As we head into the new year, many of us shift our focus to what’s ahead. Some might set resolutions or goals, a majority centered around health and wellness. We want to lose weight or build strength, so we get a gym membership. We need to lower our cholesterol score, so we start a new diet. We want to get a handle on our anxiety, so we start a daily journaling practice. But have you ever thought about setting a goal to improve your oral health?
With COVID-19 still lingering about, now is a particularly good time to do all we can to be as healthy as possible if we’re exposed. (And darn it that those exposures seem more and more frequent lately.) But why does one person get sick and others who are exposed remain negative? It might have to do with their immune response. And please let me remind you that your oral health is part of your overall health.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 47.2% of adults age 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease. And the prevalence increases with age to 70.1% of adults 65 years and older. To add another factoid into the mix, one in four adults ages 20 to 64 currently has at least one cavity. That is active disease in your body! It is scientifically proven to have an effect on your overall wellness, both physical AND mental.
Your mouth matters to your health and your ability to fight off infections. So let’s set a goal take some steps to put you on a healthier path. They needn’t be huge, either—I’m not talking full mouth reconstruction here or hours upon hours in the dental chair. Just pick some small improvements to your current routine. Here are six ideas to get you started:
Get to that overdue dental exam
If you’re overdue for your dental exam, chances are you’re far more overdue than you think. Many of my patients swear they are only a few months late when it’s actually been years. Dental disease and oral cancers are very treatable when they’re caught early—so don’t delay!
Use something daily to clean in between your teeth
No, I’m not telling you to floss here, although I’m also not saying don’t floss. But get something to clean in between your teeth. Grab a water flosser or an interdental brush. I’m a huge fan of using soft plastic picks while I’m reading my email. It’s a great way to disrupt the biofilm and remove trapped food that can cause decay or gum disease.
Brush for two minutes twice a day
Make a point not only to brush twice a day but also to do it for a full two minutes. It’s important to remove as much plaque and biofilm as possible. The longer gunk is allowed to sit on your teeth, the more destructive it becomes. Many electric toothbrushes have timers to help keep you on track. Some are even so high-tech that they connect to an app on your phone to show you the spots you’re missing.
Work on your brushing technique
You might already be brushing for long enough, but chances are your technique could use a little adjusting. Speaking of places you could be missing, you might remember chewing those tablets in elementary school that turned the plaque red in your mouth. Well, those disclosing tablets are a great way to give yourself a checkup! Are you angling the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and getting to the gumline? Using what we in the industry call the modified Bass toothbrushing technique is an excellent method for attacking the plaque.
Clean your tongue
There’s a lot of stuff that lives on your tongue and until you clean it off, you might not even notice it. But once you start you won’t stop! All those bacteria don’t just park in one spot, they head to your gums and into your gut, brain, heart, and who knows where else. And cleaning your tongue might even improve your breath and how food tastes to you.
Change your toothbrush often
I recently visited my brother-in-law to find he has the same head on his electric toothbrush that he did when I gave it to him a year ago! Your toothbrush and toothbrush heads should be changed out every three or so months. Some companies even have subscription plans so you don’t even have to remember how long it’s been. But if your bristles aren’t standing straight, they’re not doing a great job cleaning your teeth—not to mention the bacteria growing on them.
We all know that most resolutions don’t make it out of January. So flip the script from tasks to purpose—make your mouth as inhospitable for bacteria as possible. If it doesn’t multiply in your mouth, then it can’t travel to other parts of your body.