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What Your Dentist Wants You to Do

A top dentist opens up about what he wishes his patients would do.
By Elizabeth B. Krieger
WebMD Magazine - Feature

You probably don't often think of dentistry and sports in the same breath, but Oakland, Calif.-based dentist Eric Yabu, DDS, certainly does. Yabu does double duty as team dentist for the sports medicine program at the University of California, Berkeley, where he's tasked with making custom mouth guards for the athletes as well as providing emergency care. Away from the playing field, Yabu, who is also an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, sees patients of all ages and walks of life. Since 1996, he has shared a dental practice with his wife, Geraldine Lim, DDS. Here he gives us the inside scoop on what dentists wish every patient knew.

Flossing may be more important than brushing. Yes, you need to brush twice a day, but if you're not flossing, you're missing a lot of debris. Flossing cleans the sides of the teeth that face neighboring teeth, and even under the gums. This is where decay and gum disease are most likely to occur. The truth is, brushing just won't effectively reach these areas. And while the floss picks and other flossing devices are good, nothing beats traditional floss for really getting at every crevice.

Recommended Related to Oral Health

When Should I Take My Child to the Dentist?

Q. How old should my child be before I make his first dental appointment? A. You should take him in by the time he celebrates his first birthday. First visits are mostly about getting kids used to the dentist's chair and educating parents about how to care for baby's teeth. If your child has transitioned from the bottle to cup and doesn't snack or drink in the middle of the night, you get a one-year pass, until age 2. That's when the standard every-six-month dental visit recommendation...

Read the When Should I Take My Child to the Dentist? article > >

Bleeding gums are not normal. Some patients will say that their gums bleed only when they floss. But healthy gums don't bleed during proper brushing or flossing. If yours do, talk to your dentist. During a routine cleaning, some bleeding is normal because dental hygienists are doing such a thorough job and using instruments.

The mouth is a part of the body. That may sound obvious, but somehow the mouth is isolated from the rest of the body in many people's minds and even by our health care system. To wit: Why are there separate insurances for medical and dental care? Disease in the mouth affects the rest of the body and vice versa, particularly when it comes to problems like diabetes and gum disease as well as oral cancers.

How Do Dentists Take Care of Their Teeth?

We asked Yabu to spill about his own dental habits.

How often do you replace your toothbrush?

In truth, a bit less often than I recommend -- but only because I know I am using a gentle and proper technique. You should replace your toothbrush about every 3 months because the tips of the bristles become blunted with use. A new brush has bristles with rounded ends, which minimizes damage to the teeth and gums. By the way: If your toothbrush bristles are splaying out, you're brushing too hard.

What do you do when you can't brush?

I have actually found myself backpacking without a toothbrush. In those cases, I have rinsed out with water as best I could and used a napkin or cloth to scrub my teeth. Better than nothing!

What's the biggest misconception about dentists?

Some people assume we're only about teeth, when we can find many more serious issues in the mouth. Other folks think we find problems that don't exist just to make money. But make no mistake: We don't enjoy telling patients they have a problem. That said, every time I get on a plane, if I say I'm a dentist, people immediately start detailing all their mouth issues -- partly, I think, because they are happy to have a more impartial audience.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

Reviewed on March 14, 2013

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Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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