I went to the dentist yesterday, which really got me thinking about my oral health. For the first time, my dentist explained everything she was doing and why. She also showed me exactly how to brush my teeth. Has anyone else ever had a dentist like this? Because I sure haven’t! If dentist appointments had always been like this, I wouldn’t dread them!
Because I need to be honest. I didn’t really get serious about taking care of my teeth until about a year ago. I would brush my teeth every morning, because I felt gross if I didn’t. But a lot of time I would forget to brush my teeth in the evening. And flossing? Forget about it.
Last summer, I got on this huge kick of loving and taking care of myself. And I realized that the haphazard way I was taking care of my teeth needed to change. I didn’t have any evidence to back it up except what I always heard when I was growing up – take care of your teeth! So after my dentist appointment, I looked it up. And now I’m writing it in a blog post for you.
Why Your Oral Health Matters
What does the health of your mouth have to do with your overall health? You’d be surprised how much it matters. Doctors can actually take a look inside and get a good idea about what’s going on inside your body. And a swab of saliva can tell them a lot. In fact, researchers can learn a lot from your saliva, as well. I learned this first-hand in my Anthropology Master’s program!
My thesis was on the stress response of southern women with tattoos. I was surprised to learn that one helpful tool in measuring stress is saliva. In fact, many researchers who study stress take saliva samples in order to measure cortisol levels. I took saliva samples to measure immunoglobulin A. That’s becoming more popular in stress studies, as well.
So what does saliva have to do with our bodies? Well, saliva is one of your body’s first lines of defense against anything that carries a disease, This could mean bacteria and viruses. Or it can mean viruses like the common cold and HIV. Saliva has antibodies that can attack these things.
But sometimes your saliva doesn’t cut it. Not to gross you out or anything, but more than 700 species of bacteria thrive in your mouth at any given time. These bacteria form dental plaque — a sticky, colorless film that can cling to your teeth and cause health problems. If you don’t brush and floss regularly to keep your teeth clean, plaque can build up along your gumline, creating an environment for additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between your gums and your teeth. Health problems include, from less severe to most severe, gingivitis, periodontitis, and acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (trench mouth). Recent research even suggests that there may be an association between gum infections and diabetes, cardiovascular disease and preterm birth.
Have I convinced you how important it is to take care of your teeth and gums yet?
Steps to Improve Your Oral Health
I already said I didn’t always do a good job of taking care of my oral health. So if you’re like I was, I want to tell you how I changed my ways.
Improve your hygiene habits!
I didn’t brush or floss as much as I should have. So I decided to change that habit. I started a habit tracker and checked off the box every day that I brushed my teeth in both the morning ans evening, as well as when I flossed. I love checking things off of boxes. So every day, I would make sure that I brushed my teeth twice a day, and that I flossed in the evening. Just so I could check off those boxes. I finally got into the habit that way.
If that doesn’t work for you, figure out what does. Maybe you need someone else to hold you accountable? Maybe you need to know the science behind why it’s important before you can make a change? Do what you need to do!
Use the right tools.
I was just using a simple soft-bristled brush for a few months after I changed my dental habits. I didn’t think having an electronic one really mattered. On this latest trip to the dentist, though, she told me that an electronic toothbrush is much better. There’s no way we can make as many rotations in our mouth as an electric toothbrush can!
It’s also important to remember to change your toothbrush regularly. I’ve just discussed that your mouth is full of bacteria. Your toothbrush touches that bacteria twice a day, every day. So, it makes sense to think that it’s probably built up a lot of bacteria! Plus the bristles start getting frayed, which means it will be less effective at cleaning your teeth. So you should change it every three to six months. I recommend three months.
If you want to up your dental hygiene game, I highly recommend Quip. It’s a toothbrush subscription service that makes everything about your oral health easy. The sets come with an electric toothbrush, toothpaste, and a new toothbrush head delivered to your door every three months. The toothbrush itself buzzes every so often to tell you to move to another side of your mouth. That way you’re spending the ideal amount of time on each area of your mouth. The set also comes with instructions of the correct brushing form, so that you’re finally doing it correctly (I found out I wasn’t on this last trip to the dentist. Guess I should have paid attention to those instructions). My boyfriend and I have been using our Quip toothbrushes for about 3 months now, and we love them! Try Quip out for yourself!
Even if you have the right toothbrush and the perfect technique, though, it’s impossible to reach the plaque and food debris that lodge under the gum line between your teeth. Using dental floss makes your teeth cleaner, but it also stimulates gums, polishes tooth surfaces, prevents buildup of plaque, and reduces gum bleeding. There are different types of floss. Unwaxed, waxed, Polytetrafluoro-ethylene. I use the Listerine Gentle Gum Care, which is unwaxed. It also tastes delicious!
Now, should you brush or floss first? I didn’t even know this was a question to ask until last year. I used to floss after I brushed my teeth. Then some of my coworkers and I somehow got into this discussion about it. They said that they floss their teeth first. That way the bacteria is removed, which means your toothbrush can get rid of it easier. So I started doing it that way. I didn’t ask my dentist this time, but I don’t think it actually matters. Just as long as you’re doing a good job of both brushing and flossing! I’ll make sure to ask and make sure next time I go. 😉
Visit your dentist regularly for office exams and professional cleanings.
When I went to the dentist last week, she asked me about the last time I had my teeth professionally cleaned. I was embarrassed to admit that it was a year and a half ago. She laughed and said that there are people who say it’s been five years or more!
But, I guess I can’t judge. When I moved from Alabama to Los Angeles, I went quite a few years without going to the dentist. I’m telling you now: don’t do that!
My dentist explained during my visit that many of the tools they use in the dentist’s office are much stronger and more effective than what we can do every day by ourselves. That’s why we only go in so often – using those professional tools too much can be bad for your teeth. But it’s also really helpful to get bacteria completely cleaned off of your teeth at least twice a year. Even if it only lasts about 24 hours.
So, make sure you’re taking care of your oral health as much as your physical health! Doing so actually makes an impact on your overall health!
My question for you is: do you brush or floss first???