Tag Archives: flossing

Care of the Body = Care of the Mouth = Care of the Body

No doubt, mercury is a threat to human health. Yet more than 2/3 of all dentists still use it on occasion. One thing that can make it easier to justify is a consequence of that that doctor/dentist division I wrote about a couple weeks ago: the tendency to treat teeth as though they were separate from the rest of the body. If that were true, it would seem impossible that mercury fillings could harm other organs, such as the brain.

But of course they can. And do.

The mouth/body split also supports more benign ideas, like the belief that brushing and flossing are enough to ensure healthy, disease-free teeth and gums. They’re important, of course – but so are nutrition, exercise, limited or no drug use (including tobacco and alcohol) and the rest.

For all the things you do to keep your body healthy help keep your teeth and gums healthy, too. And vice versa. And just as keeping your body clean is one part of preventing illness – for instance, washing your hands after using the toilet – keeping your teeth clean is one part of preventing oral disease.

Recently, a pair of Swedish studies made the news for one startling fact they found: 90% of Swedes don’t brush their teeth effectively. I imagine US results would be similar.

Most Swedes regularly brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste. But only few know the best brushing technique, how the toothpaste should be used and how fluoride prevents tooth decay.

Of course, even scientists aren’t entirely sure how fluoride works. We do know it does little to remove biofilm (the colonies of pathogenic microbes, or “bad bugs,” we call “plaque”). In fact, at least one study has shown that non-fluoride toothpaste is actually more effective at removing biofilm than toothpaste with fluoride. What matters most is the mechanical action of brushing. Toothpaste provides grit to help remove the sticky biofilm.

So how to brush your teeth effectively?

First, despite what you’ve likely been told, you shouldn’t brush your teeth immediately after eating. Instead, wait a half hour or so – especially after acidic foods and beverages, which include those with a lot of sugar or other refined carbs. This gives oral conditions time to return to their usual alkaline state. Otherwise, you’re essentially brushing acids into your teeth, raising the risk of damaging the enamel, which in turn can lead to tooth sensitivity and decay.

Then, when you do brush, follow the technique shown and described here.

And don’t forget to floss. (Even better, clean with a proxy brush, which research suggests may be even more effective than floss. Really.)

Image by rachel a.k., via Flickr

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Filed under Dental Health, Dental Hygiene

What You Eat vs. What Eats Your Teeth

Earlier this month on our office Facebook page, I posted a link to a media release debunking several dental myths. Since then, I’ve seen quite a few articles focusing on just one of them: the belief that more sugar means more cavities.

 

Brymo/Flickr

 

Why focus on this? Maybe it’s because it can be spun to suggest that it’s okay to eat all the sugar you want so long as you brush and floss afterwards. (Of course, sugar contributes to a host of other health problems, some of which can contribute to other dental and periodontal problems, but they’re not mentioned.)

After all, in and of itself, sugar does not cause cavities. So why do dentists recommend avoiding it? It’s the preferred food of the oral bacteria that live in your mouth. Their acidic waste products are what cause decay, as explained in this humorous video:

 

 

Importantly, the sugars that microbes love aren’t just “obvious” ones like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. All carbohydrates can be broken down into sugars. What’s more, many carbs – especially processed carbs – tend to stick to the teeth, giving the oral bacteria plenty of opportunity to feed on them – at least until you brush and floss, which both removes food particles and breaks up the microbial colonies that form the biofilm most people call “plaque.”

A recent article in Caries Research highlights the point. Looking for links exist between snacking behaviors and caries (the clinical name for “cavities”), researchers studied the snacking habits and dental health of more than 1200 American preschoolers. Unsurprisingly, those who ate the most sweet snacks, chips and especially chips with a sugared drink had a higher rate of caries than those who consumed less of such things. The team also found that those who ate chips tended to eat more sweet snacks, including candies and ice cream. All of these foods are ones that tend stick to the teeth or, in the case of sweetened drinks, bathe them in sugars – two factors that tend to increase the length of time the teeth are exposed to sugars, and thus the opportunities for microbes to feed and excrete their cavity-causing acids.

Interestingly, this matter of sugar and cavities was not the crux of the Nutrition Today article touted in the “6 Myths” media release, the title of which expresses its broader focus: “It’s More Than Just Candy: Important Relationships Between Nutrition and Oral Health.” Here’s the abstract:

Oral problems can affect and be affected by both diet and systemic nutrition. Dental caries (tooth decay) remains the most prevalent disease of children: 7 times more common than hay fever and five times more common than childhood asthma. The mouth is an early indicator of general health and nutritional status; clinical signs and symptoms of nutritional and other health problems frequently appear first in the oral cavity. Conversely, oral problems can have profound effects on nutritional status. Emerging research is revealing even more important relationships between nutrition and oral health issues and chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and immune-compromising conditions. Health care professionals should help their patients by asking patients about oral health concerns and referring patients for dental consults when indicated. Promoting good oral health as well as good nutrition is essential to optimal overall health status.

To which we can only say, yes, exactly.

 

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Filed under Dental Health, Diet & Nutrition, Oral Hygiene

Are You Only Partway Cleaning Your Teeth?

Brushing and flossing go together. Most of us know this, but while most of us manage to brush at least twice a day, only about half of us floss even once a day.

In other words, half of us are only partway cleaning our teeth.

A toothbrush can remove biofilm (plaque) from the exposed surfaces of your teeth, but it can’t thoroughly clean between teeth or below the gumline – areas that oral microbes love precisely because they’re dark, moist and harder to get to. Not flossing lets these microbes thrive. The result? Periodontal (gum) disease and, ultimately, tooth loss. What’s more, gum disease has been linked to other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

So not only does flossing support good oral health but good systemic health, as well. It may even help your memory.

 

pattyanne:made/Flickr

 

Interestingly, flossing may not be a strictly human activity. Monkeys, for instance, have been seen flossing, both in and outside the lab. A recent “Improbable Research” column in The Guardian describes some of the findings, including observations of the macaque flossing with human hair. (More info about the macaque – and a link to video of the behavior – here.)

It makes you wonder: Is flossing a “natural” behavior of sorts? If so, then why do so many of us humans not just avoid it but come up with all kinds of excuses for it?

The most commonly given reason is a lack of time – even as brushing and flossing together take less than five minutes. But if you’re that pressed for time, why not multitask? Floss while you’re in the shower, say, rinsing your hair, or while you’re relaxing with TV or a book after dinner, or sitting at home in front of the computer .

Once you make flossing habitual, it won’t seem to take much time at all. Besides that, as the health of your gums improves, flossing will no longer cause bleeding or irritation, eliminating a couple more of the common excuses. And if standard, thin floss hurts your fingers, switch to thicker, softer dental tape. Bingo! Another excuse gone.

To learn more about the correct way to floss, see the guides at About.com and Animated-Teeth.com.

 

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Filed under Oral Hygiene, Periodontal health