By Demika Levy, RDH in Dubai
People often ask me about oral wellness.
As the times change, so does the moniker that defines my role and the treatment I provide to my patients. As a hygienist, I am responsible for educating patients about their oral health. Oral health involves having them understand the connection between the biofilm in their mouths and the impact on the oral structures and the other systems in the body.
Therefore, oral wellness is a component of Total Body Wellness. This incorporates the health, function, and aesthetics of the oral cavity. All three—health, function, and aesthetics—are the optimum of oral wellness. Read on to learn why.
Health and Oral Wellness
The patient must understand that saliva and bacteria keep the mouth healthy. However, a shift in bacteria types and amounts can be unhealthy. Signs of poor oral health include bleeding of the gums while flossing and brushing, bad breath, swollen or irritated gums, and toothaches. Thus, treating these symptoms remains the priority of dental teams.
As preventative oral wellness therapists, we must educate patients to create behavioral changes. Quite often, patients will say to me, “Well, no one has ever told me that or explained it to me.” Unfortunately, patients are leaving our clinics ignorant of their oral health.
They never fully realize that over 95% of dental diseases are a result of preventable bacterial infections.
Patients are leaving our clinics ignorant of their oral health.Demeka Levy, RDH
The Role of Infections
The most common oral bacterial infections include caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease. The collection of biofilm (bacteria) in the mouth is a regular occurrence.
Infections are a result of the type of bacteria present in the biofilm, the ability of the bacteria to function, and the host. The ability of the bacteria to cause damage involves the excretions of toxins. As a result, these toxins cause the infection or inflammatory response in the tissue. So, the elimination of these toxin-producing bacteria is vital for complete oral wellness.
Function Plays A Part
The second component of oral wellness is the function of the gums, bone, and teeth. Are the structures able to uphold and perform? Can my patients chew, breathe, and talk? Let’s consider a few disorders of function.
Firstly, sleep apnea is a fatal condition that causes one to stop breathing. The structures in the oral cavity can contribute to the severity of it.
Next, periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that destroys the ligaments and bone supporting teeth.
Then, there is bruxism. Bruxism is teeth grinding. It has lasting effects on the teeth, gums, and jaw joints. Bruxism can weaken the enamel, causing tooth decay and sensitivity. It is often managed through proper alignment of the teeth and jaw with appliances.
Finally, tooth decay – or caries – is the most chronic health disease among children. Also, more than 50 million adults leave tooth decay untreated.
Additionally, having enough healthy teeth in proper alignment to chew is essential to adequate digestion. Healthy teeth also help with speech and self-confidence.
Above all, each patient’s ability will determine his or her level of function. The relationship between health and function is vital for oral wellness.
The Role of Aesthetics
The third component of oral wellness is aesthetics. Aesthetics could be the motivator for some patients. Therefore, it is our responsibility to educate patients. Their decisions about their oral care should be comprehensive and attentive to their health needs.
Cosmetic dentistry should be safe and not compromise oral wellness. As oral care providers, we should not guarantee a “Hollywood Smile” in an unhealthy mouth. While the consequences are not fatal, the result could be costly in terms of time and finances.
Patients have autonomy in treatment. Hence, their decisions should reflect well on their oral wellness team.
Aesthetics can be important to the socioeconomic status of our patients. This may be both culturally and socially. Thus, aesthetics should not be overlooked or realized too late in treatment.
A nice smile is the beginning of self-confidence. Research suggests that dental disorders affect the confidence of teenagers. These could be malocclusion, tooth loss, tooth discoloration, and untreated tooth decay.
Responsibility of Oral Wellness Therapists
As a preventative oral health provider, I find that my expertise is well-balanced with cosmetic and general dentistry.
For instance, dental hygienists are incredibly effective at reducing morbidities connected to oral infections. We also keep the costs of dental treatment down.
Further, dental hygienists give the cosmetic dentist a bridge back to the center of health. On the other hand, the general dentist offers a bridge back to patient motivators like aesthetics.
Thus, an oral wellness therapist ensures that the patient establishes and maintains oral health to reach Total Body Wellness.
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Kenneth Shay, Infectious Complications of Dental and Periodontal Diseases in the Elderly Population, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 34, Issue 9, 1 May 2002, Pages 1215–1223, https://doi.org/10.1086/339865
Benjamin R. M. (2010). Oral health: the silent epidemic. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 125(2), 158–159. https://doi.org/10.1177/003335491012500202
JoAnn R Gurenlian, RDH, PhD (October 2007 ) The Role of Dental Plaque Biofilm in Oral Health. Journal of Dental Hygiene, Vol. 81, No. 5, Copyright by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.
Featured photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash