A Quick Home Oral Health Check and What to Be On the Lookout For
With just a few minutes of exploring your teeth, gums, tongue, and lips -- as well as the lining of your cheeks - you could learn something important about your health. Here's five signs of good oral health and what you should look for:
Scan your gums. They should be pink and firm to the touch, not red or white, and not swollen or tender. Teeth should be seated firmly and should not feel wiggly or loose. Gums should sit flush with the teeth, with no flaps, pockets, or places where they appear to be receding from the tooth. Flossing daily helps to keep gums healthy, and prevent pockets and places for bacteria to collect and cause damage, decay, and bad breath.
Puffy, red, inflamed gums can signal any number of things. You may simply be brushing too hard or using a toothbrush with too-stiff bristles. Or you may be flossing improperly and irritating your gums. But, typically, red and inflamed gums are a classic sign of gingivitis, the first step toward periodontal disease. Healthy gums are a leading indicator of a healthy body.
Strong Teeth & Dental Restorations
Check out your chops. Check your teeth for strength and condition, including teeth that have restorations such as fillings or teeth with crowns including dental implants. Grinding or clenching (bruxism) is a common issue that can increase the wear on teeth and restorations, including teeth with fillings.
Have you noticed any tooth discoloration or pitting? These can be early signs of decay. Gaps and growing spaces between teeth can cause trouble with your bite, too.
Pleasant or Neutral Breath
Take a breath test. A healthy mouth means naturally pleasant or neutral breath. You can test this easily at home. Floss between a couple of your teeth, or scrape your tongue with a fingernail and take a sniff. This is a more realistic sense of what your breath may smell like once toothpaste and mouthwash have faded for the day. The presence of bacteria and food particles is directly related to persistent bad breath. Bad breath can also be an indicator of other health issues such as diabetes, and even sinus issues. The best possible way to keep your breath pleasant is with good brushing and flossing habits.
Proper Jaw Alignment & Tooth Spacing
Bare your bite. Do your teeth meet like they used to, or are they getting more crowded? Crooked, crowded teeth may be harder to clean properly. Teeth that are straight and aligned properly are much easier to brush and floss, meaning better breath and fewer places for cavities or gum disease to develop with proper home care. Crowding, also known as a “malocclusion,” can impact chewing and normal digestion, and may be related to bruxism (clenching or grinding), gum disease, jaw disorders such as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ), migraines or other neurological symptoms, and even the overall shape of your face.
Healthy Oral Tissues
Stick out your tongue. Healthy oral tissues are often pink, firm and moist. If you have low iron, your tongue might look a little inflamed. A sluggish thyroid may cause your tongue to thicken. And a fungal infection can show up as white patches on your tongue. Look for lumps, ulcers, bleeding, and sores, too. They could indicate something mild -- like a viral infection -- or something much rarer but serious, like tongue cancer.
Check your cheeks. Look at the mucous membrane lining your mouth and the inside of your lips for signs of irritation, which can appear as white or gray patches (called leukoplakia) or red patches (called erythroplakia). Irritation in and of itself may not be harmful. But it could indicate anything from a rough tooth or filling that's rubbing against your cheek to something more serious, such as a precancerous lesion. Also, don't ignore canker sores. These small, shallow ulcers are usually harmless but can be painful. And if one persists for more than 10 days or returns frequently, it may signal a vitamin deficiency, a bacterial infection, or even an inflammatory bowel disease.
Let a Pro Take a Peek
Of course, you shouldn't count on your own eyes to determine whether your mouth is showing signs of disease. And you don't want to wait for an obvious problem before you see a medical professional. So see your dentist twice a year. Decay, as well as tiny cracks or other issues with teeth and restorations may not always be visible to the naked eye. Dental x-rays and a thorough exam may help detect issues before they become painful and often more difficult to treat. If you've noticed anything odd in there, bring it up. But trouble may be brewing long before you notice it - and can occur in places where you can't see - so you need to call in the experts for a look, too.
Sources: WebMD, ShareCare.com