKS, November 2014 (UK access only)
Dental Information for the Public; British Dental Association
Yaacob M, Worthington HV, Deacon SA, et al; Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Jun 17(6):CD002281. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002281.pub3.
de Oliveira C, Watt R, Hamer M; Toothbrushing, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease: results from BMJ. 2010 May 27340:c2451. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c2451.
Slot DE, Dorfer CE, Van der Weijden GA; The efficacy of interdental brushes on plaque and parameters of periodontal inflammation: a systematic review. Int J Dent Hyg. 2008 Nov6(4):253-64.
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