Brush Up: A Dental Primer

Be thankful we don’t live in ancient Greece where breath fresheners were limited to bizarre concoctions containing pickled olive brine, myrrh with wine and oil, pomegranate peels and vinegar.

Options have since improved but while modern fillings, bridges and implants can keep our teeth chomping for years, all this added hardware can turn the formerly straightforward job of cleaning and flossing into a battle of wills between you and hidden debris. Since gum tissue can recede (either due to the gum disease known as gingivitis or overly vigorous brushing), the “deeper pockets will make it more difficult to keep your teeth clean while restorations [dental work] have margins that can easily decay if not cleaned properly hence the importance of good oral hygiene,” observes Toronto prosthodontist Dr. Philip Haddad.

Some recent studies even found a potential link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, although scientists now believe that it’s actually the inflammation caused by periodontal disease that may exacerbate conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

And if that threat or even the less deadly potential of weakened roots and eventual tooth loss due to neglect don’t convince you to get serious about your dental routine, then let hygiene and the threat of “halitosis” (bad breath) be your motivation. Three healthy strategies:

1. Fine-tune the Basics

Harder is not necessarily better. The average person brushes vigorously for only 30 seconds, far short of the recommended two to three minutes. A gentler hand and soft-bristled toothbrush are best for a thorough cleaning that doesn’t irritate gums. “We often recommend soft bristles to minimize trauma to the gingival tissue that can lead to gingival recession,” says Haddad. Try Colgate 360˚ Sensitive Pro-Relief Ultra Soft Toothbrush, $4-$6, Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White Toothpaste, $5.

Television commercials taught us that using mouthwash was a first step to getting kissed, but mouth rinses can also “definitely help reduce bacterial accumulation in areas missed during brushing,” says Haddad. A twice daily 30-second rinse removes plaque that can inflame gums when it collects along the gum line. Try  Listerine Total Care Antiseptic Mouthwash, $5.

2. MacGyver Your Flossing

One-third of your tooth’s surface touches other teeth and can’t be reached by a brush, so flossing once a day is essential to minimize your risk of gum disease and tooth decay. Try The Philips Sonicare AirFloss, ($100) shoots a high pressure burst of water between teeth to dislodge and blast out hidden bits of food that were previously unreachable. Mouthwash instead of water in the Airfloss reservoir turns this task into a seek-and-destroy mission with mouth-freshening benefits.

3. Combat Dry Mouth

Certain medications (especially those for hypertension) can dramatically slow saliva production causing xerostomia (dry mouth.) Not only can this condition cause bad breath but because saliva neutralizes acids and rinses the mouth to remove debris, reduced salivary function “is often associated with increased rates of decay, more specifically root decay,” says Haddad. To combat dry mouth, avoid alcohol and tobacco, chew gum that’s sugarless and drink plenty of water. For portable relief, try a mouth and throat moisturizer like Mouth Kote Dry Mouth Spray, $12.

Beauty boost

For a brighter smile, avoid orange or orangey-red lipsticks and choose a blue-based red lip colour to make teeth look whiter. Try Estée Lauder Pure Color Envy Sculpting Lipstick in Envious, $34, or Revlon Colorburst Lacquer Balm in Provocateur, $10.