A new year is upon us and what better time to discuss the best ways to maintain oral health. There are many factors that influence oral health and most of them can be controlled by us. Among those are diet, hygiene, and general health. I will discuss each of these factors independently but before I do so I will mention the factors that are out of one’s control.
The first one is genetics. Genetic factors remain unalterable in the maintenance of health yet someday that may change. Another factor that is mostly uncontrollable is one’s oral microflora. The dominant microorganisms that live in the mouth will determine the risk of oral diseases. One can influence the composition of the oral microflora through the use of probiotics but it can be difficult to achieve the desired outcome required for oral health maintenance if one’s risk for disease is high. Let’s look at the factors that can be controlled.
- Diet: What we eat and how often can be highly influential in the maintenance of oral health. It is extremely important to avoid or minimize the consumption of fermentable carbohydrates to reduce the risk of tooth decay. I recommend whole and natural foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean meat, dairy (if tolerated). Minimize or avoid sugars, starches, and anything acidic, such as sweets, sodas, bread, chips, pasta, crackers, including whole grain products. A good general rule is if it comes in a bag, box, package, can, etc. then do not consume it. Also how often we eat can highly influence the risk of decay. It is important to eat infrequently and avoid snacking between meals. I suggest one or two meals daily depending on one’s required caloric intake. Of course, if one is very active or an athlete they will likely require more than one or two meals per day and that is why avoiding sugars or other fermentable carbohydrates in their meals will help keep the risk of dental decay low. A ketogenic diet would be the way to go in those cases.
- Oral hygiene: If you go to the dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups then you most likely hear what I am about to say every time. Brushing daily is important; twice daily AM and PM is the most common recommendation. Cleaning between the teeth once daily is also a good idea. It doesn’t matter what type of toothbrush or toothpaste one uses as long as it’s done correctly. Plaque likes to build up mostly along the gum line so angling the brush toward the gums at a 45-degree angle and using small, gentle, circular strokes of the brush is the most effective way to sweep the plaque away. If you use a power toothbrush, angle it toward the gums and let the brush do the work for you; you just have to move it from tooth to tooth. Also, make sure you spend the time to get your whole mouth; about 2-3 minutes will do. Flossing daily is great but if flossing isn’t your thing then try something else. Toothpicks and interdental brushes are available in a multitude of varieties at any drug store. You may have to experiment to figure out what works best for you. A mouthwash can be beneficial in your daily oral hygiene routine as well. Look for something without alcohol or acids in the ingredients. If you believe that your risk for cavities is high then having fluoride in the mouthwash can be a benefit.
- General health: Some people say that the eyes are the window to the soul. Well if that is true then the mouth is the window to the body. I see this relationship all the time; if one’s mouth is rampant with disease then their general health is not great either. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Many people have various ailments that lead them to take many medications. One of the most common side effects of prescription medications is xerostomia or “dry mouth”. I see many people, young and old, taking antidepressants for one reason or another and dry mouth is the main side effect. Saliva plays a major role in the protection and maintenance of the oral cavity. Saliva provides minerals to aid in the remineralization of tooth enamel. Saliva also contains antibodies to help fight infection. There are many other components to saliva that provide supportive functions for oral health but in the interest of time, I will spare the details for now. There are so many other oral/systemic health relationships being discovered all the time. Diabetes and periodontal disease are currently the most studied and understood oral/systemic links. One thing I know from experience is that many if not all of my patients who are diabetic and have periodontal disease have trouble controlling one when they refuse to control the other and vice versa.
In conclusion, I would like to wish everyone a healthy and happy new year.