Your Mouth

First graders from the Miner Normal School in ...

First graders from the Miner Normal School in Washington, D.C. brushing their teeth. Their teacher was Ada Hand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not uncommon to hear fitness experts exclaim:

“Exercise is something we should do everyday,

just like cleaning our teeth!”

You do clean your teeth everyday, don’t you? Do you go every six-months for regular oral health care or do you let it lapse for two years, like some of the people I’ve been casually interviewing of late? If so, this post is for you.

At first glance, cleaning our teeth doesn’t seem at all that complicated – you get a soft bristled toothbrush, some toothpaste, water and get brushing.

However, cleaning our teeth and taking care of our oral health may not be as straight forward as we’ve come to believe. Just like so many other things that seemed to work for us without much effort in our younger years. Boy, the things our bodies let us get away with…

The following is some information that I have been exploring about our oral health.

 Full disclosure – My friend Dr. Dana Colson recently published, Your Mouth: The Gateway to a Healthier You. When I lived in Toronto, I was Dana’s Personal Trainer over the course of a few years (in the 1990’s) and as a result of learning about her wellness-based dentistry practice, I became a patient. But this was over twelve years ago, just before I moved to Vancouver. I haven’t seen her in approximately twelve years and we just recently reconnected via email. I found myself thinking of her, so I dropped her a line. She replied almost immediately: “You’ve been on my mind too!”

As a gift, she sent me a copy of her book and within a day I had finished it. It is fantastic! She writes so clearly and without unnecessary jargon. I want to share this book with you because I think it contains so much valuable information. (When I found out that the proceeds from the sale of the book from her office are being donated to Free the Children, a charity from the Me to We group that helps children become educated throughout the world, I had to send a cheque.)

mouth

You may already be aware of the relationship between our mouth and our health; the dentist has been trained to pick up on subtle changes within the tissues of the mouth, which may represent a health concern, originating elsewhere in our system. I think Dr. Colson’s book can help us address many health issues that otherwise get overlooked or are treated with unnecessary pharmaceuticals when there may be a more natural alternative. Natural alternatives, for example, like simply being consistent with daily body maintenance. It’s free and anyone can do it.

One lesson in particular prompted me to do further investigation, because as I was redirecting my family on how to improve our oral hygiene protocol, I was unable to answer some basic questions.

The first thing that came up was:

Don’t brush your teeth immediately after acidic meals or acidic drinks – we should wait one to two hours. (Lisa, my hygienist feels confident that waiting 30 minutes after meals before cleaning teeth is sufficient.)

This was news to me. I had NEVER been told NOT to brush after acidic meals. In fact I had grown up with the opposite rule: Brush after meals, period, acidic or not. This really got to me, so I started asking everyone (yes, everyone!), if they knew this. Not one person did. (Granted, my grouping of ‘everyone’ was probably under fifteen people – but over the age of majority, but still that’s a lot of people who didn’t know!)

At first, I was unclear as to what would cause the damage:

  • the brushing action?
  • the toothpaste?
  • the fluoride in the toothpaste?

The reason to not brush after an acidic meal or drink is that the acidic food or drink actually softens the tooth enamel. The physical act of brushing teeth in this softened state can further erode their protective layer. Who knew? Did you?

But what about after meals? It’s still a good idea to get the crud out, right? A 2005 review that appeared in the journal Oral Health & Preventive Dentistry concluded there was “no clear evidence as to the optimal time-point of tooth brushing [before or after meals].” Brushing may help remove food debris, but from a microbiology point of view, Palmer says, it might make sense to brush before you eat.

“Why get up with a mouth full of plaque that you’ve been growing overnight and then feed it breakfast?” she asks. “Why not get rid of the plaque first?”

To read this article in its entirety click here: Is Once Enough?

