The mouth allows us to speak, smile, kiss, touch, smell, taste, chew and swallow. It also provides protection against microbial infections and environmental threats. Oral diseases restrict activities in school, at work and at home causing millions of school and work hours to be lost each year the world over. Poor oral health has a profound effect on the quality of life. Dealing with pain, endurance of dental abscesses, problems with eating and chewing, embarrassment about the shape of teeth or about missing, discolored or damaged teeth can adversely affect people’s daily lives and well-being. Severe periodontal disease, for example, is associated with diabetes and heart disease. In many developing countries, access to oral health services is limited and teeth are often left untreated or are extracted because of pain or discomfort. Throughout the world, losing teeth is still seen by many people as a natural consequence of aging.
How Do Cavities Form?
After eating, plaque develops on the surface of the teeth. Plaque is a film of food debris, bacteria, and saliva that sticks to the teeth and gums. The bacteria in plaque convert food particles into acids that cause tooth decay. If plaque is not removed by a dentist or hygienist, it turns into a hard substance called tartar. This can destroy the teeth, gums and bone, causing cavities and gum disease. Plaque formation is continuous and can only be controlled by regular brushing.
Children's dental health plays a critical role in their overall health and well-being and requires attention starting at an early age and routinely throughout their lives. Adequate dental care for children is woefully lacking in many parts of the world. In fact, 90 percent of the cavities in children in third world countries go untreated. Despite the good intentions of many third world countries to address the issue of children's dental health, 75 percent of them do not have the funds to support essential dental services for children. Therefore it is often left to volunteers – dentists, dental hygienists, assistants, dental students, as well as concerned individuals – to help make sure these children not only receive adequate dental care, but also learn how to care for their teeth themselves.
Smoking, alcohol use, eating sugary foods and other poor dietary habits, as well as other behavioral and environmental issues all affect oral health. Brushing the teeth is the most basic step of all public health programs that seek to improve oral health.