If you've ever had one of those dreams in which your teeth suddenly fall out, you know that the idea of losing your pearly whites is an (aesthetic) nightmare. But it's not vanity alone that should have you worried about your oral care.
"Many dentists believe that there is an association between inflammation of the gum tissue and inflammatory processes in the rest of our body," says New York City-based cosmetic dentist Marc Lowenberg, DDS. "If it's not removed with daily brushing and flossing, the bacteria in plaque can enter tiny blood vessels in the gum tissue and travel to other parts of the body."
Edmund R Hewlett, DDS, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry, agrees. "Oral health does indeed affect overall health, and our knowledge around this is expanding rapidly," he says. "There's research indicating that periodontitis—or gum disease—may be associated with several other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or stroke." Yikes!
"There's research indicating that gum disease may be associated with several other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or stroke."
Western medicine isn't alone in emphasizing the importance of proper oral care. In the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda, your mouth is considered an essential starting point for managing your overall health. "Anytime you do anything with your tongue, especially tongue scraping, you are effectively massaging all your organs, particularly the digestive ones, as they are each connected to different areas of your tongue," says Martha Stoffer, founder of the Ayurvedic treatment center Surya Spa.
With this much at stake, it might be time to re-evaluate your daily oral hygiene practices—what you learned as a 3-year-old likely doesn't suffice as adequate care for a fully-grown adult. Below, Dr. Lowenberg, Dr. Hewlett, and Stoffer weigh in on routine mistakes which may affect the longevity of your teeth—and your life, too.
Are you making these major missteps when it comes to your mouth?
"Frequent snacking can raise a person's risk for getting cavities, especially if the snacks contain sugar or starches," Dr. Hewlett says. "An occasional sweet treat is fine, but the prolonged, repeated exposure of teeth to sugar and other carbohydrates will accelerate both the start and growth of cavities."
2. Eating acidic foods at night
"The acid stokes up the fire, the pitta dosha, keeping the saliva acidic, which in turn affects the health of the gums," says Stoffer. "At night, it's better to eat early, say at least two hours before going to bed, so the digestion works well and the state of the mouth returns to normal."
3. Waiting too long between your final brush and bedtime
"The most important time to brush is right before going to bed," says Dr. Hewlett. "Saliva has the ability to protect and repair teeth, but our mouth gets drier when we sleep. Cavities can develop and grow rapidly when less saliva is present, so it's important that the teeth are clean when we retire for the night. The last thing to touch your teeth before going to sleep must be a toothbrush!"
4. Skipping the scrape
"Tongue scraping not only removes bacteria and cleans the tastebuds, but activates digestion," say Stoffer. "You should scrape your tongue first thing in the morning, before you brush your teeth."
5. Using improper flossing technique
"The biggest mistake people make is that they don't floss. And if they do, they don't floss correctly," says Dr. Lowenberg. "You should always run the floss along the tooth structure in the shape of a C rather than just snapping quickly between each tooth."
Dr. Hewlett concurs. "You should never skip flossing. You should ideally floss one time each day, but the healthiest mouths are those who floss after every meal," he says. "Most of the bacteria that causes tooth decay and gum disease lives in 'hard to get to' areas between the teeth. The only way to physically remove this plaque from between the teeth is to floss. If I were to give anyone three tips on oral hygiene, it would be, floss, floss and floss."
6. Not pulling with oil regularly
"If there's one overall step you can't miss, it's still brushing your teeth," says Stoffer. "Oil pulling is a close second, because it helps prevent receding gums. And if you do it with coconut oil, that's anti-bacterial and teeth-whitening. At Surya, we mix coconut oil with sesame oil, because it's rich in calcium."
You may be wondering if it's best to brush with flouride-free toothpaste. Here, experts weigh in. Also, beware! Your healthy apple cider vinegar habit may be ruining your teeth.
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