My hygienist, Lisa, has been telling me for years that brushing once a day is sufficient (at the end of the day – before bed), but I wouldn’t buy it. I had been so convinced that brushing after each meal was the way to go. I’m kind of like that about a lot of things…if some is good, then more must be better. So, I figured I would be doing myself a service by diligently brushing after meals AND snacks! But as I’m growing up, I am learning to fine-tune others common sense and come up with my own ‘sense’. I’m taking a better look at my habits and those of my kids and say, “If what we’re doing isn’t working, then doing more of it won’t work any better!”

A quick related side note.

As you know, I have been experimenting with Eat Right 4 Your Type and I have eliminated gluten, soy, corn, potato and dairy from my diet. It has been just over a year of being consistent with this approach. I feel great – my joints don’t ache and don’t show outward signs of inflammation.

The most interesting discovery to date has been that my teeth produce very little, if any calculus.

Calculus or tartar is the hardening and build up of plaque on the teeth, mostly found around the necks of the teeth (where the tooth meets at the gum line).

I used to produce a lot of calculus and at each six-month dental hygienist appointment the calculus would be scaled away.

Since changing the way I eat, my body is virtually not producing any calculus. I mentioned this to Dr. Colson. She said:

 “Perhaps your diet balances out your Calcium -Magnesium so there is no excess deposit in your system and thus less calculus (calcium deposit).  You may have hit BINGO!  If so it would reflect in less excess being deposited around the necks of your teeth.  I do not have the magic formula to control the Ca: Mg, [Calcium – Magnesium ratio] nor does dentistry.  It would be a great project [to analyze this correlation, it could be] life changing for millions!  I do think that less sticky carbs and increased flossing especially the latter can make a huge improvement. Dr. Hal Huggins says that he does not need scaling, as his body chemistry is so well balanced that he does not get deposits…. However balancing body chemistry is not an easy or general answer, and I am not aware of any dental studies on this. It’s good to talk about this quandary on why some people get a lot of calculus build up and others do not.”

Could it be possible that the combination of eliminating certain foods and because I drink water regularly throughout the day, and swish after meals, that I have been neutralizing the pH levels in my mouth? Not only is it important to think about having enough water in our mouth to neutralize acidity, but also to remember the role saliva plays in our oral health.

Saliva does more than just help us chew food–it protects teeth by preventing decay, regulating your mouth’s acidity level and keeping bacteria in your mouth from running rampant.

But when saliva is lacking, plaque builds, enamel erodes, cavities quickly form and fungal growth runs rampant.

“I don’t think that people realize the importance of saliva until the well runs dry,” said Ana Diaz-Arnold, DDS, University of Iowa professor of family dentistry. “Saliva is critical for your dental health.”

The following is the current protocol my family is experimenting with:

Upon Waking:

To eliminate the overnight bacterial growth – Brush teeth gently (with a very soft bristled tooth-brush) with a small amount of toothpaste first thing upon waking each morning. Scrape tongue gently (3-4 times) with a metal tongue cleaner and floss teeth.

After Meals:

If acidic foods or juices consumed? Rinse and swish with water to neutralize the mouth. If there are food particles stuck on or between teeth then gently brush them away with toothbrush and water or floss them out.

If no acidic foods are consumed? Rinse and swish with water. If there are food particles stuck on or between the teeth, then gently brush them away with a toothbrush and water or floss them out.

Lisa says: “A vigorous rinse with water will dislodge most food in most mouths.”

Before Bed – To eliminate the build up of bacteria from the day:

Brush gently with a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Scrape tongue gently (3-4 times) with a metal tongue cleaner and floss teeth.

Baby carrots.

Mostly we rely on water throughout the day and usually end a meal or snack with a carrot! Eating a carrot at the end of a meal can help to neutralize the acids in the mouth. It is our “toothbrush” away from home. I send a little container with carrot sticks to school in my kids snack bags. They know that when they have their snacks they should finish with a little carrot then water.

