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    Something to Chew On: Keeping Those Pearlies Healthy

    continued...

    Another key prevention move is having your dentist apply dental "sealant," a plastic film that coats the chewing surfaces of teeth. The sealant prevents decay from sprouting in the nooks and crannies of teeth, where fluoride is less effective on food debris and bacteria.

    Sugar was a primo dental health villain back when fluoridation wasn't as widespread. But sugar consumption in this country has been on the rise even as dental caries has declined, notes Brian Burt, PhD, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.

    That doesn't mean reach for the sweets, but Burt said that if an individual has strong exposure to fluoride, sugar is a "moderate-to-mild" risk factor, "not the most crucial aspect" of prevention.

    Tinanoff also notes that there is "good evidence" that chewing gum with xylitol (a type of sugar) actually reduces caries in children's teeth.

    And there are other, more fanciful ideas in the hopper.

    Peter Milgrom, DDS, of the University of Washington, referred to new electric toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes that come with timers and beep if not opened every day. And there's also the thought of making toothpaste tubes that send email to your dentist if it is not opened often enough.

    Back to Earth -- How about treating those cavities?

    It's still primarily "drill and fill," a basic treatment model that hasn't changed in 100 years, says Amid Ismail, BDS, of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Science may bring further advances, however.

    "Some of our more basic research is looking at how we could even take extensively diseased teeth and apply biomimetic materials -- materials that mimic biology -- and be able to regenerate tooth structure," Kleinman says.

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    How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

    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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