Your teeth are very important to a healthy life.
Make sure they stay with you for a lifetime!
Dentists and other health professionals will tell you that maintaining clean teeth and healthy gums is the best way to:
- Keep from losing some or all of your teeth
- Help avoid major health problems, including infections, heart disease, strokes, and cancer of the mouth and throat
In this section, we will discuss living and eating habits that can damage our teeth and gums and “set us up” for serious dental and other health problems. We will then describe inexpensive and practical ways to improve our dental health and to have the best chance of avoiding these problems in the future.
LIVING AND EATING HABITS THAT HARM OUR TEETH AND GUMS
Smoking and Alcohol Use
Smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products is one of the main causes of gum disease,
tooth loss, and other serious dental and whole-body health problems.
Smoking does the following:
- Dries out the mouth and reduces the amount of natural saliva that washes harmful bacteria away from the teeth and gums
- Speeds up the development of plaque, a sticky substance that builds up on the teeth and makes an ideal home for bacteria to grow and cause decay
- Poses a major risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, and other parts of the body--especially lung cancer
Drinking alcohol also reduces the amount of saliva produced in the mouth. This makes it easier for bacteria to get established on the teeth and at the gum line.
For people who both drink and smoke, these harmful effects are multiplied.
Sugared Drinks and Chewing Gum
Sugar is the preferred food for the harmful bacteria in our mouth. When we drink Coke, Pepsi, or other sugary beverages, this offers them a real banquet.
It is not harmful to chew gum, provided there is no sugar in it. Certain artificially sweetened gums and mints have an ingredient called xylitol. Some medical studies have found that xylitol actually helps reduce tooth decay.
DETECTING TOOTH AND GUM PROBLEMS
Toothaches, bleeding gums, and loose teeth are all clear signs of serious oral problems. But unfortunately, a lot of damage to teeth and gums can take place before there is any pain or bleeding. In other words, before we start to hurt or see something definitely wrong, the problem may have already gotten rather bad.
We can do a very rough self-examination by looking very carefully at our gums, taking enough time to examine all areas of our mouth.
Healthy gums are light pink. Gums that have a redder color, especially where they meet the teeth, may indicate the beginning of a gum disease called gingivitis.
The best treatment for early gingivitis is thorough teeth cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. He or she can clean parts of the teeth below the gum line that cannot be reached through regular brushing.
The cost of a professional teeth cleaning is much less than the charges for fixing loose or decayed teeth or for treating advanced gum disease.
In addition to having our teeth professionally cleaned twice a year, there are many things we can do ourselves to keep our teeth and gums in the best possible shape.
WHAT WE SHOULD DO OURSELVES
Brush Teeth at Least Twice Daily
- Use a soft toothbrush, and don’t use too much pressure when you brush. Using a hard toothbrush or brushing too hard may hurt the gums and teeth. Gentle brushing with a soft toothbrush cleans just as well.
- Use proper brushing techniques. The important thing is to take your time and to brush both the tooth surfaces and the gums. Make sure you brush the inside (tongue side) of the teeth and gums as well as the front side. Up-and-down motions of the toothbrush are better than side-to-side. The best is to use small circular motions to brush a particular tooth (and its gum area) about 5 times or so before moving on to the next.
- Brush as soon after meals as possible. Drugstores sell folding toothbrushes you can carry in a pocket and use any time.
- Choose the right toothpaste. Toothpaste companies sell many different kinds of toothpaste they claim will “whiten the teeth," “stop plaque build-up,” “kill harmful bacteria,” and so forth. These usually contain additional chemicals or other ingredients that are not really any more effective than plain toothpaste. It's best to use a simple fluoride toothpaste that makes no special claims about what it can do for your teeth.
Avoid or Reduce Drinking Sugary Foods and Beverages
As previously mentioned, sugar-containing food and drinks are the favorite menu items of the bacteria that lead to tooth decay and gum disease. These bacteria are always present in our mouths to some extent, but they enjoy a population explosion when we continually treat them to sugary food and drinks.
If we’re really concerned about good oral health, we need to cut back a lot on sugar-containing soft drinks and sugary desserts. Reducing our total sugar intake will in addition help keep us from becoming overweight or diabetic.
We’ve already mentioned that natural saliva in the mouth helps rinse out and get rid of bacteria. But it’s difficult to maintain that “natural saliva” state just after we’ve eaten sugary food or downed a soft drink.
We can help correct this by drinking or gargling some plain water as soon as we can after eating a meal or having a soft drink. Getting into this habit will go a long way toward maintaining good conditions in our mouth between regular brushings.
Use an Effective Mouthwash
Regular teeth and gum brushing, and rinsing with water in between brushings, can be reinforced by using a good-quality mouthwash once or twice a day. Look for a mouthwash that contains no alcohol (which tends to dry out the mouth) and that lists other benefits such as "anti-bacterial" or "helps prevent cavities" on the label. Listerine Total Care Zero is a good choice, and you may find private drug store brands with the same general formula at a lower price.
Use Floss and Toothpicks Regularly
Dentists tell us that we don’t need to floss all our teeth daily, just the ones we want to keep! Flossing once a day--day in and day out--is one of the best things we can do to prevent gum disease and avoid tooth loss. The floss:
- Gets in between the teeth to clean out small pieces of food
- Massages the gums in a way that teeth brushing cannot do by itself
In addition, it helps to use toothpicks after meals. Drugstores also carry small, toothpick-shaped brushes, for example, G.U.M. Soft-Picks. These are used like toothpicks but are even more effective than the wooden kind.
IT’S UP TO YOU!
Taking good care of your teeth and gums is not difficult, but it’s something you need to pay close attention to on a daily basis. The penalties for “letting things go” can be great. However, the rewards for following the specific steps described will be even greater. Best of luck to you in this effort!
Exercise: In addition to discussing important lifestyle issues related to gum disease and tooth loss, this section mentioned soft toothbrushes, simple fluoride toothpaste, mouthwash, and floss as specific weapons we can use in this effort. Which of these weapons do you use daily or almost daily? In view of the costs and problems of gum disease and tooth loss, do you think it would be worth your while to regularly use all four?