When we think dentist, we think “teeth,” right? Keeping your pearly whites strong and sparkling is obviously an important element of your oral health. However, there is more to the mouth and to having a healthy smile than just maintaining your teeth. This week, Brighter has put together a list of interesting facts and tips to keep you informed on “all things mouth.” Understanding more about the tissues and functions of your mouth can help you to achieve an optimal oral health.
Let’s start with some of the structures of the oral cavity and their purposes:
- Teeth: The teeth are crucial for chewing and are an important articulator for speech. They are the hardest substances in the human body. The average adult has 32 teeth. There are 8 incisors (the most central teeth), 4 canines (the most pointed teeth), 8 premolars (teeth between the canines and molars) and 8 molars (the farthest back, flatter teeth.) The last teeth to erupt in your mouth, the third molars or wisdom teeth, usually come in around age 18 and are many times removed to prevent your other teeth from being displaced.
- Gums: The gums, or gingiva, are the pinkish tissues surrounding and providing a seal around your tooth. They support the tooth and protect its roots. Healthy gums should be a coral pink, should not bleed when poked or flossed and should cover the entire root of the tooth.
- Tongue: The tongue is a movable, muscular organ that plays a major role in chewing, tasting, swallowing and speaking. The lingual frenulum tethers the tongue to the floor of the mouth and assists in the movements required by the tongue to successfully do its job. If this band of tissue is too tight, too short, or too thick, it can inhibit the tongues ability to move and interfere with speaking, eating, swallowing and breastfeeding. This is commonly known as “tongue-tie” or ankyloglossia.
- Jaw: Your jaws are a big contributor to the shape of your face and also give your mouth the structure required for speaking and chewing. The upper jaw bone (where your top teeth are anchored) is called the maxilla and the lower one (where the bottom teeth are anchored) is called the mandible.
- Salivary glands: Salivary glands produce saliva (as much as a quart of it every day!) Saliva is important in assisting with swallowing, keeping your mouth lubricated, protecting your teeth from bacteria and acid and also aiding in digestion. You have three main pairs of salivary glands: sublingual (located under the tongue), submandibular (located on the floor of the mouth) and parotid (located on the inside of your cheeks.)
We know to call our dentist if we have a toothache, but not all oral health conditions are directly related to our teeth. Now that we’ve identified some structures in our mouth, here are several conditions to watch for:
- Canker Sores- are small, sometimes painful ulcers that develop on the tongue or in the mouth. They are relatively common and are not contagious. Most canker sores heal on their own in 7-10 days.
- Oral Cancer- may appear as a red or white lesion, ulcer, or lump on the lips, tongue, cheeks or roof or floor of the mouth. It does not spontaneously go away and can grow and spread rapidly. It is most common in people who use tobacco products. Many times, oral cancer is initially discovered at a routine dental checkup. If you have a sore in your mouth that is spreading, not resolving or has got you concerned, contact your dentist.
- Thrush-is an infection in your mouth caused by yeast. It is commonly identified by creamy, white looking lesions along the surface of the tongue and mouth. It can be treated with antifungal medications.
- Dry Mouth- occurs when your salivary glands are not producing enough saliva. Symptoms are a sticky dry feeling in the mouth and throat, sores in the mouth, a red, raw tongue, hoarseness or persistent bad breath. It can also contribute to tooth decay, gingivitis and thrush. There are many causes of dry mouth. Talk to your dentist about treatment options and strategies.
- Periodontal Disease- is a gum infection that damages the soft tissues and bones that support your teeth. Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth, or gums that appear swollen, red, purple, bleed easily or are tender are all initial symptoms of periodontal disease. If left unchecked, this condition can causes serious and permanent issues with your oral health.
Next time you brush your teeth, take an extra minute to locate and identify the structures we discussed above. They all play an important role in your dental health. Being familiar with them and the functions they perform can help you understand how your mouth works, be prepared to identify and resolve issues sooner, and achieve an even better overall oral health.