“Science today is teaching us that the mouth is not a closed system, but one connected to the rest of our body. The health of our mouth is affected by the health of our body and vice versa. Gum disease is a bacterial infection in the mouth and the same bacteria can travel through the bloodstream and put our entire health at risk. When the health of our mouth deteriorates through decay or gum disease, it may put our general health in jeopardy, particularly if we have additional risk factors. By making this critical connection between what goes on in our mouth and the rest of our body, we are taking the first step toward optimal health.” – Dr. Dana Colson

We might consider how we go about cleaning our mouth. Do we approach our oral hygiene, as we would our exercise regime? Do we put off exercising until we have an entire hour to do a ‘meaningful’ workout? Do we wait till the end of the day and then brush vigorously, which only damages our gums? And perhaps only flossing the night before our dentist appointments? Oral health is definitely one thing that we can’t or shouldn’t put off till later.

A photo from 1899 showing the use of a toothbrush.

It all comes down to balance.

And so, similar to how I view exercise: be consistent with a little everyday. Simple. That way we stay on top of things by preventing a whole host of problems building up down the road.

If we develop a good daily habit of eliminating the bacteria that collects in our mouth and around our teeth, our breath will smell fresh, we may produce less calculus, we support our overall health and will have a nice home to house our teeth into old age.

I would love to hear how others from different countries take care of their oral health. Dentists and Hygienists please join the conversation.

To be continued…

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12 comments

  1. A couple of things come to mind after reading this. Firstly is the danger of Flouride. I live in Italy where most people use soap to brush their teeth or nothing at all and although the newer generations are now starting to use the floridated common household american brand name toothpaste, thanks to all the great advertising, we still do not have Flouride in our water. In fact when I moved away from London some years ago they were just starting to flouridate the water there. The reason for no flouride in Italy is simple. it is very dangerous, it causes brain disorders, it was used by Nazis to keep the Jewish population subdued whilst they headed to their deaths and it simple has no benifit to oral health. But still I see you, a person concerned with health of the entire body, posting that you should brush with flouridated tooth paste at least once a day and I wonder why you havent pointed out the danger of this poison. Perhaps you have never heard that flouride is a poison. Next time you come accross a box of rat poison flip it over and read the list of ingredients, there is usually on one and it is flouride.

    However I really enjoyed this article. In Italy we drink a lot of wine and here it is common knowledge that you shouldnt brush your teeth after consuming wine. Best to just driink lots of water and wait a while (or until the next morning) to brush.

    1. Hello Bexx!

      Thanks so much for bringing up the fluoride debate.

      I do think about fluoride a lot and discuss it with my health care providers because new research is coming out all the time. It seems, like everything, there are strong opinions on both sides. Where I grew up the water was fluoridated and my parents gave us popular brand North-American fluoridated toothpaste. Where I live now, the water is NOT fluoridated. My husband and I struggled with what to do for our children’s sake. As their teeth were forming we were told by our dentist & hygienist to supplement a fluoride pill nightly for our kids to ensure healthy teeth. We didn’t for quite a while based on all the reports we were reading against its use. But in the same breath, there was a turning point at which we thought, ‘what are we doing?’ by not giving them the fluoride we could really be messing up our kids teeth. Much in the same vein as the controversy between to vaccinate or not. We struggled with that one too.

      There are a lot of possible poisons that we use daily but don’t think of them as such. Sugar, alcohol, gluten and other foods that don’t agree with one’s system.

      In the end it’s a personal decision, right or wrong, but hopefully well researched from our perspective. We decided that using a very small amount of fluoridated toothpaste once or twice per day (and obviously not swallowing it) is a choice that we will have to live with. And with fingers crossed will live without complications from it.

      I do have other types of non-fluoridated tooth powder in the house stationed by each sink, so that we may alternate its use with the fluoride paste. It’s a balance. Just like we don’t always eat the exact same foods each day or do the exact same exercises for our body, we aim to find a balance in all things.

      However, I would get on the protest to eliminate fluoride from national drinking water. I am thankful to live in a province that opposes it.

