Monday, May 4, 2009

Healthy Teeth

I spent about 4 hours in the dentist chair on Saturday and have a several more hours to go. I've always had unhealthy teeth. It seems like every check-up I had when I was growing up resulted in a reported cavity. I should have known that if I went a few years without a check-up that I'd be in for a doozy of a diagnosis when I came back.

My husband's teeth are just the opposite. He always gets perfect check-ups and goes years, even decades without seeing a dentist in between. It's not like he brushes or flosses any more than I do. I've asked dentists about this and have been told that some teeth just have stronger enamel. I think my children (all but one, anyway) got his genes with this. They are not avid brushers and always have perfect check-ups. The one who gets an occasional cavity also wears his molars down like I do -- *sigh*.

I'm determined to start with a clean slate after all this dental work is done. I want to be proactive, even if I do have weak enamel, and prevent any more decay.

Here's what I've gathered:

1. Flossing is truly essential. It's not optional. Most of my cavities are down in between my teeth where food gets trapped. If I were flossing daily, that food wouldn't have a chance to sit in there and cause problems.

2. Sugar is the enemy. No, I don't want to hear this. Of course I don't want to hear this. But it's true. Sugar is the cause of decay. Even unrefined sugar. (Flour isn't much better because it sticks to the teeth). The dentist told me that the poorest countries that don't have access to sugar have the cleanest teeth and the straightest teeth. (He attributed crooked teeth to our consumption of dairy, which leads to allergies and illness, mouth breathing, etc., and crooked teeth. This was unusual to hear from a dentist because most promote dairy consumption to get that calcium that no one seems to think is readily available in plant foods). Whole foods, especially vegetables are once again, what should be the bulk of our diet.

3. Eating meals is less harmful to teeth than snacking. Now, I'm a grazer and want to hold onto my right to snack as much as possible. But this is an interesting theory from a larger article on preventing tooth decay:

"Larger intervals between meals provide more opportunity for acid to be neutralized and more time for the acid damage to be repaired. Frequent snacks, however, provide for a constant acid attack and provide less time for tooth repair."

4. Brush at least twice a day. I know most people do this -- Brush morning and night. I would think if you're eating sugary foods (even fruit, smoothies, etc.), you should brush after that too. Any time the sugars can sit on or in between your teeth, that's a risk for bacterial growth and decay.

I remember in 5th grade, my teacher (Miss Oeding) told us that after you eat, you should brush within 20 minutes to get the food off of your teeth. I would run to the bathroom and say "But Miss Oeding said . . . " and it would drive my mom crazy (or at least that's my memory of it). It bugged her that if she told me to do something, maybe I would, maybe I'd forget. But whatever Miss Oeding told me, I did. I've seen the same with my kids :).

5. Drink lots of water. The water will rinse the food or whatever is in your mouth and will dilute the acid that's forming. This is beneficial to keeping your mouth clean and free of bacteria.

6. See your dentist often for a professional cleaning. The dentist told me that flossing can only get down so far into the gum line. Bacteria can develop lower than that line and can be cleaned out by a professional dental hygienist. I have deep pockets in my gum line, so I know that this is a risk for me. Even if you don't have dental insurance like me, paying between $70 and $150 for the cleaning isn't that much in the grand scheme of what you might pay later on if problems arise. Dental hygienists can also screen for oral cancer and help prevent gum disease.

From another online article: "If diagnosed early, gum disease can be treated and reversed. Gum disease is an infection in the gum tissues and bone that keep your teeth in place and is one of the leading causes of adult tooth loss. If treatment is not received, a more serious and advanced stage of gum disease may follow."

Now that I'm armed with knowledge, I am better able to keep my teeth healthy and strong. I'll let you know how I do at my next check-up.

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