Do you wait until you have a problem before seeing your dentist? That can lead to unnecessary pain and expense, and can put your overall health at risk. Isn’t it smarter to try to prevent dental problems in the first place?
Obviously, gum disease is bad for your teeth and mouth, but you may be surprised to learn that the byproducts of gum disease are toxic and can spread from your mouth to the rest of your system. Some studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to develop heart disease, and uncontrolled periodontal disease may make it harder to control diabetes.
How can you avoid the pitfalls of poor oral health? For answers, we turned to Dr. Jessica Saepoff, owner of Natural Dental Health Associates.
“The most important thing to remember is to brush to remove the plaque and food, massage the gums with the brush and floss, and flood the gums with an irrigator to reduce inflammation,” says Dr. Saepoff, who suggests these seven natural ways to improve oral health.
1. BRUSH YOUR TEETH
Use small circular motions with the brush bristles angled into the gum line. Use gentle pressure to lightly blanch the tissue to promote circulation, but do not be rough or abrade the delicate gum tissue or the enamel. Do not use a “scrubbing” motion.
Sonic brushes use sound waves to penetrate tissue and promote deep circulation. This is great for people with gum disease, but for those with healthier gums, cheaper toothbrushes (electric or manual) are fine. Be present with each tooth rather than brushing on “autopilot.”Pay attention and stop when the plaque and food are off.
Your mouth does not need to be sterile, and is supposed to have some bacteria. You don’t have to be perfect or obsessive. If you brush well a couple times a day, you’ll keep plaque numbers low enough to keep in balance.
2. RINSE YOUR MOUTH
Rinses (and pastes) contain some ingredients that are good for gum health and other ingredients that are specific to decay prevention and re-mineralization.
Xylitol (preferably not from corn) and baking soda are excellent buffers of acids that are produced by bacteria associated with decay. Baking soda also kills some bacteria and other microbes. Be careful if you put it on your brush because it is quite abrasive.
Whole sea salt is rich in minerals and is antibacterial.
Green tea extract contains some naturally occurring elements that help prevent decay, but due to the caffeine content, it is recommended for ages 12 and up.
Hydrogen peroxide is antiseptic and makes a great rinse or irrigation solution, but does not taste good to many people. It works by sending oxygen down into gum pockets, killing anaerobic bacteria.
There are some wonderful Ayur Vedic herbal rinses and other products that are interesting to try out.
Inflammation is helped by the swishing action of any rinse, and a water jet gum irrigation device that floods the gum line using a small jet tip is extremely helpful for bleeding gums or pocket areas.
3. NO NEED FOR FLUORIDE
Fluoride is used as a medicine. If you don’t have a disease, you don’t need medicine. Fluoride has toxic properties and there are less toxic ways to prevent tooth decay. You can find fluoride-free mouth products in the “natural section,” or in stores that specialize in natural products.
4. CONSIDER YOUR DIET
You must have good general health in order to have good oral health. Your bone density, enamel hardness, saliva quality and quantity, as well as your gum tissue attachment depend on it.
Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. The less that is done to food, the more nutritional content will be remaining. If you choose prepared food, check the ingredients list to be sure it contains nothing but food items. The exception to this is pickling veggies, or fermenting them, because this maintains the raw enzyme content while the fermenting process makes all the nutrients easier to absorb. This is the best way to prepare the cruciferous vegetables.
Lemons and limes are rich in Vitamin C, which is good for your gums and other parts of your body. If you put some in your water, it is known to “alkalize” your body. However, citrus juice is highly acidic and will actually dissolve your enamel if you expose your teeth to straight lemons and limes. Dilute it well and do not swish with it. If you do put citrus foods on your teeth, follow with a good rinse containing baking soda or xylitol to alkalize the mouth.
More people are finding that limiting grains, especially modern wheat products, helps them to feel better, get thinner, and even think more clearly. This is being studied now, but you can do your own experiment to see how you feel after you’ve eliminated wheat.
Eliminate all refined sugar, including high fructose products, due to their devastating effect on health and the fact that they are known to promote tooth decay.
Vegetables from unpolluted areas of the ocean are rich in chelated trace minerals. The plants have transformed the 80-plus trace elements into a digestible form. The soil that most food is grown in today is known to be somewhat depleted of trace minerals, so we can become deficient over time. These minute quantities are critical for many biochemical processes in our bodies. I believe the importance of this class of nutrient will become clearer as more research results reach the mainstream.
Unrefined salts are rich in trace minerals similar to seaweed. However, in the form of salt, it has some different, but important properties in our cells. True whole salt is necessary for life and should be included in the diet in moderation.
Good saturated and unsaturated fats are necessary to transport important fat-soluble vitamins in the body and for proper hormone production, which we must have for health. Butter from grass fed cows and coconut oil are good choices.
Since fats and salt in the diet are quite controversial, as is limiting the intake of grains, I recommend that people do their own searches and consult a natural physician or nutritionist before making any major changes to their diet.
5. TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Stress can cause your breathing to go out of whack. If you live in a chronic state of stress, you can throw your body chemistry off. Constant shallow breathing can reduce the amount of saliva you produce. Pay attention to the way you breathe and focus on taking long, deep breaths. If necessary, carve out a few minutes each day to practice deep breathing.
6. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SALIVA
A healthy body produces great saliva, full of healthy minerals and enzymes. Great means plenty of saliva, the right pH, and the right consistency. When you have fabulous saliva, it will re-mineralize your teeth and buffer acids that are given off by the bacteria that always grow in your mouth. If you don’t have enough saliva, you’ll be much more prone to gum disease, decay, and mouth sores.
People who are highly stressed or take certain medications may produce less saliva. If you have a chronically dry mouth, consult with your dentist.
7. GET REGULAR DENTAL CHECKUPS
There’s more to oral health than your teeth and gums. A complete dental checkup means an examination of all the oral structures related to systemic health, including:
temporomandibular joint (TMJ)neck and base of the skulllymph nodesinside the cheeksroof of the mouthback of the throatairwaysaliva glands
For children, potential problems can be caught early. Besides checking for future crowding of teeth, your dentist should check the relationship of the upper and lower jaws, because incorrect alignment can lead to snoring and sleep apnea.
It’s that time of year again. From Halloween into the New Year, we’re bombarded with treats we know are bad for our oral health and our overall health. Is there any way around the temptation?
“Dessert is where all the garbage is, so be the one who brings the desserts,” suggests Saepoff. “Make them with unrefined sweeteners so you’ll know what’s in it.”
For more information about oral health, catch DentalMD with Dr. Jessica Saepoff, Wednesday mornings at 9:00 a.m. on KKNW, 1150 AM.
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs!" and the forthcoming “Catch That Look,” and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.