Brush, floss, don’t use too many swear words. No news there. But still, how come somebody barely brushes once a day, if that, and has a lovely set of fangs – while somebody who brushes religiously after every meal still dreads every visit to the dentist?
We are making no attempt to contest the fact that teeth have to be clean in order to stay healthy. Proper brushing is very important. But let’s look at the topic of dental health a bit more broadly and bring some other important factors into the picture:
- Nutrition and some little big helpers
- Brushing – a surprising fact
Calcium Needs Help
You’ve probably heard that you need calcium in order to have healthy teeth and bones. That’s very much true. But many foods in an average diet contain a lot of calcium and many foods are additionally calcium-fortified. Getting enough calcium is often not the problem and many people, acting on the widespread information that calcium is the key to healthy teeth and bones, even supplement it, although they are already getting enough. And that may lead to problems. What is not so well known is that calcium needs a help to reach its desired destination – your teeth and bones. If it doesn’t act in cooperation with the other nutrients, it can end up where you really don’t want it: arterial clogs, kidney stones, calcified soft tissue, unwanted bone spurs etc.
You’re basically bringing loads of calcium and dumping it on the doorstep where it just gets in the way and trails wherever you don’t want it to. Further logistics is needed to get the goodies to the exact tissues you want it. And most importantly, to really get the calcium to the bones and teeth, you need vitamins K2, D and F. There are other nutrients that promote dental health, and you should really consider putting for instance bone broth on your menu more often as it is very good for both bones and teeth, but now let’s look at the most prominent players.
Vitamin K2 has many vital functions in the body and there are many reasons to keep it in good supply. But when it comes to healthy teeth, vitamin K2 modifies the protein osteocalcin, giving it the ability to bind calcium and build good bones and teeth. If you have enough calcium in your body, but you don’t have enough K2 and other nutrients mentioned below, it will not reach your teeth and bones, no matter how much of it you eat.
Most people don’t have enough K2. You can certainly supplement it, but as with any vitamin, it is always an excellent idea to make sure you also provide it in your diet. The body can usually absorb any nutrient coming from a natural source much better than from a pill.
Good natural sources of vitamin K2 are egg yolk, natto (fermented soybeans), fermented dairy (yoghurt, kefir, cottage cheese, sour cream etc.), butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows (regular butter won’t give you much K2), chicken liver, chicken breast or beef. Fermented (ideally grass-fed) dairy is in general a good idea because vitamin K2 is also produced by the beneficial bacteria in your intestines.
Vitamin D and omega-3 and -6 (EFAs or vitamin F)
Vitamin D is the “courier” that moves calcium from the stomach into your blood. Vitamin F (omega-3 and -6 fatty acids) then takes it out of the bloodstream to tissues where it’s needed – but you do need vitamin K for the teeth and bones to be able to utilize it.
Vitamin D can be generated by the body itself from sunlight. But since we are spending more and more time indoors or putting on sun screen whenever a tentative ray of sun approaches our skin, and because, you know, seasons, we need to supplement this vitamin through other sources as well.
An excellent source of vitamins D and F is cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna or trout. Other sources of vitamin D are dairy products – butter, cheese, milk, yoghurt etc. – these are also a good source of calcium. Vitamin F can be found in some nuts and seeds, for instance in sunflower seeds (also a good source of vitamin E), pecan nuts or brazil nuts, and certain oils. As nuts and seeds generally contain a high amount of phytic acid, it is good to soak them before eating. Phytic acid is not so good news, it stops your body somewhat from utilizing the nutrients the nut contains. Good news is – just try eating e.g. almonds that you soaked overnight. It is heavenly.
There’s no arguing that sugar is yummy. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty bad news for your teeth – and your body.
Sugar is the food of choice of the cavity-causing bacteria that live in your mouth in the appealing form of plaque – the sticky white yuckness you can see on your teeth if you skip brushing. When they get a dose of sugar, they start producing acid strong enough to eat through your enamel – which is stronger than steel.
Sugar by itself creates a more acidic environment in the mouth which speeds up the enamel erosion even more – cavities form faster and easier.
Eating more of sugary food because it is so tasty also means you’re eating less of the actually nutritious foods, thereby depriving your body of ammunition it needs to fight the damages created by sugar and other environmental influences.
Giving up sugar is hard enough for an adult, and when we’re talking kids, it will probably require private parts of titanium. Good news is, there are cheats and ways to keep the yummy and reduce the bad:
This sugar replacement tastes like sugar, it is about the same sweetness, it has no aftertaste and it’s nothing new or alien to our bodies – we actually make it ourselves in small quantities. What you buy in the store is produced industrially from a plant fiber xylan. Great news is that it’s actually good for your teeth because it creates a more base pH in your mouth, and it starves the bad bacteria to death. It also seems to aid remineralization of enamel, making your teeth even stronger, and it increases your saliva production – saliva is an excellent protector of your teeth. It is therefore a good sugar replacement and a xylitol chewing gum after a meal will make your teeth happier.
