The health of your teeth and gums is often an indication of your overall health. Yet, according to the National Institutes of Health, two-thirds of middle aged Americans have lost at least one tooth to a cavity technically known as dental caries or to gum disease. And the problem just grows worse as people get older. Among those over 60, one-fourth have lost all of their teeth to decay. Dull or yellowed teeth, cavities, and gum disease are all caused by the buildup of plaque, a sticky substance that forms when mucus, food particles, and bacteria interact with saliva. If plaque isn’t removed from teeth, it eventually mineralizes into tartar, a hard substance that is extremely difficult to get rid of. That is why a visit to the dentist usually includes a professional cleaning. But, while visiting your dentist every six months is an important component of health maintenance, there’s plenty you can do at home to keep your mouth healthy.
It’s no surprise that some foods like sugar-filled sodas, sweetened fruit drinks, and non-nutritious snacks can have a negative impact on your teeth and gums. But other foods can actually enhance dental health. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants that help fight free radical damage. Other beneficial foods include cheese, chicken, nuts, and milk. These foods are thought to protect tooth enamel by providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to remineralize teeth. Drinking several cups of green tea each day can also promote better dental health. This was clearly shown during a survey of 940 middle-aged Japanese men. For every cup of green tea they drank, the researchers noted an increase in tooth strength, as well as fewer loose teeth and gum bleeding.
The best defense against tooth and gum problems is good oral hygiene. The first step is to brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes with a natural toothpaste (preferably without sodium lauryl sulfate, a known inflammant). Use a toothbrush with soft, nylon, round-ended bristles that will not scratch and irritate teeth or damage gums. Small-headed toothbrushes are also preferable, since they can better reach all areas of the mouth, including those hard-to-reach back teeth. No matter how frequently you brush, the bacterial plaque remaining on your teeth is best removed by thorough dental flossing at least once a day. Scientific studies show that you must brush your teeth before you floss to reduce the amount of bacteria that gets pushed into the gums while flossing. To floss properly, wrap a piece of dental floss into a “C” shape, then scrape both sides of each tooth to snare any hidden plaque. Move the floss up and down each tooth, not back and forth. Using a natural herbal rinse containing the herb zanthoxylum can decrease plaque and help gums stay healthy.
Glutathione: is a small protein made from three amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine. It’s an incredibly powerful antioxidant that’s found in every cell of the body and, according to British researchers at the University of Birmingham, it may be the key to good oral health. In their study, the researchers took samples of gingival fluid from 20 subjects, half with healthy gums and half with severe gum disease. Those with healthy gums had high glutathione levels, but those with periodontal disease had significantly lower levels of the antioxidant. Typical dosage: 250 mg per day.
Xylitol: is a sugar alcohol that looks and tastes just like the sugar in your sugar bowl. But, instead of promoting tooth decay, xylitol can actually help prevent it. Research shows that xylitol helps reduce dental plaque, repair damaged enamel, halt the growth of specific types of acid-producing bacteria linked to tooth decay, and reduce gingival inflammation. Typical dosage: Look for toothpaste that contains xylitol. Xylitol is also available in some gums and candies, as well as in a crystalized form that can be used just like granulated sugar.