April ushers in the rebirth of spring, but plants and air aren't the only fresh things this time of year. National Oral Health Month is in April, calling for fresh breath and better hygiene habits. As part of this event, the Canadian Dental Association wants to draw attention to the value of a healthy mouth. 

Oral health and your body

Oral health might focus on your mouth in name, but it can impact your entire body. Infections that begin in the mouth can spread when unchecked, just as issues elsewhere often come with oral symptoms. What's more, oral health problems are sometimes linked to more serious illnesses. In fact, the Canadian Dental Association stressed that oral health problems may be symptoms of cancer. With about 3,200 Canadians being diagnosed with oral cancer each year, dental care and awareness is important.

"3,200 Canadians are diagnosed with oral cancer each year."

In addition to cancer, issues in your mouth could be a sign of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, HIV, and premature birth and low birth weight. For example, a study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that participants with pre-existing periodontal disease and fewer than 10 remaining teeth were more likely to contract coronary heart disease than those with more teeth. Researchers noted that a loss of teeth can lead to poor eating habits, though diet is only a small contributing factor to these results.

Periodontal infections aren't only bad for the heart, but they may also cause premature birth in pregnant women. A study from the Journal of the American Dental Association confirmed this link. With this in mind, keeping your gums and teeth healthy is not only good for your mouth, but it also protects your body. So how can you and your kids preserve your smiles? 

Steps toward good oral care

Following oral hygiene best practices can help prevent gum disease and cavities. Here are steps you can take at home, many of which you may already do:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Floss once a day.
  • See your dentist regularly.
  • Check your mouth for signs of gum disease, oral cancer and other issues.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Avoid all forms of tobacco.

Snack smart

While cleaning your teeth gets rid of bacteria and fights plaque buildup, what you eat can also affect your oral wellbeing. As such, your family's diet should be a part of your oral health regimen. Here are tips for snacking with your mouth in mind from the Canadian Dental Association:

  • Reduce how often you and your kids eat or drink sugary products.
  • Avoid long-lasting sugary treats. Cake is preferable over lollipops if you indulge.
  • Don't give your kids candy that sticks to their teeth.
  • Limit the amount of acidic foods, like oranges, you give your kids. 
  • If you and your kids eat sweets and acidic foods, do so right after meals when your saliva, which can protect your teeth, is still active.
  • The same goes for drinks. Enjoy water between meals and have juice and milk with food.
  • Snack on cheese, veggies, nuts and non-acidic fruits.
Kids snacking on fruit in the kitchen.What your kids eat can affect their oral health.

Check your mouth regularly

Going to the dentist regularly should be part of your family's hygiene routine. However, the doctor can't look at your mouth every day. Between visits, regularly inspect you and your kids' mouths for signs of diseases. Gum disease manifests in the form of bleeding, sensitivity, redness, inflammation and pain. Lingering bad breath, even with regular oral care, can also be a symptom. Oral cancer can produce sores or bumps on your tongue, roof of your mouth, gums and insides of your cheeks. 

Bumps in your mouth can also be caused by infections like tonsillitis, though these will be located in the back of the throat. Spotting unrelated infections by inspecting your mouth is one of the benefits of regular oral checks.

Don't use tobacco

Not only does tobacco negatively impact your heart, lungs and cancer risk, but it can also lead to oral disease. Both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco can cause peritonitis, tooth discoloration and sores, according to the Canadian Dental Association. But the good news is that quitting can reduce your risk of these issues - a white smile isn't out of your reach. Whether you decide to quit or not, speak to your dentist about performing a screening for oral cancer. Tobacco users are at risk.

With National Oral Health Month underway, use these tips to keep you and your kids' mouths clean and healthy.