Becoming healthy doesn’t have be expensive or even very difficult if you start with simple steps. Focusing your energy on preventing problems because it’s so much easier, painless, and inexpensive than trying to fix serious issues.

1. GO LOOK AT YOUR TOOTHBRUSH:   Take a look at your toothbrush and think of how old it is (while you’re at it, check your whole family’s brushes!). If it’s 4+ months old, you may want to start over with a fresh brush. If your brush looks like this:

You have brushing problem!! This person is pressing too hard and definitely needs a new toothbrush ASAP!  The bristles of a good toothbrush are soft and is meant to remove soft plaque deposits that are very easy to remove. Plaque does not require heavy scrubbing, so be gentle and take your time when brushing. My hygienists and I have seen great results with Sonicare toothbrushes, great for plaque removal and many models have built in timers to ensure proper time spent on brushing. There are other types of electric toothbrushes that sense when too much pressure is being applied and alert the user.

There has been a lot of talk recently about disinfecting toothbrushes and devices are being marketed for that purpose, but I don’t feel that these great lengths are necessary.  Be MORE concerned about never sharing a toothbrush or having yours touch someone else’s. The bacteria responsible for tooth decay are transmissible from one person’s mouth to yours.

2. TOOTHPASTE:   So you have the right toothbrush, you’re ready to remove that soft plaque (it feels like furry sweaters on your teeth), what do you need to put on that toothbrush? Technically….nothing. The mechanical action of brushing properly should remove plaque and do the job. However, toothpaste has some additional benefits that make it worthwhile to consider. Many of us enjoy that minty clean feeling after brushing, so a mint toothpaste is great. Additionally, toothpaste can polish surface stains from the enamel, deposit minerals (depending on the toothpaste), and help to defend from bacterial attacks. I usually recommend a baking soda toothpaste because sodium bicarbonate acts to balance the pH of the mouth and make it less acidic and it is anti-microbial. Remember that periodontal disease and decay start with bacteria. Try Arm and Hammer Complete Care or Truly Radiant Enamel Care and you have the additional benefit of calcium phosphate that helps rebuild your enamel. Check out my previous post for more toothpaste talk. 1.

3. TRY A LITTLE CHEESE:  A little hard cheese after meals can actually help to prevent decay….  and it’s delicious! (hard cheese is something like sharp cheddar, the action of chewing stimulates saliva, which buffers your mouth from the acids that bacteria produce. Also, cheese has been found to even assist your body in rebuilding “starter cavities” that are in the very beginning stages. Think 2 small cubes, the size of dominos, after meals. (ideally organic cheese from grass fed cows).
4.  GRAZERS BEWARE:  Know your eating style, do you like to eat in regular meals or are you someone who picks food all day long? Are you a snacker? What do you choose to snack on?  Every time we eat, we are also feeding the bacteria that live in our mouths. The bi-product of these bacteria is acid, the one thing that can destroy our tooth enamel, so the highest risk time for our teeth is when we eat. If you tend to “graze” throughout the day, your teeth are constantly exposed to acid and thus a greater risk for decay.  Try to limit eating to meals, but if you do snack, try cheddar cheese, rinse with water after eating, and pop a piece of xylitol gum to both stimulate the “washing” action of saliva and to disrupt those bacteria!

5. STOP FEEDING THE ENEMY:  What do kids and bacteria have in common? They’re small and they love sugar!!  Sugar itself does not cause decay, it’s a CATALYST that starts the process. If your saliva is not adequate and you have a lot of decay causing bacteria in your mouth, the bacteria consumes the sugar, excretes acid, and causes decay. Fermentable carbs like crackers, pasta, and bread also are broken into sugars that feed bacteria.
6. START DROOLING: Ok maybe not drooling, but start thinking about saliva. Do you feel like sometimes your mouth is very dry? Do you smoke? Do you take a lot of medications? These things can contribute to Xerostomia (dry mouth), which prevents your saliva from protecting your teeth. If you suspect you may have dry mouth, you are at HIGH risk for tooth decay, so talk to your dentist immediately and stay tuned for further posts about this topic.

Pouring a cup of green tea
7. HAVE A CUP OF GREEN TEA:  A simple, delicious cup of green tea has actual benefits for your teeth! Antioxidants fight inflammation (great for your gums), the polyphenols have been found to disrupt those cavity causing bacteria, and green tea contains natural fluorides which help attach minerals to your enamel. You could even drink it cold throughout the day in the summer. If you choose to sweeten it, try using xylitol for additional anti-bacterial effect.

8.  PICK CRUNCHY FOODS:  Foods like apples, carrots, celery, and jicama are great because they are satisfying as snacks, are not big contributors to decay, and their fibrous texture actually helps to remove some of the plaque from your teeth.

9. PLAN AHEAD: This one is a slightly different step because it takes a little more effort. Many people do not have dental insurance, or limited coverage and this can cause them to view dental visits as a “luxury”. With all of the research pointing to the link between oral hygiene and whole body health, you cannot afford to let your dental care go, the cost of losing your teeth is too great.  Planning ahead with Flexcare or Health Savings Accounts can help you to slowly build up a fund for routine dental maintenance so that (hopefully) you can avoid costly restorations.  Prevention is everything!!!

10. FLOSS YOUR TEETH:   I saved everyone’s favorite for last.

This step is really so much more simple than you think, it’s just a matter of habit, just a couple minutes more. There is a whole area between teeth that you just cannot clean with a toothbrush and simple, cheap dental floss is the easiest tool for the job. Food debris that feeds bacteria is trapped between teeth and makes for the perfect spot (and one of the most common areas) for decay. This is gross, but try it: floss your teeth and then smell the floss…. if it has blood on it and smells terrible, guess what your breath can smell like. Need I say more?

Some patients have manual dexeterity issues, arthritis, or larger hands and have difficulty maneuvering floss around teeth. Flosser handles can help with this problem and Oral Irrigators like WaterPik can also be an additional tooth to cleanse the areas around and in-between teeth.

If you’d like to determine if YOU are at high risk for decay, try taking our little assessment at:

You have to make the decision to take care of yourself, because this is the only body we have and it is wonderful. Doing these small things during the day for ourselves can make a difference in starting out on a path to wellness. Remember that you’ll have to train yourself to get into the routine, but it will seem natural in no time! You can do this!