The oral cavity is the space formed at the top by the maxilla (two upper jaws plus the palate), at the bottom by the mandible (lower jaws), the throat at the rear, and the teeth at the front and sides. This cavity encloses the tongue and the salivary glands. It is lined with the oral mucosa and is supplied with saliva from multiple pairs of salivary glands. In a healthy person the oral cavity is kept moist all the time by the saliva.
Importance to Health
This is the first part of our alimentary canal (food supply tube). It is the only point where food enters the body in a normal healthy person. For this and other reasons, it is the most life-critical part of the alimentary canal. In addition to receiving food input, the oral cavity also processes it. Mastication (chewing) is the first and the most important function leading to food assimilation. Saliva from the salivary glands helps to moisten the morsel for convenience in rolling food around, and acts chemically to break longer chains of sugar molecules to short-chain sugars, thus making them more readily digestible.
Mastication is done mainly by the molars, but the tongue helps to position the morsel of food around optimally for the teeth to crush. The front teeth help to confine the morsel. If un-masticated solid food somehow enters the throat it can cause choking, and may pose threat to life.
If the oral cavity is infected somehow, as in tooth or gum disease, the food that we take in will get infected no matter how much care we may have taken in preparing it hygienically. Hence, oral hygiene is very essential.
Food particles attach themselves to the teeth and the gums. It is more probable in people who have defective, misaligned, or abnormally spaced teeth. Unless cleaned away promptly, these particles can rot to create acid and bacteria. The acid is able to attack and erode the tooth enamel. The bacteria can attack the gum tissue and cause gingivitis. Both can result in tooth loss.
Brushing and flossing at least twice a day is recommended. However, a better rule is to brush and floss after every meal, in the morning, and at bed time. It is to be noted that in some people, who have developed a gastric reflux problem, their teeth are constantly exposed to gastric acid, which can lead to tooth erosion. Frequent brushing can help the person avoid that. If frequent brushing is not possible, rinsing with a mouth wash or in its absence, with clean water is highly recommended.
Oral cleanliness seems to have been an injunction among human societies since the earliest of men. Rinsing, rubbing teeth and gums with a finger, or cleaning with the beaten up end of green branch of a tree are common practices even in cultures that do not use modern toothbrushes. The Muslim religion lays heavy stress on regular cleaning of the oral cavity and the nose before every prayer (at least five times a day). Both must be rinsed with water, while the teeth should be brushed if possible. Hindu yoga is also known to describe methods of oral and nasal hygiene.