Whether the topic is flossing and brushing or baby teeth and cavities, your dental hygienist has important advice. A dental hygienist knows that oral health evaluations can be as important as other medical examinations. Loma Linda University School of Dentistry dental hygiene specialist, Danielle Ellington, RDH, MEd, offers six tips for ensuring a healthy mouth.
Before reaching voting age eligibility, approximately 78 percent of Americans have at least one cavity, according to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA), and 80 percent of the U.S. population has some form of periodontal gum disease.
Ellington says neither condition should be taken lightly because their impact goes well beyond the mouth.
“What some people do not understand is that oral health can affect the health of the rest of the body,” Ellington says. “For pregnant women, oral health can affect their unborn child. And for both genders, oral health maladies have been linked to cardiovascular and neurological problems.”
Ellington also adds that responsible oral health care can save not only your mouth but your life.
“We want to encourage the public to value their oral care,” she says. “Your oral care is about more than just the color of your teeth. As a society, we have become so focused on oral aesthetics that we are missing more important aspects of oral health.”
Here are Ellington’s six tips to help you properly care for the gateway to the rest of your body.
- Floss before there is loss. Flossing can make a difference between a healthy mouth and needing a substantial amount of periodontal treatment, Ellington says. Simply sliding a cord of thin filaments between your teeth (flossing) once a day reduces the accumulation of plaque often caused bysugary foods. The limitation of deserts and carbonated drink intake, combined with regular flossing, can greatly reduce tarter build-up, bone loss, and bleeding gums that lead to the need for periodontal treatment.
- A follow-up is not a suggestion. Ellington says that when a dental hygienist schedules a recall — also known as a follow-up appointment — it is more than just something to consider putting on a patient’s calendar. Recalls are tailored specifically to each patient’s current level of oral health, she says. If you have significant plaque or tartar accumulation, inflammation, and bleeding, you are a high-risk patient who needs to be seen sooner than later. Frequent dental appointments enable a hygienist to perform professional cleanings that can maintain the health of your gums.
- Watch what you eat. Pay attention to your diet because it can dictate whether you have an acidic (lower pH) or alkaline mouth (higher pH), Ellington says. An acidic mouth puts you at a higher risk for cavities. If you eat a lot of fruit, processed foods, and carbohydrates, your saliva will be at a higher risk for a lowerpH. If you tend to eat foods such as meat or meat substitutes, dairy products, nuts, and legumes, your saliva will have a higher pH and your teeth will be more prone to tartar build-up. She recommends a diet that encourages a neutral pH—foods such as avocado, broccoli, celery, cucumber, lemon, peppers, and spinach.
- Water is a super liquid. Ellington says not to underestimate the need for regular water consumption. A lubricated mouth is less susceptible to developing cavities. A hydrated mouth also significantly reduces the susceptibility of teeth to stains. She recommends something as simple as ending a meal with water.
- Be candid and complete about your health history. Ellington wants patients to know that no medication or dietary supplement is too small to mention. It has a significant impact on the clinician’s ability to make accurate evaluations and perform effective care. For example, if a patient has taken baby aspirin for several years, it can interfere with their blood vessels ability to stop bleeding during a procedure. She adds that without an accurate medication history a dentist may not be able to properly treat or keep a patient safe.
- All teeth matter. Frequently, parents do not realize their baby’s teeth are important to their adult teeth as they maintain space for emerging adult teeth. Ellington says many parents think cavities in their children’s baby teeth don’t matter because they will fall out and be replaced by adult teeth. What they may not know is that bacteria from a diseased baby tooth may be passed on to an arriving adult tooth. She also advises parents to avoid transferring bad bacteria to their children through shared utensils or kissing. Some parents “clean” a pacifier with their own mouth if it falls on the floor and then return it to their child’s mouth. Each person has their own microflora — their own bacteria habitat — in their mouth, and transferring a parent’s saliva to a child can increase the likelihood it will develop cavities or gingivitis.
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