Oral health isn’t just about brushing your teeth three times a day. Stress also has consequences that affect teeth. One day, Itzel, a journalist in her thirties, found she had a terrible headache.
More than a decade ago, the tension in her jaw led her to see a physical therapist. “I had clenched my jaw so much that I had locked it. I had to go to the physio to unlock it. Years later, a dentist told me that my ‘crooked’ bite was noticeable,” she recalls.
Starting the day in pain is one of the consequences of bruxism, the grinding of teeth that generally occurs when patients are asleep. One way to avoid its consequences, such as jaw pain or tooth fractures, is to wear mouth guards. Now, Itzel wears them frequently.
“With the pandemic, patients’ stress and anxiety levels have increased. I’ve had several patients who come to me with jaw pain due to lockdown and having many activities. They feel as if they’ve been chewing gum for a long time and it’s because of the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused in our society,” explains Verónica Granciano, a specialist in endodontics and owner of a private practice.
Consequences of poor oral hygiene
Poor oral hygiene and neglecting problems such as bruxism can have multiple consequences. These include the malabsorption of nutrients.
“If we don’t have all our teeth, our digestive system will suffer repercussions. We won’t be able to grind our food and some of it will be swallowed almost whole. Another problem is that we use our teeth to pronounce words properly. Sometimes, we can’t be understood because we don’t have all our teeth,” explains Brenda Osorio, Coordinator of Dentistry at the ABC Medical Center.
But the problems do not end there. Poor oral hygiene can carry bacteria from the mouth to other parts of the body and cause serious damage. Class 3 cavities can allow bacteria to enter into the bloodstream and heart.
“An uncontrolled cavity is an underlying infection. it affects everyone’s general health. If patients have cardiovascular problems, they will have a much higher risk than someone who doesn’t have any systemic disease,” adds Granciano.
The brain and tooth loss
Preventing these problems should be reason enough to take care of our teeth. Carlos Presa, Director of the Academic Department at Tec de Monterrey’s Medical Dental Surgeon Program, identifies others.
“The oral health problem goes beyond (cavities) and affects other areas of the body. If we have a patient with immunosuppression, then gingivitis and periodontitis are processes that can not only affect general level but also the brain. They are less common due to the lines of defense that the body possesses for that area. But they can begin to appear if they are not dealt with relatively quickly,” he warns.
Also, if teeth aren’t brushed properly, then tartar buildup is another threat. “Brushing at night is the most important time. The brush must be dry and without too much paste because otherwise it foams and will not brush away the dental plaque successfully. If this accumulates, it forms dental tartar that is impossible for the patient to remove,” says Edelmira López Hernández, dentist and oral rehabilitator.
Tartar causes receding gums; this causes the teeth to move as well as bleeding, swollen gums, and bad breath. “This is how teeth can be lost (…) when the gum starts to swell, more food accumulates in that area, and the bone begins to be destroyed. The tooth starts to lose support and begins to move. In very advanced cases of periodontitis, I have almost been able to pull teeth out with my fingers,” says López.
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With several reasons to take care of your oral hygiene, it is now time to know how to brush correctly. “In addition to the problems of gingivitis and periodontitis – inflammation and bleeding of the gums – a patient may have a bad technique by brushing horizontally. This generates an abrasion process that wears down the gums,” explains Presa.
This poor brushing technique exposes the very sensitive base of the teeth. Patients who have hypersensitivity avoid drinking cold liquids due to the pain it produces in that exposed area.
Although the basic technique is that the upper teeth are brushed downwards and vice versa, dentists should teach patients a personal brushing technique. “There are patients who have crowding (of teeth). They should be recommended some type of special brush and accessories such as special rinses, dental floss, or interdental brushes,” says Granciano.
The basic recommendation that specialists agree on is that you should visit the dentist at least once a year. Ideally, twice a year. In addition, they recommend the following:
Use dental floss.
Use an alcohol-free mouthwash.
Change your toothbrush every three months.
Find a soft bristle brush.
Use little toothpaste and do not wet the brush.