The importance of a healthy mouth and good hygiene!
Written by Staci Whitman, D.M.D.
We are learning more and more about how critical our oral health is for our overall health and wellness. Good oral health can reduce inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzhemer’s, and allow us to chew and eat more comfortably, speak properly, and show off our beautiful smiles. Oral health needs to be an essential part of our daily lives.
Floss is BOSS
Flossing is vital for good dental health and SUPER important for healthy teeth and gums:
Flossing more than once per week significantly lowers your risk of gum disease, and as a result, inflammation. If your gums bleed, that is a warning sign that they are not as healthy as they should be.
Flossing clears debris and microbes from spaces between teeth where your toothbrush doesn’t reach. If you only brush your teeth, you are only cleaning 60% of your mouth, leaving 40% of tooth surfaces vulnerable to decay and disease.
Without getting food particles out from between your teeth, these very susceptible spots may demineralize and develop tooth decay. It is most common to find cavities due to lack of flossing (in between teeth) and not lack of brushing.
Floss really is the boss. If forced to bring only a toothbrush or floss to a desert island, ALWAYS pick floss. That is not to say to ignore brushing, but rather to prioritize daily flossing, ideally at night. Try flossing in the car on your way to school, while reading books or doing homework, in the shower or tub, or while chilling out and watching a show after homework at night. It doesn’t matter where you do it, but your body and mouth will thank you if you prioritize this every day.
Mouth Self Exam
As mentioned before, the best way to assess your gum and dental health is to do a check-in every day. Some tips for self-assessing your oral health include:
Check your tongue. Is it pink, bright, and healthy? Or is it covered with a white coating and dull. This can mean you have a bit of dysbiosis or microbiome imbalance. Try brushing your tongue or using a tongue scraper to remove bacteria from the tongue surface. You will immediately notice fresher breath and a better feeling in your mouth.
Do your gums bleed when you brush and/or floss? This is a sign of gum disease (gingivitis) and should not be ignored. The good news is that it is reversible if caught early. By simply brushing longer and more thoroughly, and flossing daily, it can be reversed in as little as 7-10 days!
Do you often have bad breath? This can be a sign of many things such as: untreated cavities, gingivitis, a coated tongue, or tonsillar stones. Improving oral hygiene and ensuring you are breathing through your nose, especially while you sleep, is key. If you feel you may have dental issues or you mouth-breathe, it is best to chat to your dentist or doctor to help strategize a plan to improve the problem.
Simple Mouth Care Routine
The body has a miraculously connected network that deserves some attention! It’s called the microbiome, and it’s what determines… well, pretty much everything about your health. A microbiome is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us.
There are 3-4 microbiomes in your body: gut, oral (mouth), skin, and vaginal. The gut microbiome houses around 70% of your immune system. The oral biome is the 2nd most diverse in your body. It not only affects your oral health but the health of your entire body.
6 Ways to Support your Oral Microbiome:
#1 – Tongue scraping
Scraping the bacteria from your tongue allows good bacteria a chance to proliferate. Use an actual tongue scraper, not just your toothbrush.
#2 – Reduce sugary & acidic foods
Pathogenic bacteria (the kind that cause inflammation and infection) overgrow when they eat sugar, especially in an acidic environment. Simply cutting back on your intake of sugary and acidic foods will make a big difference.
#3 – Avoid too much mouthwash!
Alcohol can dry out the mouth, and many mouth rinses and antibacterial mouth rinses can kill all the good AND bad bacteria in your mouth at once. It’s better to feed the good bacteria in the mouth rather than destroy the whole ecosystem.
#4 – Oil Pull
You can oil pull for even a few minutes to reap the benefits of increased hydration, a boosted microbiome, and gentle bacteria removal. Bonus: it helps to reduce inflammation in the mouth!
#5 – Probiotics
Probiotics for your MOUTH, that is! @hyperbiotics makes a great chewable oral probiotic that helps restore healthy commensal bacteria (the kind that helps fight oral problems). Oral probiotics are also known for helping reduce the risk of certain respiratory concerns, especially in children. You may also want to eat fermented foods with natural, healthy bacteria, which are often high in vitamin K2 as well (a cavity-fighting nutrient).
What does your mouth have to do with your overall health? Turns out, quite a lot. Many chronic health conditions can be linked back to the mouth, and you can see signs of other issues starting out in your teeth and gums. Caring for your teeth, gums, and tongue can prevent bacterial imbalance and gum disease, conditions which can affect the rest of your body.
Let’s examine some issues that show up in the mouth:
An unbalanced microbiome. Bad bacteria running wild can cause a host of issues. The balance of bacteria in your mouth (and gut) is a key factor in protecting against tooth decay and gum issues.
The gum pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis has been tied to rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and a growing link between this condition and oral health is being discovered.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can manifest in gum disease.
Diabetes. This insulin-related condition can affect the body’s ability to fight off infections, leading to a higher likelihood of severe gum disease.
