Clean Your Teeth. Save Your Life? – Part One



Rotten teeth, dental work and bad breath sound dreadful enough in their own right… But it turns out they might be the least of your concerns! Experts now link oral hygiene to diabetes, strokes, heart trouble and rheumatoid arthritis – serious stuff. So here’s how a clean mouth saves lives…

I Wish I’d a Looked After Me Teeth:
Do you recall that brilliant Pam Ayres poem from the 70s? It lists cavities, fillings and decay as the consequences of poor oral hygiene in a very funny way! But what we really need to worry about is gum disease.

Gum Disease and Your Immune System
Obviously, any infection in your body causes stress to your immune system… And the longer it goes on, the harder your immune system has to work to fight it. Surprisingly, perhaps, infections in your gums and their underlying bones are among the worst your body has to deal with! That’s because the bacteria in your mouth has continuous access to your lungs and bloodstream.

Unclean and Unseen!
Another factor that sometimes lets gum disease run amok is the fact that it’s often not noticed! Let’s be honest – few of us are looking around inside our mouths that closely… But even when spitting blood while brushing their teeth, many people totally ignore the issue. This means, despite evidence of trouble, the infection continues to put demands on your immune system, which reduces your body’s ability to cope with recognisably more serious issues such as heart disease.

Preventing Gum Disease
So now the good news: the act of cleaning your teeth, gums and tongue improves your overall health! Of course, most people believe they already know how to brush their teeth – but it’s worth looking at a few less-obvious things that might help…

Tooth-brushing Basics:
According to the makers of the medicated mouthwash Corsodyl, while 83% of UK adults showed signs of gum disease, only 11% were addressing it… And yet a few simple steps and a 10-minute oral-hygiene routine can help your immune system enormously. Here’s how to get the most out of brushing your teeth…

Brush Type
The Oral Health Foundation suggests that adults use toothbrushes with small to medium heads. The bristles should be made from either soft or medium nylon, with round ends. The most important thing is to ensure your brush reaches the surfaces of all your teeth and doesn’t irritate your gums – which many hard bristles do.

Electric Brushes
You may find you prefer an electric toothbrush, with a head that rotates, oscillates or pulsates. Many people feel that these are more effective. Certainly, a power toothbrush that has an in-built timer helps you brush for a reasonable amount of time. Speaking of which…

For How Long Should I Brush?
It’s surprising how often the answer to this is given as "two minutes"! To us, that advice seems just a little gung-ho! Since most adults have 32 teeth, brushing for a two-minute session means each tooth gets less than five seconds of attention! And those five seconds are supposed to cover the inner, outer and chewing surfaces. Doesn’t seem like much, does it?!

We think it’s more reasonable to say that you should brush your teeth for between two and four minutes. More important than the actual timing, though, is cleaning with the certainty that all of your teeth – and each of their surfaces – is getting a good brush.

How Often?
Arguably, this is the most important factor in oral health. You absolutely must brush your teeth at least twice a day, and make sure one of those times is shortly before you go to bed. That’s because you produce far less antibacterial saliva at night, leaving you more vulnerable to bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

There was a time where toothpaste was seen as quite a simple matter! Basically, it was thought that as long as toothpaste tasted okay and contained a high-enough concentration of fluoride – between 1,350 and 1,500 fluoride parts per million (ppm) – it was good! Recently, though, there have been rumblings about fluoride that are quite off putting…

Against Fluoride?!
Fluoride is undoubtedly very bad for you in large quantities. No question at all: if a child swallowed too much toothpaste, it could prove fatal. Typically, it would have to be quite a lot of toothpaste, though – between two and four tubes at one time.

Nevertheless, there have been calls to study the long-term effects of excessive fluoride-ingestion more carefully. Indeed, it’s been suggested that it’s connected with a number of unpleasant conditions. The list includes dementia, dental fluorosis, and impaired glucose metabolism – which could lead to diabetes.

So I shouldn’t use fluoride toothpaste?
We’re not saying that! We’re saying that you need to know there are unanswered questions over it – and that you certainly shouldn’t swallow toothpaste yourself – or let your kids swallow it! We’re also saying that some people – preferring to be cautious – no longer use fluoride toothpaste since discovering there are non-fluoride brands available. There is also the option to clean your teeth with baking-soda toothpaste.

So there we go – that’s our not-so-obvious guide to brushing your teeth and, quite possibly, saving your life! There’s more to come though… Next month, we’ll look at the more obscure ways that bacteria lurk in your mouth and stress your immune system… And what to do about it!

Back in Shape cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Newsletter or Info Sheets. If you have any doubts or concerns over dental, medical and health issues, our best advice is always to visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your health.