Answers to Your Five Biggest Dental Questions

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  • Unfortunately, many of us seem to take our oral health less seriously than other, more obvious health issues. But, according to dental experts from the Mayo Clinic, our oral health can provide a window to “our overall health. “ Poor oral health has been linked with a number of illnesses, including osteoporosis and Sjogren’s Syndrome, an immune disorder.

    To help you keep your teeth in their best possible shape, Dr. Alan Carr, D.M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, answers some essential questions:
  • How Often Should I Brush My Teeth? Dr. Carr suggests following the American Dental Association’s recommendation of brushing at least twice a day. However, there are some times that are better than others. Dr. Carr says that if you’re going to eat acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus fruit), brush your teeth ahead of time. Acidic food and drink weakens tooth enamel, and brushing too soon afterwards can further weaken the enamel.
  • What's Better: A Manual or An Electric Toothbrush? An electric toothbrush is a good alternative, Dr. Carr says, especially if you have any condition, such as arthritis, that makes it hard to brush well. (An electric toothbrush essentially does the work for you, so you don’t have to brush your teeth as vigorously as you do with a manual brush.) Your dentist may suggest one with a oscillating/rotating head. More important than the type of brush you use, Dr. Carr says, is that you brush every day. And if you do use a manual brush, change it at least every three to four months, or as soon as the bristles look frayed.
  • Is a Water Pick Better than Flossing String? No. The standard recommendation is still the traditional dental floss. The alternative, a “dental irrigator,” as it’s known, directs a strong stream of water at your teeth, but it’s not as effective as floss in getting in between your teeth.
  • Does Whitening Toothpaste Really Work? Yes, under the right conditions. Dr. Carr says it can remove surface stains such as those caused by tobacco or coffee, and can also maintain the appearance of teeth that have been bleached. Brushing twice a day with whitening toothpaste will make teeth appear whiter in four to six weeks. Whitening toothpaste that contains blue covarine can have an immediate result. But there are some important cautions: Don’t brush more than recommended, or the toothpaste might erode enamel. It can’t change the color of your teeth or eliminate stains that go below the surface. Dr. Carr recommends looking for a toothpaste that has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance.
  • Can Good Oral Health Prevent Heart Disease? Although experts have discussed for years a possible link between heart disease and poor oral health, nothing’s been proven. Last year, the American Heart Association reaffirmed that conclusion. Mayo Clinic cardiologist Martha Grogan, M.D., says that both gum disease and heart disease involve inflammation, but swelling of the gums hasn’t been proven to affect the heart.

    For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.com and the American Dental Association, www.ada.org.