Five years ago, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about going to the dentist. I’d pop along every year or two; teeth would get a quick check-up followed by a scale and polish, and I’d be out the door in about 15 minutes – done. That all changed a few years ago when I had my first fillings – three in total – one of which was particularly deep. I also had a bit of gum recession on one tooth. I finally understood what an uncomfortable place a dentist’s chair can be, how sensitive the nerves in my teeth are and what a horrible sensation it is to have a drill in my mouth!
How did I get to this point? I thought I had done everything right – with fairly regular check-ups and brushing twice a day. At the time I thought it was the old wives tale about losing a tooth with every pregnancy coming true. Being honest with myself, I realised that my changing habits were more to blame, rather than the fact that I was now a mother. I had given in to my sweet tooth, and certainly was snacking on more biscuits than ever before, having grown up in a biscuit free house! I certainly think that more sugar in my diet was a major factor. I also drank fizzy drinks on a more regular basis than I had in the past. With both my own, and now my children’s dental health to consider I needed to go back to basics.
We all know about brushing twice a day for at least two minutes, yet even in researching this article I came across some information I’d previously been unaware of.
Simple tips for all the family:
• Use a soft bristled toothbrush and brush gently for the recommended two minutes to remove plaque and prevent gum recession.
• Don’t brush your teeth for at least an hour after eating. This is because the acid produced in the mouth after eating takes time to be neutralised by saliva. Brushing sooner than this causes increased erosion of your teeth’s enamel.
• Don’t use mouthwash after brushing, use it at a different time such as after lunch.
• Pay more attention to the frequency with which you consume sugary drinks and foods, rather than with the quantities consumed, as reducing the amount of time your teeth are exposed to sugar is the key.
• Drink fizzy or sugary drinks through a straw to minimise contact with teeth.
• Eat cheese or drink milk after a meal to reduce the acid in the mouth.
• Sugar free gum helps to produce saliva which is the mouth’s own acid neutraliser and should be chewed for 20 minutes after meals.
• No sugary foods and drinks within one hour of bedtime.
• Milk and water are the safest drinks for teeth. Limit fruit juice to mealtimes and try to only drink one glass a day.
• Dried fruit is high in sugar and inclined to stick to teeth so should be limited as a snack.
• Rinse your mouth with water after eating or drinking something sugary.
While most people remember to brush their teeth, flossing can be neglected. It is important to floss once a day to prevent gum disease in particular. A little bleeding at first is normal if you are not used to flossing; however, if it continues, speak to your dentist. It’s important to use the correct technique to prevent damaging your gums. Floss harps can be useful if you are not used to flossing, and can be good for children also.
Gum disease develops painlessly and recently has been linked to a number of serious conditions including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, poor pregnancy outcomes and even dementia.[i] While more research is needed, it’s worth being aware that oral health can impact other aspects of our health. The same is true in reverse – good general health supports good oral health. A healthy diet and lifestyle (no smoking, limiting alcohol) is one of the keys to preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Also it’s worth remembering that gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss among adults.
Even baby (milk) teeth need to be brushed regularly and be well looked after. Properly maintained baby teeth guide the adult teeth into the correct position. It’s a good idea to take children with you to dental appointments as early as practically possible so they get used to the idea. At about three years of age they can start to have their own appointments. I think it’s important to choose a good dentist who has a warm, child-friendly manner and is patient and willing to spend a bit of time cajoling the reluctant child. I was blessed to find such a dentist recently. She chatted to my children – who were a bit unsure at first – and my son even ended the appointment by giving her a hug and a picture he’d drawn. As we all know, these early experiences are crucial and set the tone for lifelong habits. My husband had a very negative experience with a dentist as a child and will still only see one when it becomes absolutely necessary. Asking friends for recommendations of dentists they’ve seen can be a good way to find a suitable one. Also, the NHS has a feature on their website which allows you to rate your dentist.
I noticed that my son had a certain amount of anxiety about loose teeth and teeth falling out, so we decided to give him a small present every time he lost a tooth – although he was clear it wasn’t left by a fairy!
Fluoride remains a controversial substance for some, although found in all the mainstream toothpastes. I recently switched to natural products in place of shampoos and shower gels, with good results so a natural toothpaste would be something I’d consider. The Wellness Mama website has a number of different recipes. Also, the benefits of miswak or siwak are well known amongst Muslims. Studies have shown that with correct use, they are more effective at removing plaque and preventing gum disease than conventional toothbrushes.
With our children we’ve got a great opportunity to safeguard their oral health and instil lifelong good habits. For ourselves, it’s never too late to halt the deterioration that may have already occurred. Again the Wellness Mama website has some ideas for actually ‘remineralising’ damaged teeth. With better oral hygiene and dental care these days, it’s realistic to imagine keeping our own teeth for life bi-idhnillah.
Sources and further information
• healthyteeth.org – a fun interactive website for kids and grown ups
Catherine Clarke is a History graduate living in Scotland with her two young children. She has an interest in all things health and family related.