How Air Pollution Impacts Your Oral Health

December 15, 2022

On a normal day, you probably don't think about air pollution. You can’t see it, but it’s there, filled with carcinogens, all around us. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Ambient (outdoor) air pollution in both cities and rural areas is causing fine particulate matter (PM) which result in strokes, heart diseases, lung cancer, acute and chronic respiratory diseases.”

To expand on this, air pollution can also cause dental health issues, such as cleft palate to a fetus during pregnancy; enamel discoloration and softening; cavities; tooth brittleness; enamel erosion; oral cancer; and inflammation of the airway, which contributes to the development of asthma.

In this article, you’ll learn about the types of air pollution, how it impacts your teeth, gums, and overall oral health, and how to combat air pollution in your family.

Sources of Pollution

There are four primary types of pollutants in our air. They stem from:

  1. Transportation sources, or “mobile” sources like cars, boats, trains, and airplanes
  2. Industrial sources, like refineries and power plants
  3. Localized sources, or “area” sources,” including smog over cities and fires
  4. Natural sources, such as dust, volcanoes, dust, and wildfires

Environmental agencies use “particulate matter” or PM for measuring the amount of airborne pollution. PM is made up of microscopic particles in the atmosphere. According to the WHO, around the globe, PM negatively affects life. Each year, approximately seven million people die from issues related to pollution.

Pollution and Dental Health

A few of air pollution’s negative effects on human dental health include:

  • Inflammation of the airway and resulting asthma
  • Erosion of tooth enamel and resulting higher incidence of cavities and chips
  • Toxic compounds in tooth enamel
  • Discoloration and chipping of enamel due to chlorine
  • Pregnant women’s fetuses can be negatively impacted; poor enamel formation (impaired mineralization), cleft palate, and a lower number of teeth than the 32 that are normal
  • Small particles inhaled increases the risk of oral cancer

Furthermore, pollution’s effects on the environment cause problems for water, soil, forests, crops, and ecosystems. Ultimately, the food we consume is less healthy if sourced from an area that suffers the negative effects of pollution. This, in turn, also contributes to health concerns in humans. Poor nutrition has a serious impact on oral health.

Measuring Pollution Safety: Air Quality Index

Experts recommend that we only participate in outdoor activities with the air quality index (AQI), often reported on the news and always available online, is below 100. Any number above 100 is particularly unsafe for sensitive groups, but also unhealthy for the average, healthy human. Children and elderly populations fall into the sensitive groups, as do those with health impairments.

You can always find out the AQI in your area, and even set up automatic notifications, by visiting airnow.gov.

The Five Most Prevalent Pollutants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites five major pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act. These are:

Ground-level ozone

Particulate matter

Carbon monoxide

Sulfur dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide

What You Need to Take Away from This Article

We’ve covered some scientific information and numbers that may not stick with you long-term, but from this article, you should now know to check the AQI on airnow.gov before planning outdoor activities. Always have a backup plan for indoor recreation or activities, because AQI can change from day to day.

Be sure to also do your part each day to take great care of your teeth, gums, and other oral structures. Your mouth is a portal to the inner workings of your body. In fact, endocarditis, diabetes complications, pregnancy complications, respiratory issues, strokes, and heart attacks have been linked to gum disease (gingivitis, periodontitis, advanced periodontitis), a condition that afflicts about half the population. And gum disease is the main cause of tooth loss in American adults.

Brushing morning and evening, flossing before evening brushing, and using antibacterial, fluoride-rich mouthwash and ADA-approved toothpaste will go a long way toward promoting your great oral health. Also, visiting our office twice a year for checkups and cleanings can reveal dental health issues in the early stages, when treatment is least invasive and costly.

Who doesn’t love big smiles of all shapes and sizes? Air pollution is a silent killer and a silent thief of good oral health. Protect your smile and you may enjoy healthy, strong teeth that serve you well physically and emotionally throughout your lifetime. Ume is less healthy if sourced from an area that suffers the negative effects of pollution. This, in turn, also contributes to health concerns in humans. Poor nutrition has a serious impact on oral health.

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