The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 69 percent of Americans ages 35 to 44 have lost at least one of their permanent teeth. The CDC also notes that by age 50, Americans have typically lost an average of 12 teeth, including their wisdom teeth. Further, among adults ages 65 to 74, 26 percent have lost all their teeth.
You don’t have to be one of those statistics. You can keep your teeth – and your smile – throughout your lifetime by maintaining a healthy mouth and practicing good dental care. October is National Dental Hygiene Month, a time to spread the word that odorless breath, strong teeth, and clean gums are all part of good overall oral health.
This month also serves as a perfect opportunity to review a few key strategies for brushing up on your dental hygiene practices. Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent cavities, gum disease, and other dental disorders. It also helps prevent bad breath. Oral hygiene consists of both personal and professional care.
On the personal side, everybody knows they’re supposed to brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. But do you know the proper brushing technique? To begin, hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle. Aim its bristles at the spot where your teeth meet your gums. Brush gently, using short, back-and-forth strokes across the sides and tops of your teeth. Brush for at least two minutes.
Be sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and don’t brush too hard because it can harm your gums. Replace your toothbrush every three months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed or irregular. Don’t forget to clean between your teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaning device such as a Waterpik. And use a mouthwash. It can go where brushing and flossing can’t.
Your lifestyle habits can have an impact on your oral health as well. To best maintain a healthy mouth and keep your teeth, adopt a diet that’s tooth-friendly. It should include plenty of nuts, fruits, cheese, chicken, and vegetables. Cheese causes your salivary glands to produce more saliva, which neutralizes the acid. Acid damages your teeth.
For overall better oral health, it’s also recommended that you stop smoking and limit your intake of soda and alcohol. Tobacco can cause periodontal complications including oral cancer, and soda and alcohol contain phosphorus, which on its own is important for health. But too much phosphorus depletes your body of calcium, and that can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
Good dental hygiene also has a professional component, which includes seeing your dentist regularly. The standard recommendation is to visit your dentist twice a year for check-ups and cleanings. But your dentist may want to see you more or less often, so talk with your dentist about the frequency that’s best for you.
During a routine dental visit, your dentist or a hygienist will clean your teeth and check for cavities and gum disease. Your dentist will also evaluate your risk for other oral problems and check your mouth, face, and neck for signs of cancer. X-rays of your teeth are generally taken once a year, but your dentist may recommend other procedures to help diagnose a suspected dental condition.
Not only is good dental hygiene key to maintaining a healthy mouth and keeping your teeth for a lifetime, but it’s also important for your body’s overall health. Research study after research study has shown that people who have poor oral health have higher rates of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke than people with good oral health.
Several theories about how this happens have been proposed. One suggests that the bacteria that infect the gums and cause gum disease travel through the blood vessels to other areas of the body. There, they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage, and tiny blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes may follow.
Another theory suggests that it’s not the bacteria, but the body’s immune response to it that sets off the vascular damage. A third theory states that there may be no direct connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, but a third factor, such as smoking, is a risk factor for both conditions.
What’s more, gum disease associated with a particular bacterium called porphyromonas gingivalis has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis and pancreatic cancer.
However you look at it, brushing up on your dental hygiene is a good way to go. Make it the focus of this Dental Hygiene Month and always.