As we say goodbye to 2011 and usher in a New Year, many people’s resolutions will include items with the goal of improving their general health (eg. Promise to exercise more often, eating healthier foods, etc…). Well, if your wish is to be healthier overall, an important area to focus on is your oral health. Research studies have shown that poor oral health can have negative effects on the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and pregnancy. So let’s start the year off right by also focussing on oral health as it will improve general health as well! Here are a few suggestions to add to your New Year’s resolution:
1) Floss daily – This is probably one of the most neglected areas in personal oral hygiene. Brushing your teeth alone is not enough to remove all the plaque that builds up on the teeth over the course of a day, because the toothbrush bristles do not reach between the teeth and below the gumline. With a little bit of effort and practice, incorporating daily flossing into your routine will improve the health of gums and reduce inflammation in the mouth that is linked to the many diseases listed above. Indeed, there are many tools and cleaning aids in the market like stimudents, sulcabrushes, and flosspicks, but nothing is more effective to clean under the gumline than plain old waxed floss. This is one of the rare cases where ‘cheaper’ is actually ‘better’ – no need to buy expensive tools or cleaning aids when floss will do the job perfectly.
2) Minimize the sugars in your diet – This almost falls in line with the common “Eating healthier” resolution that most people add to their lists, but it’s more specific and has a direct impact on the health of your teeth (and again general health). Not only will reducing sugar intake help to decrease plaque buildup on teeth and therefore cavity formation, it also helps to prevent the development of Type II diabetes. For those with a sweet tooth, a good way to cut back on sugars is to buy foods with sugar subsititutes (such as aspartame). Since these sugar substitutes are not metabolized by bacteria in the mouth, they do not contribute to the formation of acid by-products that cause cavities. If you are used to adding honey to your tea or sugar to your coffee, try using a non-sugar sweetener such as Nutrasweet or Splenda. Your teeth will thank you!
3) Chew sugarless gum – With all of our busy schedules, it can be difficult to find the time to squeeze in afternoon brushing after lunch or a snack. So if you’re pressed for time, try getting into the habit of chewing sugarless gum (which often contains non-sugar sweeteners such as xylitol or mannitol) after a meal – it’s no substitute for brushing, but it’s better than nothing. The chewing action generates saliva flow which will help clean plaque and unwanted sugars from your last meal off the teeth (and freshens your breath!). Less plaque equates to healther gums and less chance of cavity formation.
4) Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride – One of the simplest ways to prevent cavities and strengthen teeth is to ensure your toothpaste has fluoride. Teeth that are exposed to fluoride will absorb and incorporate the element into it’s chemical structure, which actually makes the tooth more resistant to decay. Fluoride also has the potential to reverse (or remineralize) small cavities that are just starting. The next time you are buying a toothpaste, just look for the Canadian Dental Association’s (CDA) seal of recognition like the one below, and you can be assured it will have a safe concentration of fluoride.
5) Visit your dentist at least on an annual basis – It is important to have an examination performed by your dentist on a regular basis to ensure small problems are detected early. As with anything, small problems are usually easier to deal with than big problems. Your dentist will not only check for cavities and the health of your gums, but also screen for oral cancer which can be fatal if not caught early on.
If you are already doing these five simple things, then give yourself a pat on the back and keep up the good work! If you’re not, then what are you waiting for?
Wishing everyone a very Happy and Healthy New Year!
– Dr. Michael Banh