With the holidays drawing near, I recently saw a clip from the old movie, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. Hermey the Elf, a personal childhood hero of mine, decides that he will give up making toys to pursue a career in dentistry. Hermey’s boss was less than pleased and cringed at his announcement.
What Makes a Dentist Cringe
Certain things about dentistry make me cringe, too – namely, this all-too-common patient confession: “I only brush in the morning and floss only when I get food stuck in my teeth.
According to a recent American Dental Association poll, just over 50% of Americans brush twice a day, and 50.5% of Americans report they floss daily. Unfortunately, I’m a little disappointed that more people aren’t brushing at least twice a day and quite skeptical that the percentage of daily flossers is that high. (Dentists and dental hygienists are human lie detectors when it comes to oral hygiene. In fact, some of us have taken these skills beyond the scope of oral hygiene… Believe me, my dentist is my dad.)
Why the Tooth Brush Was Invented
Cavities occur when acid-producing bacteria establish an intra-oral biofilm known as plaque. Over time, saliva buffers are unable to neutralize the bacterial acid production and the pH of the mouth drops below 5.5, causing tooth demineralization. (Anything below a pH of 7 is acidic). The only way to destroy the biofilm is to mechanically break it up; hence, the invention of the tooth brush and the answer to why we can’t just swish some mouthwash.
It may surprise you that not all plaque is created equal. Food content, consistency and location matter tremendously in determining the rate of acid production and tooth demineralization. Remember, when you consume food, you’re also feeding the bacteria in your mouth. Snacking throughout the day means an unending supply of fuel for bacteria. The stickier your food, the harder it is for your tooth brush to remove it. Also, food and plaque accumulate in between your teeth and in the grooves of your teeth.
Your Tooth Brush Can't Go It Alone
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for your toothbrush bristles to get into these tight places. Fortunately, floss, tooth picks, water picks and interdental brushes can get the job done. Flossing also helps fight against gingivitis and gum disease by removing bacteria in your gum pockets. Deep grooves can be sealed as a preventative measure. They’re quick, painless and you don’t even need to be “numbed.” These tools, along with low sugar intake and a lower frequency of food and drinks (i.e., less snacking), help mechanically break down plaque and prevent tooth demineralization, the cause of cavities.
Furthermore, most people who don’t brush twice a day compound the problem by only brushing in the morning before breakfast (especially true of children). It's like washing your car and then going for a drive in a field of mud.
Second, food and bacteria get to have an all-day AND all-night party in your mouth, constantly bathing your teeth with acid. I tell patients all the time I would rather have them brush at night if they only brush once a day. Little Susie may not want to talk to little Johnny at school because of his bad breath, but saliva, drinking water and chewing gum throughout the day can help buffer your teeth and flush away unattached bacteria and food. At night, there is no such relief and often saliva production decreases, especially in those who mouth breathe. This is why it is so important to have as little plaque as possible in your mouth before bed.
So, jump on the bandwagon for brushing at least twice a day for two minutes and flossing at least once a day. It will dramatically improve your oral and total body health while giving your dentist (and maybe Hermey's boss) one less reason to cringe.
Did you know Hermey the Elf and the American Dental Association (ADA) have teamed up this year to promote good oral health? Learn more…
Mercy Dental Services offers dentistry for the whole family, including a complete range of preventive, cosmetic and restorative dental services for adults and kids. We have two state-of-the-art offices that are conveniently located for patients in the Canton, Ohio, area.