The Whole Tooth
Mom said brushing prevents cavities, and science is proving maternal wisdom right on the money—and then some.
Research now connects good oral hygiene with protection against cardiovascular disease and possibly even metabolic syndrome. (A new study found that people with untreated periodontal infections were significantly more likely to suffer from this cluster of health problems that includes obesity, hypertension, low HDL cholesterol, high tryglicerides, and elevated blood sugar.) Ready to rev up your routine?
Overcoming the Yuck
Your mouth is home to a broad cross-section of bacteria. Dental plaque begins when a bacterium like cavity-causing Streptococcus mutans starts to multiply and attract more bacteria to the tooth’s surface, creating a filmy layer. You can rid your mouth of most bacteria at this point. When allowed to remain on teeth, however, plaque hardens into tartar. Bacteria may start to create odors and stains, and thick tartar produces acids that eat into a tooth’s surface. Gums may become swollen and start to bleed, providing bacteria free access to the bloodstream where they can initiate blood clots leading to heart disease. Eliminating oral bacteria is your first line of defense.
Betwixt and Between
Gum disease begins at the gum line and between your teeth, and daily flossing is an important ritual to remove plaque from these areas that you can’t reach with your brush. But some waxed and coated flosses use nonrenewable petrochemical resources like nylon and potentially health-damaging chemicals like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). This is the same coating used in nonstick cookware. It’s created using perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—a chemical linked to cholesterol and weight gain.
For a beautifully natural smile, fresh breath, and a clean, green conscience, shop for your floss at the health products store. Look for biodegradable all-natural silk flosses, and those in minimal packaging. If you like a waxed finish or a tasty floss, choose from natural plant flavors and coatings like beeswax.
Spit and Polish
Select from a plethora of natural ingredients to keep your teeth sparkling and your breath as fresh as a summer breeze. Some natural toothpastes don’t contain sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), a detergent that can cause irritation in the mouth, so your mouth isn’t likely to fill with foam. Check out brands that use baking soda for whitening; clove oil to reduce sensitivity; myrrh to address gum inflammation—or just opt for a kissable mouth with pastes naturally flavored with oils of wintergreen and peppermint. Be sure to replace your brush every three to four months.
After brushing—or when brushing isn’t an option—mouth rinses containing Achillea ligustica (yarrow) essential oils are effective against several oral microorganisms, including Candida albicans. Bees also make a contribution to dental health: Propolis mouth rinse is effective against Streptococcus mutans, while manuka honey helps to reduce plaque formation.
Chew On This
Research shows that enjoying sugar-free gum can reduce your risk of cavities. But why not up your cavity-protection by chewing a gum containing tooth-protective ingredients? Look for gums sweetened with xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol extracted from fibrous materials like corn husks and birch. Studies show that xylitol reduces the growth of dental plaque that leads to damaging tartar build-up. This natural sweetener also interferes with the bacteria associated with cavities, reduces cavity formation, and helps to remineralize cavities. Xylitol is also available in mints and a number of oral care products.
Gum containing magnolia bark extract also helps to protect teeth by significantly reducing acid-forming plaque and decreasing the concentration of cavity-promoting Steptococcus mutans bacteria.
Some innovative studies are showing benefits that go beyond your pearly whites. It seems that chewing an experimental gum containing Lactobaccilus reuteri probiotics freshened the mouths of healthy young adults with self-reported bad morning breath. Researchers suggest that probiotics help combat the bacteria responsible for bad breath.
“Antimicrobial Efficacy of Achillea lingustica All. (Asteraceae) Essential Oil Against Reference and Isolated Oral Microorganisms” by C. Cecchini et al., Chem Biodivers, 1/12
“Comparative in Vitro Evaluation of Efficacy of Mouthrinses Against Streptococcus Mutans . . . ” by N. Malhotra et al., Oral Health Prev Dent, 2011
“Effect of Chewing Gums Containing the Probiotic Bacterium Lactobacillus reuteri on Oral Malodour” by M. K. Keller, Acta Odontol Scand, 12/11
“Effect of Chewing Sugar-Free Chewing Gum Containing Magnolia Bark Extract on Different Variables Related to Caries and Gingivitis” by G. Campus et al., Caries Res, 2011
“Exposure to Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals and Cholesterol, Body Weight, and Insulin Resistance in the General US Population” by J. W. Nelson et al., Environ Health Perspect, 2/10
“Hyperzincemia from Ingestion of Denture Adhesives” by A. Tezvergil-Mutluay et al., J Prosthet Dent, 6/10
“Increased Atherogenesis During Streptococcus mutans Infection . . .” by L. Kesavalu et al., J Dent Res, 1/12
“Periodontal Status and Metabolic Syndrome in Middle-Aged Japanese” by N. Fukui et al., J Periodontol, 1/12
“Sugar Alcohol Sweeteners as Alternatives to Sugar with Special Consideration of Xylitol” by K. K. Mäkinen, Med Princ Pract, 2011
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