Dental care in the long descent

I've got a dentist appointment tomorrow so my teeth are again on my mind.

Teeth, like eyes and ears, never, ever get better. They only get worse. I'm 61 and had the usual slapdash dental care as a child. We saw a dentist annually for cleanings or it might have been every six months. We certainly saw him for cavities.

Does anyone remember the Crest commercials: Look mom! No cavities! That used to be a big deal. Today, thanks to the miracle of sealants, it's commonplace for your kids to have no cavities despite their daily slapdash care. I have a filling in every single molar. My kids (three of them) have one filling between the three of them and it's a small one. Almost everyone I know my age has a mouthful of fillings.

My childhood dentist always hurt me. I have a sensitive mouth but no one wanted to hear it. As a result, I avoided dentists altogether as an adult until I couldn't anymore.

Sadly, and I deeply regret this, I did NOT step up my oral hygiene routine to compensate. I brushed faithfully at the end of the day or if I was going somewhere but that was it.

What I SHOULD have done and did not was rinse and brush after every single meal. Add to that a full routine of rinse, floss, rinse, and brush at the end of each day. Thus multiple cleanings during the day. This routine -- and it wouldn't have taken that much time -- would have saved me thousands of $$ in dental care over the last twenty-five years. My gums have receded very badly, causing other problems. I have routine dental pain. Eating something cold can be exquisitely painful. Even breathing cold air can hurt.

I do this cleaning routine NOW and it helps but it won't heal the damage. I'm also to the point where I need to use a prescription toothpaste. Yes, they make them and they are expensive.

So what should you do when dental care might be spotty at best or completely unavailable at worst?

Get your teeth repaired now. While you can. Any care that you need, but make sure it's medically needed and not for cosmetic reasons. Whitening your teeth doesn't strengthen the enamel. My sister got braces in her forties because she wanted a less crooked smile. She spent tens of thousands of dollars, her teeth fought her, and it didn't -- in the end -- change much other than making boat payments for her dentist. After she endured all kinds of fun, she met her now retired dentist (he had not done that work) and he told her that as you age, your teeth become less accepting of being forced into new positions. In other words, braces work better for teenagers than for adults. He also didn't care for whitening because of what it did to the enamel, if you weren't very careful.

So what should you do to prepare for the future?

Rinse and brush thoroughly after every meal. At the end of the day, rinse (to remove loose particles), floss (to scrape the teeth clean), rinse again (to remove anything the floss dislodged), and then brush (to apply fluoride to the newly cleaned surfaces. Flossing after you brush removes the newly applied fluoride.

Train your family members, difficult though the task is, to do the same. Get everyone sealants. They've saved my kids' teeth. The fewer fillings you have going into adulthood, the easier it will be to maintain what you've got.

Other things to do to save your teeth.

Do NOT smoke!!! It's terrible for your mouth in general.

No colas or sugary sodas in general. A fun project is putting a few nails in a glass of Coke. The Coke will dissolve the nails a lot faster than water will. Think about that swishing around in your mouth over and over. Sugar really is bad for your teeth so drink plain water.

If you're worried about stains, go easy on the tea and coffee.

DO NOT CHEW ICE!!!! Ever! You'll crack your teeth.

Avoid the kind of activity that gets you punched in the face. If you participate in that sort of activity, wear a mouth guard.

Dental care is all based on prevention, because once damage sets in, it's a downhill slide down the razor blade of life, picking up speed and getting worse.

lathechuck's picture

I tie dental floss into a loop, starting with a piece about a foot long. It takes some practice to tie it into a secure knot, especially if you have the slippery (Teflon?) "glide" floss that my dentist supplies. I've learned to tie two knots, and let the first one slip into the second before I really pull them tight. The floss loop has three benefits: it's easier to get a firm grip (because you don't need to keep the ends from slipping from your fingers), it uses less floss (because you don't need enough to get a firm grip around your fingers), and you may get multiple uses from a single loop, since you can use most of the length for actual flossing, instead of wearing out just the middle.
Toothpaste is OK, but (from several sources I've read) not really essential. The brushing and flossing itself cleans the food particles out before they can feed the bacteria that secrete acid to attack the teeth.
Avoid sugar, but also maintain calcium and vitamin D inputs, for good bone health (in general). Kale has more calcium per gram of milk... but I have to note: it's a lot easier to put a cup of milk on my oatmeal than a half-cup (packed) of kale. (The exact ratio depends on which source you believe, and probably depends on the calcium available in the soil where the kale was grown. I'm adding ground eggshells to my gardens to raise the calcium levels, anyway.)

A tied loop of floss was a total game changer for me - allowing me to make a daily habit of it simply because I could avoid the awkward and uncomfortable mess made by fingers losing circulation by tightly wrapped floss and the requirement that more of my hand had to be in my mouth. Now it's quick and easy and cleaner. I do make mine shorter than your 1 foot-length - each loop's circumference is about 7-8 inches for me, but that's just personal preference.

There's some good advice here around prevention practices that not only do not involve dentists but do not require mass-produced products at all:

Though I've encountered the "tooth stick" idea before and I have used them, this makes an interesting point about a different brushing method that strengthens gums instead of causing them to recede (as too much brushing can do).

There's also the dietary aspect—Weston Price claims that traditional cultures which consumed certain types of food tended to have extremely healthy teeth into old age, without dental care. I think is was something along the lines of organ meats, oils from fish/ animal fats / bone broth / grass fed butter, and fermented foods (not sure if that's the exact combo).

I have sort of tried out the advice about taking cod-liver oil/butter to reverse cavity formation. Sometimes I start to see dark patches forming in the deep, basically unbrushable crevices of my back molars, seemingly the beginnings of a cavity, and I have managed to avoid any cavities so far by taking cod-liver oil. I don't think I ever had a full-fledged cavity, but some degree of reversal seemed to happen.

lathechuck's picture

Those sound like good sources of Vitamin D and calcium, both important for bones and teeth.

I've been taking vitamin D for years, but have begun to think about alternate sources of supply, since I heard that most of the synthetic stuff is produce in China. Of course, I should get it from sunshine, and I've recently read that mushrooms synthesize it when they're in the sun (just as we would). I have no way of knowing how much they'll synthesize, though, or to what extent they need to be actively growing while in the sun. (Without a circulatory system, does a mushroom cap even know that it's been harvested?) Should I put my mushrooms out in the sun before slicing them into a salad?