Adults will be glad to note that despite being just as sweet as sugar, it only contains 60% of its calories and doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels.
There are just two things to watch for with xylitol – make very, very sure you don’t give any to your dog – their bodies react differently to it and as little as 0.1 g (0.0035 oz) per 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of weight is enough for your dog to get sick. In other words, 0.01 oz (0.3 grams) of xylitol will make an average Chihuahua sick. If you think your dog may have eaten something which contains xylitol, take it to the vet straight away. If you have dogs or other pets – for example cats don’t respond quite so strongly, but you should also keep them away – erythritol or stevia seem to be safer alternatives to have around them. The reason is not that xylitol is poisonous, but while our bodies recognize it’s not sugar, dogs’ bodies don’t and when a dog eats something that’s sweet because of xylitol, it expects sugar and produces large amounts of insulin. This then leads to hypoglycemia and can even be fatal.
Some people may react to xylitol in the beginning when they take too much of it and can have bloating, gas or diarrhea. This improves with time and is individual, so it’s best to see for yourself. Although xylitol starves the bad bacteria in your mouth, it is good for the beneficial ones in your intestine, so no worries.
You can actually grow this plant at home and simply use its leaves – dried or fresh – to sweeten whatever needs sweetening. But if you are pregnant – pregnant women are discouraged from using raw stevia – or if you haven’t got about seven green thumbs and/or can’t be bothered, there’s always the store. Although the store-bought stevia sweeteners carry the name stevia, expect considerably less plant in them, as they will be a highly refined extract.
Stevia has no calories, is much sweeter than sugar so you’ll need to use less of it, and it has a bit of an aftertaste – see for yourself what suits you.
Let’s start with a very surprising fact – you should NOT brush immediately after eating. Yes, lots of people do that, we have been told that that is the thing to do. But while it is a good idea to brush after food, it is more harmful to your teeth to do it immediately after eating.
When you eat, the environment in your mouth is acidic, which can weaken your enamel. If you start brushing right after you’ve eaten, you only make things worse, even when you’re using a toothbrush with very soft bristles. The mouth needs some time to normalize its pH level, so wait around an hour before you brush.
Brushing is very important, and you shouldn’t forget to brush at least twice every day, ideally using interdental brushes as well as a regular brush, but not immediately after food.
Toothpaste is essentially something to make brushing more pleasant and lend a fresher feeling to your mouth, but some brands offer also abrasive properties, some contain herbs that promote gum health, minerals that fight sensitivity etc. It is a matter of personal choice depending on your tastes and the state of your mouth. But one point is worth mentioning and that is fluoride.
We will not enter here into an extensive discussion on fluoride – Google has ample information on this topic, including the fact that roughly 40% of US teens have been found to suffer from dental fluorosis – an overdose of fluoride. Another fact you will find is that fluoride is basically a poison. There are many fluoride-free alternatives on the market which will serve just as well, if not better, and there’s always the option of making your own if you wish.
When brushing your teeth, you’re not really trying to shine-up the enamel, you’re trying to remove the very soft coating of accumulated bacteria and (already softened) bits of remaining food particles, while leaving your enamel intact. Which is why you should go for a toothbrush with very soft (ultra-soft) bristles. Hard bristles will only wear away your enamel and scratch at your gums – and you don’t want either of these things.
Don’t forget to use interdental brushes. Flossing used to be recommended left, right and center, but studies have shown its efficiency to be not that great – it cannot reach the in-curving sides of your teeth for example, plus you can injure your gums. Interdental brushes are a more logical and pleasant choice. Their bristles reach all the nooks and crannies in between your teeth, and are friendly to your gums.
Your dental hygienist will tell you the right size, or you can just buy a small pack of a few sizes and select the right one – the rule is, it should be the largest one that fits and the fit should be quite snug. It’s quite common to need two different sizes because your teeth may be unevenly spaced. In general, only do this once a day and just once in and out (NO going back and forth), rinse the brush, next space. You should ideally do this in the evening so your teeth are nice and clean for the long period of sleep, especially if you tend to snore and your mouth gets dry in the night.
How to brush your teeth has seen many, many changes over the years, but today, dentists are agreeing that small, circular motions or vibrating and sweeping work best – and it does make sense. Here is a video which nicely illustrates the circular motion technique, while this video shows and explains the vibrating and sweeping.
There are products which help remineralize teeth, for instance the Tooth Mousse, supporting your teeth as you sleep. Even though it is freely available without prescription, do consult with your dentist before you start using it.
We hope these information will help you regain healthy teeth and save you some pain. Best of luck.