Window to body
It’s said that the eyes are the window to the soul, but the mouth is the window to the body. More specifically, to a healthy body. Signs of nutritional deficiencies or infections often first appear in the mouth. Signs of systemic diseases, which affect the entire body, often become apparent due to mouth lesions or other oral problems. Dental caries, also called tooth decay, are one of the most chronic conditions in the United States and the number one childhood disease. By age 34, more than 80 percent of people have had at least one cavity. More than 40 percent of adults have felt pain in their mouth in the last year. Left untreated, tooth decay can lead to an abscess around or under the gums which can spread to other parts of the body and have serious results. On average, the nation spends more than $113 billion a year on costs related to dental care. More than $6 billion of productivity is lost each year because people miss work to get dental care.
Best way to brush
Quick, run your tongue over your teeth. Unless you just brushed, you likely are feeling a sticky layer of material on your teeth called plaque. When plaque stays on your teeth too long, it can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Dr. Melissa Efurd, chairman of the UAMS Department of Dental Hygiene, says the best way to remove plaque is by brushing your teeth at least twice a day. Be sure to use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a toothpaste with fluoride, a mineral that protects your teeth from decay. Dr. Efurd says the best way to brush is by making circles, using short, back-and-forth strokes. Spend about two minutes doing this every time you brush. Take the time to brush gently along the gum line, and don’t forget to brush your tongue. There are a number of crevices and elevations on the tongue where bacteria can hide unless it’s removed. These bacteria can lead to bad breath and even tooth damage so it’s important to remove them by brushing.
Remember to floss
The importance of flossing your teeth has been the subject of debate in recent years, with some questioning its benefits. The American Dental Association recommends cleaning between your teeth once a day. A toothbrush cleans the tops and sides of your teeth. Dental floss cleans between them. Waxed floss might be easier to slide between tight teeth or tight restorations. Wide floss, or dental tape, may be helpful for people with a lot of bridge work. Tapes are usually recommended when the spaces between teeth are wide. They all clean and remove plaque about the same. Cleaning between your teeth helps remove plaque that contains bacteria that feeds on leftover food in your mouth. When that happens, it releases an acid that can eat away at the outer shell of the enamel and cause tooth decay. Plaque that is not removed by cleaning your teeth thoroughly can eventually harden into a rough substance called tartar that causes gum disease.
A mouth rinse, when used in addition to daily brushing and flossing, can increase the cleanliness of your mouth. Antimicrobial mouth rinses reduce bacteria and plaque activity, which cause gingivitis and gum disease. Fluoride mouth rinses also help prevent tooth decay. Always talk to your dentist about any new products you are interested in trying. Not everyone should use a fluoride mouth rinse. For instance, fluoride rinses are not recommended for children ages six or younger because they may swallow them. Always check the manufacturer’s label for precautions and talk with your dentist about the use of a fluoride rinse. And if you’re thinking of using a water pick, they’re not a good substitute for brushing or flossing. They are effective around orthodontic braces, which retain food in areas where a toothbrush cannot reach, and are often recommended for those with gum disease. However, they do not remove plaque.
What came first, the chicken or the egg? More importantly, what should you do first, brush or floss? As long as you do a thorough job, it doesn’t matter if you brush or floss first. What does matter, however, is the shape of your equipment. Always rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing. Store your toothbrush in an upright position and allow it to air dry until using it again. Try to keep it separate from other toothbrushes in the same holder to prevent cross-contamination. Don’t routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers, which can encourage the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. Invest in a new toothbrush or a replacement head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Regular cleaning and exams are the best way to prevent oral health problems. Most dentists recommend having your teeth professionally cleaned every six months.
Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.