Many moments in childhood stand out. . . the first time you rode a bike, a memorable fireworks show, that moment you realized that you probably shouldn’t have a crush on your cousin.
Okay, there are probably some moments you’d rather forget. But, the day you learned to brush your teeth is probably not one that made the photo album or journal collection.
Our teeth and tongue are a team of unsung heroes. They work for us constantly, chewing, swallowing, talking, and smiling. Caring for them isn’t glamorous work, but it is important. Not only do your pearly whites give you a more confident smile, but your teeth and tongue are also an integral part of speech. They are also the main pathway into your body for nutrients, bacteria, and a whole host of other stuff.
Speaking of bacteria, our mouths are full of them. Sure, that sounds gross, but it is a great thing. Good bacteria keep our bodies balanced. But there are bad guys out there and they can come in through your mouth too. If left unattended, they can multiply and cause plaque, cavities, and inflammation.
This doesn’t just spell trouble for your mouth, it can grow into bigger problems in the rest of your body. Plaque in your mouth can become an indicator for plaque in other places. And while plaque in your mouth might be unsightly, plaque in your arteries is downright dangerous.
Sometimes the childhood habits of brushing aren’t quite enough, or they are connected to habits that could be doing damage. Let’s take a look at five common mistakes that might be derailing your dental health.
Watch the Angle
Anyone that has ever played charades knows that the side-to-side motion is a universal sign for brushing teeth. The problem is, that’s not a great way to brush your teeth. At best, it is ineffective. At worst, it is abrasive.
For brushing, think Karate Kid: Wax On, Wax Off
Those circular motions are best for cleaning your teeth. Put your brush at a 30-45 degree angle and brush in gentle circles. Mr. Miyagi will be proud.
It isn’t exactly America’s greatest pastime, but flossing is incredibly important for those hard-working teeth. Far too many people skip this step or do it incorrectly. Brushing is great for the surfaces, but food and drink don’t stay on the surface, it explores the mouth and settles into the nooks and crannies. If left there, all those sugars and starches will break down your teeth. Flossing clears them out.
There are several options for flossing: traditional, waxed, disposable flossers, and water picks. Find what works for you. But, angles matter here too. Don’t just go up and down, keep the floss at an angle and pull the food out. Then use a new space on the floss for the next tooth. Luckily, you only have to floss once a day. You can do it.
You Are What You Eat
Everyone knows not to eat gummy bears before bed, but candy isn’t the only culprit that can damage your teeth. All simple starches, such as those found in highly processed foods (you guessed it, chips, sodas, ramen noodles) break down into sugar in your mouth. Your gums don’t care if the sugar came from a Snickers bar or a saltine cracker. Either way, they will cause problems if they visit too often and stay too long.
Nobody has a “perfect” diet. Water can go a long way in helping your teeth out when you splurge on some fun treats. Water is a washing machine for your mouth and can help rinse away cavity-causing sugars. Water is wonderful for the rest of your body as well. If you find yourself leaning heavily on sodas or juice for your daily beverages, try swapping out just one of those a day for some water and go from there. Your teeth and the rest of your body will thank you.
It isn’t just about what to avoid, some foods can help your mouth. Raw fruits and vegetables have vitamins and fiber, but the work of eating them also strengthens your teeth and cleans out your mouth. Try adding some raw fruits and veggies to a meal a few times a week to get started. Your teeth will be with you for (hopefully!) a long time. Every little healthy shift you make will pay off. It is about progress, not perfection. Just keep at it.
Check your water. Does it have fluoride? If you are on a well system, then the answer is probably “no.” Fluoride builds enamel, which is body armor for your mouth. This is especially crucial for children as their teeth are growing, but it can also help strengthen and protect adult teeth. Most kinds of toothpaste have fluoride, but if your preferred toothpaste is missing it, then you can find several options for mouthwashes and rinses that have fluoride.
Don’t be a Stranger. . to the Dentist
We all make mistakes. We forget to floss. We have a late-night sugar fest and don’t brush our teeth well. We drink soda instead of water.
The dentist is here for you. Far too often, we only go to the dentist when there is trouble. Regularly checking in twice a year means a solid cleaning and a professional set of eyes looking for any red flags or problem spots.
Plus, you usually can get a free toothbrush out of it.
You can get dental services with no insurance. You can find a walk-in dental clinic. There are even 24-hour emergency dentists near you. Find an option that works for you and your family and squeeze it in a couple of times a year. That preventative care will pay for itself in the money you’ll save by avoiding big problems down the road.
Life is full of memories and mistakes. It’s probably been a long time since you learned how to brush your teeth. Our mouth just keeps doing its job and it is easy to take it for granted. We often don’t realize how wonderful our teeth are until something goes wrong. Small improvements can keep things as wonderful as possible.