What Your Dentist Wants You to Do

A top dentist opens up about what he wishes his patients would do.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 13, 2013
3 min read

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.

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.

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.

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