My fear of the dentist stemmed from around age ten when I had to have four teeth extracted to make room in my ‘overcrowded’ mouth. I did manage to escape without train track braces, but the damage was done. Once I became a teenager, I totally refused to go at all and it wasn’t until I hit my mid twenties when one of my molars disintegrated into a massive cavity through decay (yuk!) that I finally faced my fear. Via a friend’s recommendation, I found a female dentist who not only seemed to be able to calm my anxiety throughout the drilling and filling, she also managed to save my tooth. She explained it was a close call – I was lucky, the nerve hadn’t been affected and I didn’t need root canal treatment.
It was the wake-up call I needed. I felt ashamed at the neglect and finally appreciated that if I wanted my teeth to last a lifetime I needed to look after them. From then on, I never missed a check-up, scheduled hygiene appointments every six months and upped my teeth cleaning regime at home.
It makes sense that the condition of our teeth, gums (even the smell of our breath!) are a reflection of our health in general. For example, in Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) a Doctor will look at the coating on your tongue as part of a diagnosis. Still, it wasn’t until recently, when I had to have surgery followed by radio therapy that I experienced this connection first hand. My recovery was smooth and I bounced back from the medical treatments relatively quickly, but when I went to the dentist for my usual clean and check-up, my plaque levels turned out to be unusually high. I hadn’t changed my teeth cleaning regime, but was aware my mouth wasn’t feeling so good – dry, and also not so clean.
The dentist reassured me this was normal – a dry mouth is often the side effect of certain types of medication, which in turn provides a good breeding ground for bacteria which would normally be washed away with saliva. Generally they told me, anyone going through high levels of stress or illness is prone to high plaque levels. I was glad I’d booked the appointment when I did and it was decided to up my hygiene appointments until the levels were back under control. If plaque is left to build up, it can cascade us into gum disease, tooth loss, and even more serious diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (due to their link to a particular strain of bacteria in the mouth). You can read more about this in Shabir’s great articles on preventing and treating gum disease.
In the meantime, alongside making friends with your dentist and hygienist, the key is to set up a regular as clockwork teeth cleaning regime at home. Admittedly, I’ve become a dental evangelist and over the years, having tried every new mouth wash, toothbrush, paste and floss. There are a few innovations which have made a real step change in keeping teeth sparkly clean – for me they include Glide Floss (never shreds!), electric toothbrushes (I alternate between the Sonicare and Oral B as they’re not quite the same. The sonic technology seems to make gums feel cleaner, whereas the other allows you to really get between the teeth). Gadgets aside, most importantly, it’s about twice a day brushing and correct technique. And I’m still learning. My habit was always been to clean my teeth after breakfast – the last step in my morning routine. However, I was recently told that because bacteria in the mouth builds up overnight, it’s best to do it on waking. Makes sense and, since I switched, my mouth definitely feels cleaner.
But surely then it’s all ruined by eating breakfast afterwards? My answer is to floss after eating, and as one dentist suggested, it’s a good time to consider mouth wash, although he was quick to add that swooshing is never a substitute for brushing. It’s more of an add-on to freshen up. Remember though that the skin inside the mouth is highly permeable so it’s definitely worth avoiding the ‘big brand’ mouthwashes which contain strong, potentially drying anti-septic ingredients (it’s not just an urban myth that some strains of such anti-septics are used in floor cleaners).
Instead, go for those with soothing naturals instead such as Aloe Dent Mouthwash, which contains natural aloe vera and essentials oils. I always carry a natural breath freshener with me too – a few drops of Temple Spa All Mouth Breath Essence, which contain parsley and peppermint to get rid of any odours after eating. You can also dilute a few drops in mineral water to swish around your mouth.
My take on toothpastes has changed recently too. To me it makes sense to use those with fewer ingredients and a high percentage of naturals, for the same reason as using gentle mouth washes. Green People Organic Peppermint Toothpaste is a great value bathroom cabinet staple – which tastes fantastic and is free from all artificial ‘nasties’ such as sodium lauryl sulphate, phthalates, artificial sweeteners, petrochemicals and colourants. If you’re worried about plaque levels and gum disease and want to try something more exotic, try SilverSol Tooth Gel – this gel has refreshingly few ingredients (definitely no ‘nasties’ as above), just the zingy freshness of peppermint oil, plus purified silver (known as a great natural anti-bacterial). Plus, teeth and mouth feel noticeably squeaky clean on using it.
And one final revelation – which I’ve written about before – is oil pulling, the Ayurvedic practice of rinsing out the mouth with vegetable oil, traditionally sesame (the non-toasted variety) or coconut. Best done first thing in the morning (I do it before brushing), you take a tablespoon of oil into your mouth and swoosh it around for up to 15 minutes (though I generally only make it to 5-10) then spit it out. The thinking is that bacteria is absorbed by the oil, hence ‘pulled’ out of the mouth, plus it lubricates dry mouth (good for anyone who breathes through their mouth a lot).
When I started this practice a few years ago not only did my gums and my mouth feel better, the dentist noticed a positive change in general cleanliness. CocoBaci 15 Day Oil Pulling Programme is a great way to get started with an oil pulling regime – it’s a kit containing cute and convenient one use sachets of oil (also fab for travelling), and there’s a choice of flavours: mint, lemon and raspberry.