Not only do your teeth fill out your face and enable you to eat, they also help maintain the bone structure of your jaw. Your teeth are made of four types of tissue, but only the center, or pulp, is not hard. Inside the pulp are blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue that provide nutrients to the tooth.1
The outside of the tooth is called the enamel, which has no way to reverse damage from wear and tear (decay) since it contains no living cells. Your gums are responsible for protecting your roots as well as teeth that have not yet come in. Consistent brushing helps reduce the risk of getting cavities, which permanently damage tooth enamel.
Symptoms of cavities will depend on the depth and location of the decay.2 You might experience spontaneous pain without any apparent cause or find you have sensitivity to hot and cold drinks and foods. Although the enamel is hard it may develop small, diffuse cracks that disperse the stress on the tooth and help prevent it from breaking.
Taking care of your teeth is important since periodontitis — gum disease — can lead to significant health problems and difficulty eating.
The Importance of Proper Teeth Brushing Technique
Tooth decay is almost as pervasive3 as the common cold, in terms of how many people are affected by it. As the bacteria in your mouth dissolve food, a sticky substance called plaque is formed on your teeth. This happens more often on the back molars just above the gum line.
When it's allowed to stay, plaque forms tartar that ultimately results in gingivitis and leads to periodontitis. Plaque begins forming on the teeth in as little as 20 minutes after you've taken your last bite of a meal. Using proper brushing techniques and caring for your teeth reduces your risk of painful cavities and the need for dental procedures.
Brushing removes the plaque and only takes a couple of minutes each day. The American Dental Association (ADA)4 warns against these common mistakes:
Brushing hard — Using too much pressure on your teeth doesn’t clean off more plaque, but instead may damage your enamel.
Not brushing long enough — The average person spends 45 seconds brushing their teeth, but to do a good job you should brush for two minutes. This may feel like a long time when you’re in a rush, but for healthy teeth and gums, slow down to achieve the best results.
Using a hard bristle brush — Look for a brush with soft bristles to avoid damage to your teeth and gums that may cause sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks.
Using your toothbrush too long — If you’re keeping your toothbrush longer than three or four months, then you’re keeping it too long. Put a reminder on your calendar and watch for worn down bristles that tell you it’s time to replace it.
Brushing immediately after a meal — While you might be tempted to brush right after you eat, it’s wise to wait 30 minutes.
Storing your toothbrush improperly — Your toothbrush should be stored upright and open to air so it can dry completely. When a toothbrush is kept in a closed container it offers the opportunity for bacterial growth.
Focus on your brushing technique to get the most positive effect. The ADA recommends holding your brush at a 45-degree angle to the tooth and gum line. Move it in short strokes, using a gentle back and forth motion across one tooth at a time. To clean the backside of your upper teeth, hold the brush vertically and gently move it up and down.
Choose the Right Instruments
You have several options to help keep your teeth and gums clean. Many dentists recommend that their patients use electric toothbrushes for several reasons, including that many will brush longer with an electric toothbrush, which is small enough to get into hard-to-reach areas.
Researchers from the Cochrane Oral Health Group5 performed a review of the literature published in the years 1964 through 2011, including 56 studies with 5,068 participants. Most studies included adults who were offered the use of a power brush or manual toothbrush.
In more than half the studies, scientists found that the power brushes used a rotational action in which the brush rotated in one direction and then reversed. Their data supported the use of a power brush over a manual toothbrush as there was an 11% reduction in plaque in those using it over one to three months. After three months plaque reduced by 21%.
The participants also enjoyed a reduction in gingivitis, with a 6% reduction over one to three months and an 11% reduction at the end of three months. Any reported side effects were temporary and localized.
After a choice of brushing, you may also consider the addition of a water flosser, a device used to spray a powerful jet of water into your mouth. While many choose a water flosser over floss, your best option may be to learn how to use both.
Researchers enrolled 70 adults in a study designed to compare the effectiveness of using a water flosser to that of using floss in combination with a manual brush.6 Both groups were trained and watched while using the water flosser with a manual toothbrush, or floss and a manual brush. Those using the water flosser showed a 74.4% reduction in plaque throughout the mouth compared to 57.5% reduction in those who used floss.