Cavities happen, sometimes for even the most health conscious people. A cavity is the result of demineralization of the tooth. So naturally you’ll want to counteract this (remineralize the tooth) to “heal” the tooth and hopefully eliminate the need for a traditional filling. The key is to catch the cavity EARLY, by going to the dentist regularly and keeping a few helpful tips in mind…
Eat a colorful, nutrient-dense diet of mostly whole foods. 🌈
Add hydroxyapatite products to your oral care routine. 👍
Floss, floss, floss! 😁
Ensure you are breathing through your nose during the day and at night.
We often think of oral health as completely separate from our doctor’s appointments and other preventative health care. However, the body and the mouth are tied in more ways than many people realize. Left unchecked, oral conditions may become larger infections, and dental issues may be clues to bigger problems. This is just one more reason to never skip your 6-month appointments and to practice preventative oral care along with diet and airway health!
There are lots of styles and types of orthodontics now, from Phase I treatment (early intervention) where we are trying to help your jaws and face grow, to Phase II treatment where we are getting teeth lined up and fitting together better. Many orthodontists can offer various ways to help such as: removable retainers and Invisalign aligners, bonded or fixed retainers that do not come out (these are nice as they cannot be lost and generally can work faster), appliances you wear only at night, and traditional braces brackets and wires (metal or ceramic).
It is not recommended to use any do-it-at-home braces like you can now buy online or at many malls. These can cause MAJOR issues and have terrible and sad outcomes for those who have taken this route. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Always talk to your dentist and/or orthodontist about options that are best for you and your family and don’t be afraid to share your wants and needs. They are here to help YOU!
Foods to Eat & Foods to Avoid
One thing many people don’t realize is how snacking and grazing on foods can really increase cavity-risk. Every time we eat our mouth becomes acidic and this can weaken and damage our enamel. If we allow time in between eating sessions, our saliva can help to naturally remineralize our teeth with all the good calcium, phosphorus, and ions within it. So try to eat on a schedule, ideally every 2-3 hours and with plain water in between, for the ultimate protection to your teeth.
Also, try to reduce sticky foods like candies, sticky gums, pretzels, chips, and crackers. Not only can some of these foods decay or damage our teeth, sealants, fillings, or orthodontic appliances, some of these common snacks we eat actually contribute to enamel erosion and cavities.
Try to “Eat the Rainbow” every day. In other words, eat as many whole fruits and veggies as you can. Many common snack foods are not ideal for teeth.
Chips, crackers, and pretzels… what specifically makes these crunchy gems so concerning?
These foods are high in starchy carbohydrates which break down in our mouths a lot like sugar.
These foods are sticky and often coat teeth, getting wedged down between our teeth and stuck in the grooves of our back molars.
These foods are easy to graze upon due to the chemical nature of the food themselves, leaving us wanting more. Also, the ease of grabbing a handful out of a bag or box, here and there, until we have consumed a large quantity over a long period of time keeps our mouths in a constant state of acidity, adding to cavity-risk.
Starchy carb foods like these can act VERY similarly to candy, and can be a significant contributor to the cavity epidemic in young children globally.
More tooth-friendly snacks include:
fruits and veggies
meat sticks and deli meats
tofu and tempeh
nuts and seeds
The hunt never ends for snacks with cleaner and healthier ingredients!
Also, please take care with drinks like juices, sodas, sports drinks, coffee drinks with lots of added sugar and syrups, and even kombucha. Most of these are not only high in sugar, but are also fairly acidic, and can easily damage teeth. These drinks are usually consumed every day or sipped all day long. Try plain water with added berries or cucumber slices, or sparkling water (only occasionally as this is acidic!) and save other drinks for special occasions.
Dr. Staci’s Top Mouth Care FAQs
There are so many questions young people ask about mouth care. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and some tips!
2. Any flossing tips? You can do it almost anywhere as long as you do it: shower, bath, car, in bed reading, watching TV, doing homework.
3. How can I prevent cold sores? Cold sores can be due to sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpaste, so I often suggest getting an SLS free toothpaste first. Cold sores can come on due to stress, a weakened immune system, exposure to hot sun, cold, wind, and even from a cold or illness. Also, it can be a sign of gluten sensitivity, but talk to your doctor first before eliminating anything from your diet. Ways to prevent cold sores include limiting your stress — do your best to find time to ground yourself, relax, and breathe. Wearing a protective SPF lip balm, keeping yourself healthy, taking vitamins to help with immune support, and the use of Lysine may also assist with prevention.
4. How do I get rid of bad breath? See answers above: floss, tongue scrape, and/or oil pull! Bad breath can be caused by not brushing or flossing, from an infection in the mouth (see dentist), or from tonsil stones.
5. How do I whiten my teeth? Oil pull with coconut oil, charcoal toothpaste, Lumineau Whites Strips, or Bite Whitening Gel are some of my faves, but if you want REALLY white teeth, talk to your dentist about custom trays. It is best done when you are an older teen or have no more baby teeth.
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