The Importance of Dental Hygiene

It’s said the eyes are windows to our souls. That would make our mouths gateways to something, though what that might be is up for debate depending on how well you practice good dental hygiene. While oral health is important to our appearance and well-being, it plays an equally important role in limiting damage from or aggravating serious conditions such as diabetes and respiratory health. Untreated cavities can be painful and lead to serious infections, and poor oral health has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioral and developmental problems in children. It can also affect our ability to chew and digest food properly.

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums, which may also affect the bone supporting the teeth. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly builds up, thickens and hardens on the teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, this plaque can harden into tartar and may contribute to infections in the gums. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth and an increased risk of more serious illnesses.

Additionally, the bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or exacerbating existing lung conditions. It creates risks for heart patients, too, as it can travel through the bloodstream and get lodged in narrow arteries, contributing to heart attacks. Also, people with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications.

Regular brushing and checkups are critically important, as is flossing, which does about 40 percent of the work required to remove plaque from the hard-to-reach spaces between our teeth.

Most floss is made of either nylon or Teflon, and both are equally effective. People with larger spaces between their teeth or with gum recession (loss of gum tissue, which exposes the roots of the teeth) tend to get better results with a flat, wide dental tape. If teeth are close together, try thin floss that bills itself as “shred resistant.” Bridges and braces require more effort to get underneath the restorations or wires and between the teeth. Use a floss threader, which looks like a plastic sewing needle. Or look for a product called Super Floss that has one stiff end to fish the floss through the teeth, followed by a spongy segment and regular floss for cleaning.

What’s in your toothpaste?

The first known toothpaste recipe dates to the fourth century AD. This recipe was written in Greek on a scrap of papyrus. The Egyptian scribe explained that the recipe created a “powder for white and perfect teeth.”

Egyptians would have mixed the paste with a bit of their own saliva and then used their fingers to scour their teeth. The recipe aligned with traditional home medicinal practices that are still in use around the world. Classical herbals list Iris as good for toothache and for sweetening the breath.  Pepper would have stimulated the gums, mint would have added the fresh taste we still love in modern toothpaste, and rock salt would have been a purifying abrasive.

Egyptians had many recipes for tooth powders. Favored ingredients included the powdered ashes of oxen hooves, crushed myrrh, burned egg shells, and powered pumice stone. The Persians liked using burnt shells of snails and oysters. In China a mix of ginseng, various mints, and salt was the preferred recipe. Many Europeans modeled themselves after the ancient Greeks, cleaning their teeth with a rough cloth (usually linen) or a sponge that they’d dipped into a paste made of ashes, sulfur oil and salt, until well into the sixteenth century.

In 1873, Colgate released the first mass-produced toothpaste. It was called Crème Dentifrice, and was sold in a jar. By 1896, the name had changed to Colgate Dental Cream and it was packaged in collapsible tubes. Fluoride was introduced in 1914 and was quickly added to most of toothpastes on the market.

Toothpaste, also called dentifrice, can be marketed as a paste, gel or powder. Today, toothpaste ingredients typically consist of mild abrasives to remove debris and residual surface stains; fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel and re-mineralize enamel in the early stages of tooth decay; humectants to prevent water loss in the toothpaste; flavoring agents, such as saccharin and other sweeteners to improve taste; thickening agents or binders to stabilize the toothpaste formula; and detergents to create foaming action.

Toothpastes may contain several active ingredients to help improve oral health.  Fluoride actively helps prevent tooth decay by strengthening tooth enamel. All toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance contain fluoride. In addition to fluoride, toothpastes may contain active ingredients to help improve tooth sensitivity, whiten teeth, or reduce gingivitis or tartar build-up. No ADA-accepted toothpaste contains sugar or any other ingredient that would promote tooth decay.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to control plaque is brushing your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day. But you don’t need toothpaste to do this, just a soft toothbrush and good brushing techniques will remove plaque. Flossing, limiting sugary food and drinks, regular checkups and professional cleanings should keep your teeth in top shape. And by the way:  Whatever type of toothpaste you choose to use, don’t mimic commercials and smear your brush with a huge stripe of paste – a pea-sized drop is sufficient.


 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!