A Who’s Who for Keeping Teeth Healthy
There has never been so much information on how to keep your smile healthy, but sometimes keeping track of everyone on the guest list can be overwhelming. Here’s a brief rundown to help you keep track of the regular guests at the party.
Toothbrush: The Life of the Party
There are so many available toothbrush types to choose from — angled necks, narrowed heads, staggered bristles — and each toothbrush has a style of its own. At the forefront of oral health for most partygoers, the toothbrush acts as the life of the dental hygiene party.
A few tips for choosing the right toothbrush style:
- Your toothbrush should bear the American Dental Association (ADA) stamp of approval (found on the package)
- It should be labeled "soft" and have round-ended bristles, which means it's sturdy enough to clean teeth and stimulate gums, but not scour them
- An electric toothbrush may help those who have difficulty brushing their teeth, although it's not proven to clean better than a regular toothbrush
- Remember, your toothbrush gets worn out — replace it every two to three months, as well as after colds, so that it’s ready to keep partying
Toothpaste: The Wingman
As the standard sidekick to your toothbrush, toothpaste contains ingredients that form a powerful defense against oral health party crashers. Designed to clean and polish teeth, abrasives including silica, alumina, calcium or low levels of baking soda are found in this trusty toothbrush tagalong. If a paste is too abrasive, however, it may damage teeth, creating a place for bacteria to accumulate.
While plaque can be brushed away, toothpaste manufacturers must prove to the ADA that their paste prevents bad company — such as gingivitis — in order to make a claim that it fights plaque. Tartar, on the other hand, can only be removed by a professional bouncer, a.k.a. your dentist. Tartar-control toothpastes won't defeat existing tartar, but do help prevent further buildup.
Whitening agents in some toothpaste may brighten your teeth, but be aware of the effects of hydrogen peroxide, the active ingredient in many whiteners. Overuse can damage gums or tooth enamel. Talk to your dentist before whitening.
Fluoride: The Wallflower
Fluoride often takes a backseat to its more prominent toothbrush and toothpaste friends, but it’s still an important party guest. Fluoride helps teeth retain calcium, keeping them strong and slowing the production of acids that attack teeth. More people today are drinking bottled water or using in-home filtration systems, both of which reduce your fluoride intake. To bring fluoride back into the oral health limelight, use fluoride toothpaste and consider using a fluoride mouth rinse.
Floss: The Helper
Waxed, unwaxed, plain, mint, cinnamon — which floss you choose is up to you — but DO use it! As long as you use it correctly and regularly remove anything between your teeth, flossing can help prevent gum disease and oral decay, keeping your smile ready for a night out on the town. And if plain floss doesn’t spark your interest, try floss holders or specially designed floss picks, which can help make flossing easier.
Plaque: The Bully
Your most annoying party guest is plaque — the sticky, colorless film that builds up on your teeth every day. Because it's invisible, you should periodically use what's known as a "disclosing solution" to see if you are brushing and flossing effectively. Swish the solution around in your mouth, spit, then rinse with water. The color stays on your teeth where plaque exists, appearing darker where plaque is thickest. Make your own disclosing solution by mixing two drops of blue or green food coloring with two teaspoons of water. Kick plaque out the door by practicing good brushing habits and flossing daily.
Tartar: The Clinger
Left untreated, plaque eventually makes way for tartar — the hard deposit on your teeth that only a dentist can remove. It’s plaque’s closest pal and develops over time as plaque combines with the minerals in saliva.
Decay: The Boor
The late arrival and unwelcome successor to plaque and tartar is decay. When you eat, the bacteria in plaque transform sugars and starches in food to acids. Each time acid is produced, it attacks the tooth enamel for about 20 minutes. If plaque and tartar are not removed regularly, the enamel breaks down, and teeth eventually decay. Left untreated, decay reaches the tooth pulp and forms an abscess at the root end (usually causing tremendous pain). At this stage, a root canal or extraction is necessary, and the oral health party has officially been crashed.
Diet: The “Frenemy”
Diet is a frenemy of sorts — it depends on the types of foods you eat, how often and the length of time the foods remain in your mouth. Like most people, you probably eat your share of sugar-laden snacks and drinks. Sugar in any form is always a party faux pas.
Other foods to avoid:
- Starchy foods are also suspect and should be eaten only as part of a meal.
- Foods such as raisins and other dried fruits tend to stick to the teeth, inviting acid production.
- Acidic foods — such as pickles, lemons and orange juice — can harm tooth enamel if in contact for too long or too frequently with teeth.
- Hard candies, breath mints and cough drops stay in the mouth longer than other foods, and the sugar invites the production of harmful bacteria that can cause gum disease and cavities.
The good news is some foods may actually help kick out tooth decay, and those are the foods that should definitely be invited for some fun. Research has shown peanuts and dairy products — such as aged cheddar, Swiss and Monterey jack cheeses — may actually inhibit or neutralize the acids that cause cavities1, proving to be good choices for party snacks. And water, hands down, is the best choice of all. Not only does it have a neutral pH and no sugar, but drinking water frequently will help to rinse out food particles and the harmful bacteria that can cause problems.
Now that you know whom to invite to the party, it’s time to play your part in maintaining a healthy smile.
1 Academy of General Dentistry, (2012). How does what I eat affect my oral health? Retrieved from: www.knowyourteeth.com
The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.