Good Oral Care is important for a Healthy Smile
The relationship we have with our mouth and oral hygiene is an intimate one. A good dentist can be an important part of our team of healthcare practitioners and an essential ally when it comes to wellness. This is especially true if we are seeing a holistic dentist who can offer comprehensive care in the chair, as well as tips for daily practices to freshen our smile and support systemic health.
Even though oral health care is an integral part of our healthcare regimen, for some people the fear of going to the dentist is real. So much so that it is acknowledged as a phobia in the DSM-V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Research studies suggest that as much as 36% of the US population experiences anxiety when it comes to sitting in the dentist’s chair, and 12% have fear so extreme that it warrants a diagnosis. While this isn’t an article about overcoming fear, it can be helpful to acknowledge typical anxieties and explore coping tools so as not to miss out on this vital part of personal health care.
Why Care about Oral Care
If the eyes are the window to the soul, the mouth may well be the window to the body. The state of our dental hygiene can indicate what’s happening everywhere else. The health of everything in our mouth impacts our systemic health. And, what’s happening in the rest of our body also has an impact on our teeth and gums.
For example, the inflammation accompanying conditions like gingivitis (swollen and/or bleeding gums) can both be an indicator of systemic inflammation, as well as a precursor to the development of some degenerative diseases aggravated by inflammation. This can include various types of cardiovascular disease.
Another example is found in studies demonstrating that older adults with gingivitis experience impaired memory function and reductions in cognition. This alone may be motivation for flossing—or for making sure you don’t procrastinate on that cleaning.
People with chronic conditions such as diabetes may need to pay extra attention to oral care, since there are correlations between diabetes and increased risk of gum problems.
Then there’s the confidence we feel when we reveal a healthy smile, when we laugh with abandon, share a kiss, blow a kiss, or even simply exhale fully.
The Family Who Goes to the Dentist Together, Stays Together
Our dental health can impact the people around us, so holistic dentist Dr Chester Yokoyama suggests that oral care is a family affair. He says, “If one partner has bacteria from the plaque and/or tartar buildup in their mouth, they can pass it on through kissing or sharing drinks. Visit your dentist if you are planning on having a significant other or partner. If you’re in a relationship, make sure that your partner also goes to the dentist.”
You could think about dental appointments like a spa day (maybe schedule a post-cleaning massage) or even as the pre-date date. As your family grows you may want to be even more vigilant. Dr Yokoyama says, “Periodontitis bacteria can even be passed to your baby, so visit your dentist before you are thinking of getting pregnant.”
Choosing a Holistic Dentist
When finding just the right dental chair, the first piece of advice offered by holistic dentist Dr Pearl Zadeh is, “Does the dentist listen?” She says, “It is important that your dentist listens to your requests, concerns, and fears. Many times, dentists treat patients with a one-size-fits-all format. Also, is your dentist open-minded? Is it possible for you to ask questions? What does your dentist use for cleaning? Is your dentist aware of some of the carcinogens in the materials found in many dental offices (such as BPA or triclosan)? What kinds of fillings do they use?
Dr Yokoyama suggests the following four questions when evaluating dental practices:
1. Does the dentist put metals in the mouth? Some people are very sensitive to metals and they might not even be aware of their sensitivity. And if the practice removes amalgam fillings, what protocols are being used?
2. Does the office use ultra-pure or purified water when working on the patient?
3. What kind of X-rays are used? Digital X-rays can reduce the amount of radiation up to 75% when compared to the older film X-ray machines.
4. Does the office use lasers for any procedures?
Home Care Suggestions from Holistic Dentists
We all want to know what we can do to make the biggest difference in our smile. According to Dr Pearl Zadeh, consistency is key for our self-care oral habits. Maintaining that great feeling after a cleaning is a daily practice. Dr Zadeh reminds people to consistently brush, floss, and be aware of the influence of nutrition.
This daily maintenance is not an either/or proposition when it comes to flossing versus brushing. Dr Zadeh says, “When I discuss home care routines like brushing and flossing, I am consistently met with the question, ‘If I need to only do one, which one should I do, floss or brush?’ People are then surprised when I explain that brushing and flossing serve to clean two totally different areas. What flossing really does is to clean the surfaces in between the teeth. These are the surfaces that the toothbrush bristles don’t access.”
The essential message: Floss AND brush each morning and evening.
Mouth Rinses and Mouthwashes
You may feel that a bottle of colorful liquid will solve all your oral hygiene issues. But like anything that you use on or in your body, read the ingredients.
Holistic dentist Dr Pearl Zadeh instructs her patients to avoid oral care products that contain alcohol. The natural moisture in the mouth has a protective effect and alcohol dries the mucus membranes. In addition, studies suggest a correlation between extended use of such mouth rinses and increased risk of oral cancer. Another ingredient that Dr Zadeh suggests avoiding in both rinses and toothpastes is the antimicrobial triclosan. Triclosan is shown to have negative effects on gut microflora; in addition, it is an endocrine disruptor that might also interfere with immune system function.
What to Use to Rinse
Dr Zadeh prefers rinses with essential oils for reducing gum inflammation. Holistic dentist Dr Chester Yokoyama recommends mouthwash that has natural ingredients like cinnamon bark and echinacea. Both are antibacterial and reduce tissue inflammation and irritation. His favorite mouthwash is the Tooth and Gum Tonic from the Dental Herb Company.
How about Oil Pulling?
The tradition of Ayurveda loves oil pulling—and so do holistic dentists. Dr Zadeh recommends it for decreasing gingival inflammation and whitening the teeth. Dr Yokoyama suggests oil pulling with coconut oil to his patients.
Oil Pulling Instructions
Dr Yokoyama gives the following instructions for oil pulling: Take one teaspoon of coconut oil and swish it around in your mouth for as many as 20 minutes. The oil goes between the gums and helps to clean the mouth, as well as pulls out toxins or waste products from the tissues. Just remember to spit out the coconut oil after you rinse, since it will be full of the stuff you want out of your body.
A Happy Smile is a Healthy Smile
Even though you may be tempted to leave the floss in the medicine cabinet or skip a regular cleaning, taking the time to recline in the dentist’s chair and maintaining your oral health at home is good for your physical, mental, and familial health.