A trip to the dentist can inspire dread in the best of us, but allowing teeth and gums to go unattended can lead to bad breath, infection, tooth loss and even more drastic illness.
According to the Canadian Dental Association, oral pain and irritation could be a sign of something serious such as oral cancer, which often goes undetected and kills more than 1,000 Canadians each year.
April is National Oral Health Month, an initiative designed to raise awareness about the importance of oral health, so if you've been ignoring your teeth and gums as of late, this is the time to turn things around.
Here are five reasons you need to make your pearly whites a priority:
1. Poor oral health causes bad breath.
Simply steering clear of garlic won't keep halitosis at bay. "If food and bacteria are not removed thoroughly from the mouth at least twice a day, a bad odour can occur," says Toronto-based dentist and Crest and Oral-B Smile Council member Dr. Janet Tamo. Dr. Tamo recommends carrying an oral hygiene kit in your purse and making mid-day cleanings a priority.
2. Dental erosion is becoming more common among Canadians.
"80 percent of Canadians suffer from enamel erosion," according to Dr. Tamo. When enamel, the hard outer layer of the tooth, wears away teeth can become discoloured, sensitive and more likely to chip and decay. Diet can play a big part in enamel erosion. "Foods that contain sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates are dangerous to consume, especially in between meals, because they lead to acidity in the saliva," Dr. Tamo explains. "Repeated exposure to acidic saliva causes enamel erosion, and once the enamel is lost it cannot be re-grown." If you're going to indulge in sugary treats, Dr. Tamo recommends drinking as much water as possible afterwards to neutralize your saliva. Toothpastes containing stannous fluoride, such as Crest Pro-Health, can also help combat erosion.
3. Gingivitis could lead to more serious issues.
Inflamed and bleeding gums may not send you rushing to the emergency room, but these symptoms of gingivitis are definitely a cause for concern. "In its early stages gingivitis can be reversed, but in the later stages it can cause more serious periodontal diseases," says Dr. Tamo. "Brushing thoroughly at least twice a day for two minutes, flossing daily, and rinsing with mouthwash are the best tools to fight gingivitis," she adds.
4. Age affects your teeth.
As if growing older weren't already traumatizing enough, aging will also inevitably take a toll on your teeth. With each passing year a person can become increasingly susceptible to gum recession, dry mouth and lip cancer. With this in mind, scheduling regular dental check-ups and cleanings as you age is a must. "As a minimum we all should visit the dentist at least twice a year," says Dr. Tamo. "Some people need to go more often and the interval should be prescribed by your dental health professional based on your individual needs. Stick to the proper schedule, not just what your insurance covers."
5. Your oral health affects your entire body.
Part of an overall healthy lifestyle means keeping teeth top of mind. "The mouth is the upper end of the digestive tract and closely connected to the rest of the body. It is important to take care of any infections or inflammation in your oral cavity, so that it does not spread to other important parts of the body, such as vital organs like the heart or brain," says Dr. Tamo. "You are not completely healthy until your mouth is healthy."