They concluded that using “The Waterpik Water Flosser and manual toothbrush is significantly more effective than a manual brush and string floss in removing plaque from tooth surfaces.” However, while traveling it may not be practical to bring an electric water flosser, so being adept at using string floss is important.
Steer Clear of Fluoride Toothpaste
Fluoride has been added to water supplies in most cities and to many store-bought toothpaste brands. Your dentist may offer a fluoride treatment as an option to help stop cavities and tooth decay. However, scientific evidence demonstrates this is likely not effective and may be dangerous.
Data from 2017 indicate that unfortunately, cavity rates in children have continued to rise even though more than half are getting so much fluoride that their teeth are permanently discolored from the exposure.7
Swallowing fluoride, including that which comes from fluoridated tap water, is detrimental to health as it is a toxin that accumulates in tissue, changing your enzymes and producing serious neurological and endocrine dysfunction. Children are especially vulnerable.8
If you have young children at home, it’s recommended that you use non-fluoride toothpaste or teach children to use homemade toothpaste made with coconut oil. Since fluoride builds up over time, it’s a good idea to also use a non-fluoride toothpaste or coconut oil to clean your teeth and gums.
Research presented at the 2017 National Oral Health Conference showed that from 2011 to 2012, 57% of U.S. youth had dental fluorosis;9 this is a 37% increase over that reported from 1999 to 2004. Dental fluorosis is a condition in which the enamel becomes progressively discolored and mottled, usually caused by excessive fluoride in the water.
Analysis of the same data by the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) showed that 58.3% of adolescents had fluorosis: 21.2% were moderately affected and 2% had a severe form of the condition.10
Researchers have linked fluorosis in children with cognitive impairment; those with higher levels of fluorosis have more cavities. Results from some studies11 show that lower IQ scores may result from fluoride exposure and may co-occur with fluorosis.
Periodontal Disease May Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease
Research from the CDC shows that nearly half of all American adults ages 30 and older have periodontal disease.12 They estimate 47.2% have mild, moderate or severe forms of the disease. In those who are 65 or older, the rate increases to 70.1%.
The authors of several studies have produced data that links periodontal disease with heart disease. The studies have not demonstrated a cause-and-effect relationship but an association between gum disease and an increased risk of heart disease that may be related to an increase in inflammation.13
Those who have heart valve disease may be at higher risk when they also have periodontal disease because bacteria in the mouth can make its way through the body and infect the heart valves.14
Oil Pulling Is a Simple Strategy for a Healthy Mouth
One simple strategy for improving your oral health is incorporating oil pulling into your daily routine. The history of pulling dates back nearly 3,000 years, used in traditional Indian folk medicine to strengthen teeth and gums and prevent tooth decay, bad breath and bleeding gums.15
I have used pulling consistently since 2011 and find it is an effective method for mechanical cleaning among the small crevices where the bristles of the brush cannot reach. Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is my choice for a couple of reasons. Researchers have demonstrated that pulling oil improves the saponification, or breakdown of bacterial membranes.16
Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid found to inhibit Streptococcus mutans, the primary bacteria responsible for cavities.17 It also offers a level of protection against yeast infections in the mouth, which occur more commonly if the immune system is compromised.
The process is easy to start. Coconut oil is solid below 76 degrees Fahrenheit (24.4 degrees Celsius) but quickly liquifies once it's in your mouth. Take between a teaspoon and tablespoon to start. Swish it around using your tongue and cheeks to pull it through your teeth. Try to relax your jaw muscles to avoid fatigue.
You do not want to gargle or swallow the oil that you've been pulling as it breaks down bacteria. Instead, if you feel the urge to swallow, spit it out in the garbage and begin again.
After about 20 minutes it begins to get thick and milky white. Spit this into the garbage can so it does not cause a blockage in the plumbing. This strategy increases the pH in your mouth, which can potentially reduce bacterial growth.
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