Keepers at Home

Keepers at Home
August 15, 2019

It’s good to brush and floss!
Actually, it is VERY good!

Do you brush and floss? As a former Dental Hygienist, that was a question I generally didn’t have to ask when I looked in my patient’s mouth! Just like a cosmetologist can tell if that hair color is “yours” or from a bottle, and a momma can tell if her kid is lying, there are tell-tale signs of a sloppy brusher and non-flosser.

It has been said that oral health is a window into your total body health. Healthy teeth and gums are extremely important to the over-all health of our body. For sure, it’s better to have teeth to eat! It’s good to have teeth for that family photo. Good oral health is important for other serious reasons, too.

Every mouth has “normal” bacteria—some aid in digestion. This bacteria forms what is called plaque. It is a soft, sticky (often clear in color unless there is an abundance) film that contains millions of bacteria that cover the tooth surface. If not fully removed within a 24-hour period, it begins to accumulate and causes decay and periodontal disease. If you see blood when you brush, then you have an overabundance of plaque under the gum…and yes, already that is the first sign of gum disease called gingivitis. You will probably see red, swollen gums around teeth. Generally this area is sore to touch and often it is painful to have your teeth cleaned. If you thoroughly brush and floss those areas at this stage, it will hurt. Without full removal of the plaque, you’ll experience bad breath (or someone else will “experience” it!), often a bad taste, and eventually even loose teeth. I can “smell” gum disease—–it’s an overabundance of bacteria- and no matter where bacteria is in the body, it smells. This odor is different than from eating garlic or onions. It is a putrid smell.

There are some diseases that are very closely connected to bad oral hygiene or some diseases even cause more oral hygiene issues. Diabetics need to thoroughly clean their mouths. Because of their diabetes, inflammation (from plaque and tarter) can cause so many issues. According to studies, periodontal disease is often called the “sixth complication” of diabetes. Uncontrolled periodontal disease in a 2006 study showed a worse long-term control of blood sugar. Because diabetics are more prone to heart disease, oral health is very important, as poor oral health also contributes to cardiovascular issues.

There are several cardiovascular issues that arise when a mouth is not kept clean. With extra plaque and tartar (hardened plaque- removed only by a professional) the mouth is inundated with bacteria. An unhealthy mouth is directly related to an unhealthy heart. We always made a point of thoroughly educating any patient with a history of heart disease- to include heart attack, stroke, etc. There is a direct relationship between poor oral hygiene and cardiovascular issues. Bacteria causes inflammation, and inflammation is part of what causes heart disease.

Pregnancy can cause issues with oral health. Because of the extra hormones, a lady has to be very vigilant in keeping her mouth clean. I used to be able to “diagnose” a pregnancy….especially if a woman’s oral health was generally very good; all of a sudden I saw bleeding, swollen gums, or I smelled that familiar scent, etc. During pregnancy, the tissue almost “over-reacts” to the bacteria found in the mouth. It is super important at this time, to thoroughly clean your mouth.

After orthopedic surgeries- hip, knee, shoulders, etc.- your doctor will more than likely write a prescription for antibiotics prior to any dental treatments. Apparently, bacteria from the mouth, circulating in the blood stream, can actually deposit on the new “part” that you have had placed. It can cause the part to fail, because the area surrounding becomes infected. To me, this shows that having good oral hygiene is serious business.

There are many other “connections” to diseases and oral hygiene. Kidney disease, dementia, obesity, and other vascular diseases are just a few. Keeping your mouth healthy is an easy job and may prevent all sorts of “BIG DISEASES.” Studies show that over 50% of Americans have some form of gum disease. Think about that—–one of two!

So, how do you get the plaque off and how do you have a clean, healthy mouth? It’s not that hard.

First of all buy a soft, toothbrush- generally bristles of all one height seem best. One should get a new toothbrush every 3 months and if you experience a sickness- cold, flu, etc.-, toss your toothbrush and get a new one when you feel better. I like two toothbrushes- one for morning and one for evening. An electric toothbrush is a very good option. Apply a good tooth paste and here’s what to do: if you are using a manual brush, put the brush bristles on the area where the gum and tooth meet. (You are not only concerned about the tooth surface, but even more concerned about the area near the tooth where bacteria like to congregate.) Gently “scrub” that area using circular motions….count to 15 or so, move on to the next area and repeat. Yes, it takes a bit of time-2-3 minutes- to thoroughly clean the oral cavity. If you are using an electric toothbrush, put a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and place where the gum and the tooth meet. Although you don’t have to manually “brush,” make sure you allow the brush to be in contact with this area for the 15 seconds. If you see blood with either method of brushing, that’s a sign to be more diligent in that area. If it’s just plaque because you’ve been lazy or less diligent in thorough cleaning, in about a week of thorough brushing and flossing, there should be no bleeding. If the bleeding continues, then you have a build-up of calculus/tartar under the gum…and it will need to be professionally cleaned. Oral tissue is very responsive to thorough cleaning and actually heals very quickly. Keeping the teeth and gums clean means less decay, less gum disease, less major health issues and less cost at the dentist!

Flossing- if you have never done this before, it does take a little practice….but it isn’t difficult. Choose either unwaxed or waxed floss. Although some professionals say choose unwaxed…….if the little bit of wax on the floss encourages you to floss, I am all for that. Wrap 15-18 inches around the last two fingers of each hand. This allows the other fingers to control the floss and act as a fulcrum. Insert floss gently between two teeth and slowly move the floss up and down the tooth surface a couple times, lift the floss up and go down the other side of the tooth. Stay between the tooth and the gum. Don’t “jam” the floss and flatten the papilla between the teeth. Repeat around your mouth. I like to floss before I brush. But either way works. It’s also good to use a good mouth wash before all of this… reduces the amount of bacteria and leaves a refreshing feeling.

See your dentist twice a year. EVEN if you have great dental hygiene, there are other things that can happen—especially as we age. You might experience gum recession from grinding or aging and that can cause a different issue. Your dentist/dental hygienist will watch this. Teeth that have cracked or worn over the years might need a crown or other repair. It’s much easier and better for us to take care of what we have, rather than try to remedy issues later on in life. Dentures or going without teeth is not a good option. Do what you can for yourself and your children: BRUSH! FLOSS! SMILE!