      Thanks for your comment. I will endeavour to piece together a well researched article on the fluoride debate in the near future. Many thanks!

  2. Great blog post – it sheds light on dental health from a whole new angle. 

    I appreciate Dr. Colson’s comments when she says that “Science today is teaching us that the mouth is not a closed system, but one connected to the rest of our body…The health of our mouth is affected by the health of our body and vice versa.” So often, our body parts are seen as just that – parts – instead of belonging to a whole being. 

    Personally, I’ve been finding that the better my digestive system functions, the less plaque build-up I have. I thought it was due to eating more cleanly and now wonder if it isn’t a whole health approach – clean eating, fresh air, exercise, relaxation, positivity + mindfulness – since what I do for dental care hasn’t changed on my end. Great benefit of less plaque build-up is spending less time and money in the dental hygienists’s chair!

    Again, awesome post. Thanks!

  3. Years ago, I had to go to a dental hygienist 3 times a year because I produced a lot of plaque as well. And despite numerous cleanings lost 2 back teeth as a result of areas I could not clean properly on my own in between sessions….I also had multiple gum surgeries to clean out the resulting gum pockets but I still had to loose the teeth. Which I have to admit was quite traumatic.

    Then I was introduced to these interdental brushes and between dietary changes which did reduce plaque production considerably ( now I understand that it was not my imagination and why ) and these little brushes which I use every night, everything changed. I can get in there and really clean out between my teeth especially the back ones. The only reason I can think of that dentists do not recommend these is that they are so effective you do not need to go in for cleanings as often and worse.They are brilliant and I cannot recommend them enough. Also not as difficult to use as floss is: no purple finger tips……and I can’t tell you how clean things feel after a little session with these guys.

    There are various kinds on the market. My preference these days are the Life brand travel ones and I use the conical bushes which now fit comfortably between all my teeth. I send bucket loads to my family in Europe as they too have discovered how terrific they are. It is probably wise to get both conical and cylindrical brushes to begin with until you know what fits between what. My mother who has bridges thanks me every week for introducing her to these little magic scrub brushes……she uses the super thin ones to navigate through the bridge work without damaging it.

    I have to finish by saying your blog is fantastic…..so insightful, intelligent and so extremely well written !!! Every one of your postings has something I need and want to learn about. My partner and I both receive the up dates and discuss the content at length together. Thank you, Dana

    1. It does seem strange that when we are in the dentists chair, why we’re not given a more thorough walk through. However, it could be that like with so many other professional fields, they’re just happy we’re brushing our teeth and getting regular cleanings? They probably don’t want to push it…knowing that probably more than half of us won’t do as we’re told anyways. It took me this long to figure out the right line of questions to ask to get all the details. And I’m an interested kind of person, I want to know! Teach me, tell me what you know.

      I guess part of it is “we have to be active in our own rescue”. And if we ask for advice and someone takes the time to give a thorough and thoughtful response specific to our needs, (assuming it makes sense) the least we could do is implement the data and experiment for ourselves over a period of time to see if it makes a difference. Too many times, either I’ve read or overheard people say that so and so just doesn’t work so they give up trying. Falling back on the old: “Well, that’s just the way it is”. Most of the time the so and so wasn’t tried for long enough and so the assumption is that nothing will help.

      However, one quick addition…Regardless of how good of a job we think we are doing at home, I think that it is still important to go for regular cleanings. My hygienist uses a ultrasonic scaler to clear away the plaque that I can’t reach, below the gum line each visit. Also, she measures my gums for signs of recession and periodontal pockets (it’s measured in millimetres)and she keeps a record of all the measurements so she can compare with each visit. They have a special light called a Velscpoe which can pick up any changes in the tissues in the mouth and tongue (check for cancer etc.). And I get the best soft bristled toothbrushes (that I can’t find in stores) for free! 🙂 Though, they are so great I’d gladly pay for them.

      Thank you so much for sharing this information and for your kind words.

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