Feeling fuzzy? Go brush! That sweater-mouth feeling is plaque, a layer of soft white gunk coating your teeth.
And don’t forget floss, especially since today is Flossing Day. (Happy Flossing Day everyone!) And guess what? You can even use the same piece of floss as last time.
Don’t believe me? Ask your dentist. I did, for CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine….
Flossed in translation
If you look at unbrushed teeth using a microscope, you’ll see hungry colonies of bacteria munching sugary leftovers from between your teeth. These bacteria release acids that dissolve the protective enamel on the outside of your teeth, and cause cavities.
“Brushing your teeth removes these bacteria, so they can’t sit on the surface of your tooth for too long,” explains dentist Dr Peter Klages. “But if you’re snacking throughout the day, the bacteria have a constant supply of sugar to work with, so you’re increasing your decay rate.”
Peter says it’s fine to brush right after a sugary snack, like dried fruit or lollies, but wait half an hour before brushing after an acidic drink, like juice or soda. This gives your saliva a chance to neutralise the acids and protect your enamel.
And what about re-using floss? Well, you reuse your toothbrush all the time, so…
“There’s no harm in reusing floss, provided it’s still intact enough to clean between your teeth,” says dentist Dr Peter Klages. “Flossing once a day maintains healthy gums, and helps avoid decay where the brush can’t reach.”
Just add water
Lost in the jungle without a toothbrush? No excuse.
“It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you’re cleaning thoroughly,” says Peter. “Some cultures use cloth, others use a stick that has been feathered at the end.”
It’s best to brush twice a day: after breakfast and before bed. Peter also recommends drinking water after a meal, to wash away food particles and acid.
Dark, warm, moist and stuffed with food, your mouth is home to more than 400 species of bacteria, but not all of them cause decay. The main culprit is Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that combines with proteins in your saliva to grow into plaque.
The new drill
Has your dentist spotted signs of early decay? A University of Sydney study suggests early decay can actually be reversed, with up to 50 per cent of fillings avoided if you:
- Ask your dentist to coat the trouble spot with fluoride varnish
- Clean the spot super-well every time you brush
- Cut back on sugary snacks and drinks
- Visit your dentist regularly
Peter says a two-minute brush is the minimum: “Brushing faster isn’t going to clean any better…You have to take time to get into those all the nooks and crannies, to clean really well.”