1. It’s Not All About the Toothbrush
Oh, sure, a toothbrush and a strand of floss wielded often and wisely will do wonders for your teeth. You should use both.
But your teeth’s first line of defence against what you put in your mouth is something that’s already there, saliva.
Tooth decay is usually caused by bacteria that feed on sugars from food and drinks. That bacteria — called plaque — can stick to your teeth, producing acids that can eat through the enamel on your teeth. Saliva, that trusty old friend, helps rinse out your mouth and neutralize that process.
If you have a dry mouth, getting the same result could be tough. “The buffering effects of saliva, the ability of saliva to counter the bad effects of sugar,” says Howard Pollick, a San Francisco based dentist and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, “[means] if you don’t have enough saliva, [you have] a real problem.”
People who take lots of medications can be especially susceptible to dry mouth and possible tooth decay. Pollick says he carries sugar-free mints around with him. “That’s what I pop in my mouth when my mouth feels dry or I can’t get a snack and I want something,” Pollick says. “That’s what I recommend.”
Another good choice: Keep a bottle of water handy. It’ll do your teeth some good.
2. Snacking and sipping may be hurting your teeth.
Worse than a big old piece of chocolate cake after dinner or that mid-afternoon Snickers break is the non-stop snack-snack-snacking or sip-sip-sipping that goes on in offices and schools across America. “It’s not just how much sugar or starch we eat,” Harms says. “It’s how you eat.”
3. Yes, you can get too much fluoride, but…
The naturally occurring mineral fluoride can help prevent tooth decay. That’s not disputed.
How much fluoride is too much is the question.
4. Toothpaste should be spat out, but not necessarily rinsed away.
Other than just being awfully gross, if you (or a kid in the house) makes a habit of swallowing toothpaste, you (or that kid) stand a chance of getting too much fluoride. As the tube says, don’t swallow.
But, Pollick says, it’s not necessary to rinse afterwards. He says you can rinse, but the longer the fluoride stays in contact with your teeth, the more effective it can be in preventing tooth decay.
The idea behind not rinsing is the same as it is for in-office treatments where dentists apply a fluoride-rich gel, paste, or “varnish” to teeth and often let it sit for approximately 30 minutes. Some people at higher risk can undergo these treatments several times a year. Doctors also can prescribe high-fluoride toothpaste or rinses.
5. Your teeth can be an indicator of your overall health.
Many children and adults suffer from gum disease, whether it is simply gingivitis or a more advanced stage of periodontal disease.
That’s a problem, because tooth decay and other infections in the mouth may be associated with health problems such as heart disease, and diabetes.
“Oral health is an integral part of overall health,” Harms says. “What people don’t realize is that people who have higher levels of gum disease also may have a higher level of heart disease.” They also, she says, have a higher rate of low birthweight babies and premature births.
One group of people who have higher levels of gum disease, Harms says, are people who have diabetes.
“I think people need to realize that the bacteria and the inflammation associated with your body fighting the bacteria can have an effect in other areas of the body. We don’t quite understand all of this yet. But we know there’s a link.”