As a dentist and oral surgeon, my favorite part of my job is educating patients about their oral health. Unfortunately, I don’t always get to spend as much time as I'd like answering questions. That's why I'd like to share the eight most important things I wish everyone knew about their dental health:
1. Consistently bleeding gums are not normal - If your arm were bleeding every day, you’d likely do something about it, right? The same should go for your gums! Bleeding gums can be a sign of gingivitis, or inflammation of the gum tissue due to a buildup of plaque. The good news is that mild gingivitis is quite quickly reversible with consistent brushing and flossing.
2. You're probably brushing too hard - Most of us aren’t mindful when we’re brushing; we’re mentally in our first meeting or wishing we were still asleep. And this can cause us to scrub back and forth really hard to get that “clean feeling” and ditch the brush after about 40 seconds (the average brushing time) because we’re already late! In the short term this can contribute to bleeding gums, and in the long term, cause the gums to recede permanently. For most people, a simple technique of angling the brush at the gum line and brushing away from the gums thoroughly but gently. Brush up on the bottom teeth, down on the top teeth and back and forth on the biting surfaces (there’s no gum tissue to damage there). It only takes two minutes!
3. You could be sensitive to the chemicals in toothpaste - These days, our toothpastes can be filled with lots of different chemicals that our bodies don’t react well to. The most common sign of this that I see is something called mucosal sloughing, where the inside lining of our cheeks and lips starts to peel off. This is due to a very mild chemical burn, and it's your body’s way of trying to get rid of it. Most patients don't even know it's happening (it’s not painful unless the reaction is very strong and you have a burning sensation). If you tend to be more sensitive to chemicals (or just want to avoid them!), I recommend finding a more natural toothpaste that works for you.
4. Hormones can have a big effect on your gums - Most women don't know that pregnancy and their monthly cycles can have a big impact on gingival tissue. It most cases, it causes increased bleeding. While this isn’t a major concern and generally returns to normal after breastfeeding stops or you begin a new phase of your menstrual cycle, flossing can help keep the inflammation to a minimum.
5. Lemon water may be ruining your enamel - Most of us healthy eaters swear by the benefits of drinking lemon water. But while it certainly can be a healthy choice, it’s important to know that lemons and other acidic fruits can have a harmful effect on your enamel. Avoid brushing until 30 minutes after you’ve eaten something acidic, as the enamel is already weakened and is susceptible to more harm through brushing. Keep the lemon water to first thing in the morning only, and try to eat fruits fairly quickly or with a meal to lessen the acid exposure time.
6. Medications can have a significant impact on your dental health - With prescription medications on the rise, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to suffer with dry mouth. Studies have shown that salivary flow may decrease 50% before you become aware of it — and this decrease can wreak havoc on your oral health. Decreased salivary flow means plaque is not being washed away, contributing to gingivitis. The healthy minerals in your saliva also aren’t available to remineralize the teeth, thus leaving them susceptible to cavities. Be sure to drink lots of water throughout the day. If you find it impacting your daily life, there are saliva substitutes on the market (not as unappealing as they may sound!) that can dramatically improve your daily life.
7. Your teeth can tell you a lot about your overall health - One of my professors used to say that “people divorce their head from their body” — meaning they don’t believe their oral health has any impact on their overall well-being. But there is substantial research that correlates oral and systemic health. For example, did you know that if you have diabetes you are three times more likely to get periodontal disease? Evidence has also shown that the first signs of diabetes are often in the mouth.
8. Small changes can make a big impact - Most people apologize for “not flossing as much as they should." I always hear “I start off great after I see you and then …” People feel as though if they miss a day, a week, or two months, what’s the point?
Here's what dentists say: Start where you are. Every little bit helps. You don't have to wait until your next dental appointment to start over! Fit it in whenever you can. For example, I prefer to floss right after I eat dinner because yes, I get tired too. The bottom line: Awareness is the first step in any positive change. And if you have specific questions about your oral health, always see a licensed dental professional for help.