Oral Health

Everything you need to know about your mouth, teeth and gums
Medically reviewed by:  Dr. Angela S. Evanson

What do we mean by oral health?

When we talk about oral health, we mean the general health of your teeth, gums, tongue and oral cavity (mouth). Some people are very concerned about caring for their teeth, but they don't pay so much attention to the other parts of their mouth.

Some oral health problems are easy to know about. Imagine a painful toothache, or an uncomfortable ulcer on your tongue. But other conditions are less noticeable or may seem less serious at first.

Take teeth grinding as an example. Many people who grind their teeth do so at night, and don't even realize they are doing it. They may experience frequent headaches or jaw pain, but might not have the condition diagnosed until one of their teeth fractures from the pressure and they have to visit a dentist.

Sensitive teeth can be another creeping oral health issue. A little sensitivity when you consume a cold drink may be more of an inconvenience than anything else, but it can be a sign of a damaged tooth or thinning enamel. If you regularly experience sensitive teeth then it's best to mention it at your next dental visit. In the meantime, there are special toothpastes and gels you can use to remineralize your enamel and reduce the discomfort.

Dental problems

The most common problem people experience with their teeth is dental caries, or cavities. Very few of us will get through life without having to have a filling or two. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria penetrate the protective outer enamel and reach the inner layer of dentin, or even the pulp cavity in the tooth. This can happen over time because of lack of care, but it may also be triggered by an injury or tooth fracture which exposes the dentin.

By the time a cavity starts to cause a toothache, the bacteria has reached the pulp cavity and you may need to have root canal treatment to save the tooth. In serious cases, the tooth may have to be extracted. Because of this, it's best to visit a dentist regularly even if you don't have any dental complaints. They can spot a cavity in the early stages when it is much easier to treat.

You may also experience problems with wisdom teeth at some point in your life. Sometimes our mouths are just not big enough to accommodate these third molars, and they end up impacted or infected. Although not everybody has to have their wisdom teeth removed (and in fact some people naturally have no wisdom teeth at all), if they do start to cause issues with other teeth, it's best to extract them.

Children's oral health

If you have kids, it's great to teach them good dental care habits early in life so that it becomes a natural part of their routine as they grow older. Younger children need help brushing their teeth until around seven years of age, and should still be supervised for a while longer. Older kids and teens might still need a reminder to brush every morning and evening!

But taking care of your child's teeth extends beyond just brushing them. You should also be aware of what your child is eating and drinking, since high-sugar foods and drinks can be particularly damaging to tooth enamel.

Other oral health problems

Oral health is not all about teeth – it's important to keep an eye on your gums and tongue as well. Many people experience bleeding gums at some point in their lives, and assume they must have just brushed their teeth too hard. However, this can be an early sign of gum disease and shouldn't be ignored. A specialist toothpaste might help, but you should visit your dentist if the problem persists.

Conditions like oral thrush, herpes, canker sores and cold sores are all included in the topic of oral health, too. Some are just annoying and others can become more serious, so check out our guides to each of these if you have any concerns.

Whatever the condition of your teeth and mouth, we recommend you see a dentist regularly for cleaning and preventive care. Nobody loves going to the dentist, but it's always best to catch these things earlier rather than later.


Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Angela S. Evanson obtained her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Minnesota. She completed a pediatric mini-residency at the University of the Pacific Dental School. Dr. Evanson has provided quality dental care since 1994. She currently practices dentistry at Angela Evanson DDS in Parker, Colorado. She is a member of the American Dental Association, Colorado Dental Association, the Metro Denver Dental Society, the Academy of General Dentistry, the Colorado Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the American Equilibration Society. Dr. Evanson volunteers with KIND and participates in the American Dental Association’s annual Give-Kids-a-Smile program.