When dentist David L. Isaacs was in school, one of his instructors gave a lecture titled, “How to Keep Your 32 Till 92.” The answer boils down to this: brush twice a day, floss once a day, and get a professional cleaning and dental checkup regularly.
Ignore the advice at your own peril. Almost everyone will experience tooth decay or gum disease in his or her lifetime. Untreated, both conditions lead to loss of teeth. A tooth can be replaced with a prosthesis such as a dental implant, but nothing is as good as the real thing. And evidence is mounting for a direct link between gum disease and serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
So it’s important to take good care of your mouth. Dentist after dentist stresses that prevention is better than big treatments and corrections. They also emphasize that the most important care is performed daily at home. Here’s what to do.
Brush at least twice a day. Pediatric dentist Richard M. Quinn stresses The Six Ps: proper position, proper pressure and proper period of time. That means scrubbing gently with the brush half on the tooth, half on the gum, using circular strokes—no side-to-side brushing—to preserve protective tooth enamel at the gum line. Don’t fly through it. Take your time. Make sure every surface of every tooth gets brushed. And replace your brush every three months, says periodontist Michele Broder.
Floss at least once a day. Cleaning between teeth is especially important, because that’s where most damage happens. So use that floss. Don’t merely snap the string between each and every tooth, Broder says; carefully slide it across both surfaces to break up the nasties that cause decay and gum disease. Kids need to floss, too, even the young ones.
Broder and dentist Stanley H. Goloskov acknowledge that most people consider flossing to be a chore. Goloskov points out that 20 percent of us don’t do it, at least not regularly. So dental aids like Waterpiks, ShowerFloss, Proxabrushes and rubber-tipped brushes can be of some help, he says, but, Broder points out, nothing is more effective than flossing.
Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly. “Problems that are treated early are treated at a lower level,” Isaacs says. In other words, a small cavity is easier to fix than a big one. Early detection can mean the difference between a simple filling and an expensive, time-consuming crown. And a hygienist, using stainless steel scrapers or ultrasound devices, can remove the gunk that you can’t, thus helping to prevent gum disease. Most people should see their dentists twice a year. Those more prone to problems may need to visit more often, healthier people less often.
Finally, watch your overall health. Healthy people are better able to fight infection, the cause of both tooth decay and gum disease, says dentist Brian McAllister. So it’s important to stay fit and watch your diet. The same sugary foods and high-carbohydrate diets that lead to unwanted pounds contribute to tooth decay in a big way. “You’ve got to take care of your mouth.”