No, I am not a dentist or a dental hygienist, but as they say (whoever “they” are), experience is the best teacher. For about 20 years, I have had an unpleasant history of suffering with cavities and mild/moderate oral diseases. Over the years, I have had a skin graft to combat gum recession, more fillings than I count, and even a fake silver molar when I was a little. This being said, I am currently cavity and gingivitis free and hope to remain so thanks to the following strategies I have learned over the years from my awesome dentist and lots of trial and error. Read on, because some of these lesser-known tips may surprise you:
1. Brush every day, at least twice a day. This may seem like common sense, but it can be difficult to do for some. Many years ago I was a “once a day” guy, but such a habit did nothing for my oral health (and maybe not for my breath, either, although thankfully nobody ever commented on that). Make sure to brush not only the tops of your teeth, but along the gum line while covering the front and back sides of your teeth (plaque likes to hide in areas where the gum meets the tooth). Finally, brush for at least three minutes during each session.
2. Floss teeth every day, at least once a day. Perhaps second only to dieting, this seems to be the ultimate good habit many people struggle to establish and maintain. However, forcing oneself to floss religiously will ultimately win the habit-forming battle. The pain in my gums (I had not ever flossed consistently) went away within about two weeks of my starting to floss daily. My old dentist also told me that some people get bored brushing and flossing, so if this is you, consider following his advice and turning on the TV to pass the time while you take care of your teeth.
3. Use good technique when you floss. Never push the floss straight down into the gum line. Instead, run the floss along either side of where the gum meets each tooth so that you clean out both sides of each tooth. Don’t assume that one pass is enough, either. Floss each section as much as needed until the thread comes out free of fuzzy-looking plaque material. Remember: flossing may hurt a little bit at first and your gums will likely bleed if you haven’t done it in a while, but the discomfort and blood will go away after a relatively short time of consistent flossing.
4. Use an anti-cavity toothpaste only twice per day. It turns out there can be too much of a good thing, even in the world of oral hygiene. The chemicals in toothpaste that protect your teeth and gums are good in small doses, but using toothpaste more than twice per day can be too harsh on your teeth and thus actually leave them exposed to oral disease. If you brush more than twice per day, use only your brush and water during your extra brushings.
5. Stay away from sugars and refined carbs. Refined carbs are carbs that have had the fiber stripped away from them. Foods containing sugars and refined carbs include white flour, cookies, donuts, candy bars, potato chips, sodas, fruit juice, and even canned fruits and veggies. When possible, stick to snacking on stuff made from 100% whole wheat flour and fresh fruits and vegetables. Foods containing the all-too-common high fructose corn syrup and the plethora of preservatives used in canned goods contribute to tooth decay. For those of you who love chewing gum, consider using gum sweetened with Xylitol, a natural sugar substitute that has been shown to decrease the emergence of new tooth decay.Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Xylitol_crystals.jpg
I have found that reading the ingredients carefully for foods I consider buying, as well as keeping only healthier/natural foods stocked in the pantry, are the best tools in my quest to eat healthy and avoid the temptation to indulge.
6. Drink water or rinse. Even if you don’t go looking for temptation, it sometimes finds you. If your workplace is anything like mine, well-intentioned coworkers bring in snacks and junk food to share with their fellows from time to time. For those occasions when you just don’t want to say no to these unhealthy treats, remember to either brush your teeth, rinse out your mouth with water, and/or drink a glass of water following your indulgence. Mouth-dwelling bacteria feed off of the refined carbs and sugars left in your mouth after snacking and will create dental caries (tooth decay) if left undisturbed.
7. Breathe with your mouth closed. Turns out a dry mouth also creates a friendly environment for dental caries. Be conscious of your breathing and when possible breath in and out of your nose to prevent drying out your mouth. If you’re active and can’t help but to breathe through your mouth during very tiring exercises, make sure to hydrate (with water, not sugary sports drinks or energy drinks!) consistently and sufficiently both during and after your workout.
8. Finally, get your teeth cleaned professionally as much as possible. Those of you with dental insurance and/or who can afford to do so, schedule your cleanings! Most insurances allow for two free cleanings per year; however, some allow for up to as many as four. Every person’s saliva composition and acidity level is slightly different, so some people may require more dental visits than others to maintain optimum oral health.
I have found that implementing the above habits has had positive implications in my life beyond good oral health and lower dental care bills. Physically, I eat healthier, drink more water, and am more conscious of what substances I put into my body. Mentally, I have shown myself that I can create and stick to positive habits (like flossing), and this in turn makes me more likely and confident to positively shape my life in other ways. I truly believe that eating healthy and taking care of one’s teeth can be accomplished by anyone via implementing a series of small, manageable steps into one’s daily routine.