Who Wants To Keep Their Teeth?


My father told the story of a young man that showed up in his office one day. There was the usual small talk as they got acquainted and finally the young man revealed that this day was his 21st birthday. My dad congratulated him, and then the young man said that in his family it was traditional that on their 21st birthday everyone would have all their teeth removed and get their first set of dentures! Because the young man had a fine set of natural teeth, my dad refused, the young man left, and never returned to the practice.

Most (but not all) of the patients we encounter want to save their teeth so I thought we could focus on what is needed for people to keep their teeth for a lifetime.

There are two main diseases that cause people to lose teeth, the first being cavities and the second being gum disease. Cavities are caused by acid in the mouth and to prevent cavities we all need to avoid putting acidic foods and drink in our mouth, or feeding bacteria that produce acids. On an interesting side note, cleaning does not have a strong correlation with preventing cavities, but we’ll get back to that in a moment. Acidic drinks that cause cavities are soda, diet soda, and energy drinks, but drinking coffee and tea is not closely associated with cavities. Foods are generally not acidic, but they can feed certain bacteria that excrete acids. The bacteria that excrete the most acids like carbohydrates, specifically sugars, so we want to avoid candy, crackers, and cookies. A very important factor with food and drink is how long the food is in the mouth, so sipping on a soda all day, snacking continuously, or snacking on candies that stick to the teeth will definitely cause cavities. Not to be unrealistic, we counsel our patients to limit sodas and candy to less than one per day. That’s 6 sodas per week and 6 pieces of candy. Please do not think that anyone can brush away a bad snacking habit. It just doesn’t work.

You may have noticed how I’ve downplayed the role of cleaning in preventing cavities. But when we look at the other main disease of the mouth, gum disease, we find that it’s all about cleaning! It’s not enough to put a toothbrush in your mouth for 15 seconds a day. We need to learn to clean every surface of every tooth every day. We will all need to use multiple devices to accomplish this as well as a lesson or two on how to use each of these devices. Our philosophy is to turn each of our patients into their own hygienist and we become their hygiene coach, a philosophy that has worked very well for over forty years.

That’s it! If we want to keep our teeth for a lifetime we need to focus on two things, cavities and gum disease. Cavities are caused by a poor diet and gum disease is caused by ineffective cleaning. So, let’s all become our own personal hygienist, and learn to eat reasonably. Now that’s something to smile about!

If you have any questions or want help keeping your teeth for a lifetime, we are here for you!

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