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In twenty-first century America, a healthy smile is considered necessary for social mobility and acceptance, interpersonal relations, employability, and a good self-image.
Poor oral health may lead to pain and infection, absence from school or work, poor nutrition, poor general health, an inability to speak or eat properly, and even early death. Studies done in the late 1990s showed that poor oral health may also lead to low birth-weight babies, heart disease, and stroke. It is clear that oral diseases play a significant role in compromising health potential. Up until the late 1990s, when the new HIV medications became available, over 90 percent of persons with AIDS had HIV-related oral diseases.
There are many different types of oral diseases, but they are generally differentiated as being of hard tissue or soft tissue origin. Hard-tissue oral diseases are those of the teeth, supporting bone, and jaw; whereas soft tissue diseases affect the tissues in and around the mouth, including the tongue, lips, cheek, gums, salivary glands, and roof and floor of the mouth. Some oral diseases may result in both hard and soft tissue disorders or conditions such as cleft palate or oral-facial injuries. The major oral diseases and conditions are:
The prevalence of oral diseases varies due to differences in the host, agent, and environment. Some diseases have higher rates in certain population groups due to personal habits such as a sugarheavy diet or poor oral hygiene. Others may occur more frequently in individuals who put themselves at risk for injury by not wearing seatbelts or by playing contact sports without using proper mouth and head protection. Environmental and cultural factors may also affect the rates of oral diseases. For example, persons who live in a community in which the water supply is fluoridated would have much less tooth decay than those who live in a nonfluoridated community. Certain cultures, especially in developing countries, have diets almost completely devoid of refined foods that have high sugar content, and therefore have much less tooth decay compared to the average American. A 1997 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that Americans consume an average of about 154 pounds of sugars a year (or 53 teaspoons a day) most of it in processed foods, drinks, and sweets. This was a 28 percent increase in added sugar or sweeteners since 1982. Tooth decay may be viewed as a disease of civilization.
Author Info: MYRON ALLUKIAN JR., The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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