The American Dental Association recommends that you visit your dentist at least once a year to get a routine examination and cleaning, although every six months is better in order to prevent periodontal disease. Photo at Dr. Grenfell’s office by Rachel Lukas.
Blame it on the nice weather or the fact that we’ve spent months cooped up indoors, but the arrival of spring also seems to bring a sense of urgency to clean the garage, power-wash the patio and give our closets a renewed sense of organization.
But our home is not the only area of our life that deserves a deep clean – our mouths do, too. In fact, scheduling a spring dental cleaning can help refresh those pearly whites and improve your overall health.
When it comes to oral health care, the consensus is that brushing is sufficient, but it isn’t. During a dental visit, a hygienist gently polishes away stains and removes tartar buildup – something the average toothbrush may miss. A dentist then inspects the teeth for problems and creates an appropriate treatment plan if problems are detected.
By having routine cleanings and exams, patients are not only paving the way for healthy teeth and gums, but they’re also establishing positive, lifelong habits. Even more, dedicated mouth maintenance can help prevent many complex health problems and diseases later in life.
“Everything is connected, and many health conditions can have oral manifestations,” said Dr. Gina Grenfell. “Our mouths are like a gateway to the rest of our body.”
Grenfell, a dentist at Smile Designs of Door County in Sturgeon Bay, strives to educate patients on the links between oral health and overall wellness.
“Oral manifestations can come from several conditions or diseases,” she said. “Common ones are diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.”
Our teeth are actually part of the immune system. Although the primary purpose of that system is to prevent illness or injury, sometimes it can become part of the problem instead.
“When bacteria accumulates, either in the oral cavity due to poor oral hygiene or in the bone surrounding the teeth, it will travel to other parts of the body, causing any number of health issues,” said Dr. Jennifer Olson of Olson Dentistry in Sturgeon Bay.
Working to prevent such health issues begins with routine mouth care, which makes a spring appointment even more practical. Generally, dentists cleaning appointments every six months and stress the importance of flossing. Olson, like many dentists, recommends using a water flosser at home.
“We love the results we see when our patients faithfully use theirs,” she said. “Being mindful and methodical in hygiene and eating habits will go a long way in creating a healthy mouth and body.”
However, using outdated or worn-out tools is a common mistake that can hinder desirable results. According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, 75% of Americans use a toothbrush longer than three months. This time span may seem short, but given the nature of its job, frequent replacement is beneficial because bacteria can build up on the bristles and cause infections and bad breath. Buying a new toothbrush is a relatively inexpensive and easy way to keep your mouth clean.
And don’t forget about thoroughly cleaning retainers, dentures and insertable aligners, all of which can be cleaned with specialized cleanser products and mouthwash soaks.
If whitening your teeth is part of your dental spring-cleaning plan, “Whiten your teeth with an approved teeth-whitening agent if your dentist feels it would work for you,” said Dr. Timothy Tishler, who’s based in Sister Bay.
Alternatively, selecting a toothpaste that contains baking soda can also brighten stained or dull teeth, as can watching your diet.
“Avoid eating sticky, sugary foods and carbonated beverages,” Tishler said. “Beverages that contain a high amount of sugar, even if it is a natural sugar like fructose, are also bad for your teeth.”
That’s because bacteria found in the mouth feed on sugar and produce an acid that dissolves tooth enamel if left on the teeth, creating cavities.
“[Sugar is] in obvious places like soda and candy, but also in much sneakier areas like processed snack foods, cereals, granola bars and even milk,” Grenfell said. “The more frequently they are consumed, the more acid that is in your mouth, and the higher the chance for problems to arise.”
Ultimately, there are multiple factors that are important to consider when it comes to the overall health of your mouth and body.
“Spring cleaning a smile could mean making a healthier diet and lifestyle changes, or developing better oral-hygiene habits,” Olson said.