I wish that I could tell you that your smile is the most important thing in life, but it just wouldn’t be true. However, a healthy smile does make the more important things in life just that much better, so it is worth paying some serious attention to.
Smiling is just one of the very important things that we do with our teeth of course, so taking good care of them is important to our overall wellbeing. More and more physicians are seeing the condition of our mouths as an indicator of overall health; in fact there are a number of recent studies linking gingivitis to coronary disease. There is not necessarily a causal relationship between the two- gingivitis doesn’t cause heart trouble or vice versa, but there does seem to be a relationship. If you have one you are likely to have the other.
Tooth decay, or cavities, is the second most prevalent form of disease in the United States, only the common cold is more, um, common. Preventing colds can be very difficult, but cavities are very preventable. I am sure we all remember the “Look Ma, No Cavities!” TV commercials, but what were those ads really telling us? A cavity occurs when plaque, the sticky stuff that forms on our teeth because of the bacteria in our mouth, combines with sugars and starches in our food to form acids which damage tooth enamel. Enamel is the shiny white outer portion of the tooth that gives it strength and makes our smile attractive.
The process of getting a cavity sounds complicated, but that actually works in our favor. Complicated things can usually be defeated by simple measures, especially if we take the time to do them on a regular basis.
Mom Told You To Brush
And she was right! Brushing your teeth will do all of the things that the toothpaste makers promise in their commercials. The most important thing that brushing does is to remove the acid forming plaque from the teeth. The fluoride in toothpaste helps to make tooth enamel stronger so that it can resist decay, and the sharp flavoring in the paste will help freshen your breath (though not as much as simply having a clean mouth).
What your dentist will tell you that the toothpaste makers won’t is that you are probably using more toothpaste than you need to. On TV we see the spokes-model spreading a two inch long strip of toothpaste on her toothbrush. Most of that goo will wind up in the sink or swallowed. A dab of toothpaste about the size of a pea is plenty.
Read Between The Teeth
Brushing is our most important defense against cavities, but it won’t do the entire job. The space between the teeth is an attractive place for plaque acids to make their attack. Food particles get caught between the teeth and brushing can’t always remove it, so the plaque forming bacteria have plenty to eat. The cavities that form between teeth are particularly difficult; it is difficult to access between the teeth, so the dentist may have to remove more enamel to repair the cavity.
Flossing is the most effective way of preventing cavities between teeth. There are a number of alternative options on the market for reaching those spaces. They include very narrow brushes that reach between teeth, “Floss picks” that allow you to get floss between your teeth using a handle, and pressurized water jets.
Finally, be sure to check in with your dentist on a regular basis. He will check to be sure your teeth and gums are healthy, and give your teeth a good cleaning that will make your brushing and flossing more effective. But most of all, after you get out of the chair, thanks to your efforts at brushing and flossing, you can happily shout “Look Ma….”