I find that one area of health that often gets overlooked is oral health. We all know it’s important to brush our teeth twice a day, but that seems to be more from a hygiene perspective. When talking about health, the mouth doesn’t usually come to mind. Gum disease is becoming very common and there is research to show that if left untreated, the bacteria can get into the blood stream and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and even pregnancy complications.
I’ll admit, when I was growing up, I didn’t have very good oral care practices. It was not from a lack of my parents telling me to brush my teeth, it was because I was lazy, didn’t see the importance of it, and I hated toothpaste! Seriously…when I was a kid (up until I went to university) I hated toothpaste. Every time I brushed my teeth, I would have to swish water around in my mouth for at least 5 minutes and then chew gum so that I didn’t have that residual toothpaste taste left over. I know this is weird and doesn’t really make sense but I would literally get a stomach ache if I could taste the toothpaste when I was done brushing my teeth. This led me to avoiding brushing my teeth if possible, and I also never flossed.
As a kid, I’m pretty sure I had at least one cavity every time I went to the dentist. It was the worst, but I bought into the story that it wasn’t my fault, I just had weak enamel. I also always had gingivitis (gum infection) which caused my gums to bleed when I flossed, so I just didn’t floss. I didn’t realize that flossing was actually the solution to the gingivitis.
University got a bit better, at least I stopped getting stomach aches from toothpaste! But it wasn’t until I graduated and moved to Toronto that things really started to improve. By this time, I was 21 years old. The week that I moved to Toronto, I went to a new dentist for a cleaning. They told me the same things my dentist from Barrie always told me; I needed to brush twice a day with an electric toothbrush (Philips Sonicare to be exact) and floss once a day. I think it was just due to the timing of me being ready to take charge of my nutrition and exercise that I figured I better clean up my oral hygiene act as well. I finally took the advice and I have never looked back. I’ve been using my Philips Sonicare toothbrush twice a day and flossing once a day for 4 years now, give or take a few days here or there because I’m not perfect. Now when I go to the dentist I don’t fear being told “you have a cavity” and my gums don’t bleed when I floss.
Although my oral health has significantly improved since university, I started having sensitivity in my back teeth around 7 months ago. It started just before I went to the dentist so when I went, I told the hygienist about it and she recommended Sensodyne. I didn’t want to tell her that I prefer using natural toothpaste so I just didn’t say anything and didn’t take her advice. I wanted to figure out the root cause of the problem instead of just accepting it and treating it with a Band-Aid solution. It hasn’t really improved in the last 6 months so when I went back to the dentist this week, I had a different hygienist this time who said “you’ve got some gum recession, are your teeth sensitive?”. That was what I needed. I made the connection to the cause of the sensitivity; because my gums have receded, the teeth are more exposed which can make them sensitive. I’ve been told for the past few years that I have gum recession which can be the result of scrubbing too hard when brushing and clenching your teeth, so maybe that should’ve been obvious, but it took me 6 months to make the connection. At least now I know, so I asked if there was any other more natural way to reduce the sensitivity and she was all on board with that and recommended that I try Green Beaver toothpaste because they have one for sensitive teeth. I was happy with her recommendation and am happy that I finally figured it out.
The unfortunate part is that it’s a little late because gums don’t grow back; once they recede, there’s not much you can do about it. If I had been more aware when I was younger, I could have prevented this, but now I have to live with gum recession and sensitive teeth for the rest of my life. If I don’t take good care of my gums, I could end up needing a gum graft at some point in the future, which I really don’t want to do. The good news is there are things I can do to maintain my gum health now but I can never reduce the damage that has already been done. Moral of the story: take care of your teeth and gums while they are healthy! It’s not just about hygiene, it’s about your overall HEALTH.
Here are some oral health tips I have learned along the way:
· Be Mindful – mindfulness is such an important practice while brushing your teeth but does anyone really practice it? It’s hard to do and we’re not taught it from an early age. We grow up and brush our teeth regularly so it becomes something we end up doing on autopilot while our brains are thinking of everything else but the task at hand. The problem with that is you may end up scrubbing too hard or consistently missing certain areas which could cause long term effects such as gum recession or plaque build up and gum infection. As difficult as it is to do, it’s really important to pay attention and brush your teeth consciously.
· Floss Every Day – people often overlook this part of oral care. No one would admit to not brushing their teeth because they know people will judge them and think they are gross. But some how it’s socially acceptable to say “my dentist tells me to floss daily but who actually does that?”. It’s true, most people don’t, and I used to be one of them. The reason I never flossed was because I hate string floss where you have to wrap it all around your fingers and stick them in your mouth and get all slobbery. I still hate that and refuse to do it. Now I use the floss sticks you can buy that are so much easier and nicer to use. I do feel bad about it because it’s a more wasteful alternative but I know I won’t floss any other way so in this circumstance I have to choose my health. Flossing daily is so important to clean out all of the bacteria that gets stuck between your teeth and in the gum line that the toothbrush can’t get to as easily. It will reduce plaque build up, gum infection, and gum recession because the plaque eats away at your gums if it sits there for a long period.
· Focus on Your Gums – when brushing and flossing, people tend to focus only on the teeth when really the focus should be more on the gums. When brushing, focus on getting the area right along where the gums meet the teeth because that’s where the bacteria builds up. Just be careful not to press too hard or scrub vigorously, that’s why the Philips Sonicare toothbrush is so good because it gets along the gum line in a gentle way. Same goes for flossing, it’s not just about getting what’s in between the teeth, you need to floss right down to where the gums and teeth meet and give your gums a good massage with the floss. If you’re not used to doing that, they will most likely bleed at first, but don’t let that stop you. It’s like working out, if you want to get stronger it will be tough at first but you can’t give up, you have to keep going and eventually it gets easier and you get stronger. Don’t stop flossing just because your gums bleed or they may be tender the next day, it won’t get better unless you are consistent with it.
I hope this helps everyone have a different perspective on oral health from someone other that your dentist. I’m not an expert but I think it’s valuable to share my experience and learning with others so you can improve your own oral care and pass it along to others, especially if you’re a parent of young children. Make sure you teach them the best practices when they are young so that they have less chance of running into some of these issues as they age.
You only get one smile, so take care of it and show it off to the world 😊