Is sugar-free gum the way to go?
June 19, 2010 4:40 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to clean your teeth when you can't brush?

I've taken for granted for years that chewing sugar-free gum is the best way, Trident in particular, but is it? I've noticed that a few of the sugar-free gums have gotten the ADA seal of approval, which has to count for something. But is sugar-free chewing gum good for your teeth basically just because it increases your saliva? And are there any better alternatives for cleaning your teeth after eating away from home?
posted by Ryogen to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
vigorously swishing with water?
posted by ian1977 at 4:45 PM on June 19, 2010

I've always heard eating an apple does the trick. Maybe anything as crunchy (celery?) would work.

Personally, I'd use a washcloth with some baking soda, or (ick!) soap if I had no choice. Even just a washcloth and water would be better than nothing.
posted by marimeko at 4:46 PM on June 19, 2010

posted by alexei at 4:52 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can keep mini brushes somewhere convenient. They're pretty effective.
posted by moviehawk at 5:02 PM on June 19, 2010

If you can get to a sink, floss and mouthwash. It's bacteria on food particles trapped between teeth that can cause bad breath.
posted by availablelight at 5:10 PM on June 19, 2010

My great grandmother would tell me to use the inside of an orange peel when I slept at her place and forgot my toothbrush. No idea if it works, but if Nany said so, it must have been true!
posted by OLechat at 5:13 PM on June 19, 2010

Best answer: But is sugar-free chewing gum good for your teeth basically just because it increases your saliva?

"Regular" sugar-free gum? Yes. But you can also find on the market more expensive sugar-free chewing gum that has Xylitol in it. From the wiki:
Recent research confirms a plaque-reducing effect and suggests that the compound, having some chemical properties similar to sucrose, attracts and then "starves" harmful micro-organisms, allowing the mouth to remineralize damaged teeth with less interruption.
Saliva containing xylitol is more alkaline than saliva which contains other sugar products. After taking xylitol products, the concentration of basic amino acids in saliva may rise. When pH is above 7, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva start to precipitate into those parts of enamel where they are lacking.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:17 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oral B Brush-Ups

I've never used these but apparently you don't need water or rinsing with them.
posted by woolylambkin at 5:20 PM on June 19, 2010

That said, if I could only do one, I'd pick flossing. Periodontal disease is way scarier than cavities.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:21 PM on June 19, 2010

Chewing Sticks
posted by Xurando at 5:31 PM on June 19, 2010

Vigorously wash with warm salt water.

But really, a toothbrush and mini thing of toothpaste and some floss are all so small that it makes much more sense to carry it with you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:38 PM on June 19, 2010

You are talking about when you've eaten a meal outside your home? You are still brushing morning and night? Or getting them brushed really well at least once a day? Are you trying to remove food debris, freshen your breath again? If so, then gum with Xylitol, or any sugar-free gum is just fine between brushings.

Personally, I would swish vigorously with water to remove food debris and chew gum to freshen breath. Brushing and flossing can wait until home.
posted by Jazz Hands at 5:40 PM on June 19, 2010

I've always heard eating an apple does the trick

Yeah, this is kind of an urban myth, apples - like many crunchy foods - can help "scrub" your teeth, however they are full of sugar and acidic, so whilst eating an apple can help clean your mouth, if left unbrushed, the acid and sugar from the apple can be just as damaging as what preceded it.
posted by smoke at 5:48 PM on June 19, 2010

I've used the Oral B Brush ups. They are just okay. They do manage to wipe some of the fuzzy plaque off the surface and leaves a minty residue. I feel they try to trick your mind more than actually do anything.
posted by spec80 at 6:17 PM on June 19, 2010

I keep a pack of these in my car.
posted by cottonswab at 6:22 PM on June 19, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, of course I still brush and floss after meals at home. But brushing and flossing on the go seems rather inconvenient. And while I have nothing against keeping my teeth white and breath fresh, I'm most concerned about avoiding tooth decay.
posted by Ryogen at 6:24 PM on June 19, 2010

Best answer: The bacteria in plaque needs time to colonize and begin leaching the minerals from your tooth surface. If you get in there at least once a day and get the plaque off your teeth, you have done 99% of the work. Don't drink acidic, sugary drinks too often, that helps too.
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:44 PM on June 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

BTW, this is bizarre to me. Trying to reassure you that you don't have to be overly concerned, I'm usually trying to explain to patients that they should step up their hygiene routine!
posted by Jazz Hands at 6:45 PM on June 19, 2010

do you also not have a toothbrush?
rinse your mouth out several times,
put salt on your finger and rub your teeth with it. floss if you can. gargle with salt water to clean your tongue and inner mouth.
posted by Geameade at 6:58 PM on June 19, 2010

Best answer: When I started brushing one more time a day my dentist made no comment on it. When I started flossing one more time a day he complained that he didn't have and excuse to see me very often any more.

Keep a pack of those little flossy things (pieces of plastic with an inch of floss in them and a toothpick end) handy. Keep one pack in your desk drawer, one in your car, etc, etc.
posted by Ookseer at 7:17 PM on June 19, 2010

Stuck without a toothbrush, and use either a wet paper towel or my finger (with toothpaste, salt or baking soda if you have it) and rub gently along your teeth and gumline. Maybe mouthwash but that doesn't necessarily remove any icky coating after some foods. Never found gum to be that helpful; maybe to get rid of some tastes but not clean my teeth.

I do keep a toothbrush, toothpaste, & floss at work for occasional use.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 8:08 PM on June 19, 2010

Second the recommendation of Xylitol. You can order it here. It's available in multiple flavors, sizes from travel to 600 count and works well for me.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 8:14 PM on June 19, 2010

Might be a little extravagant, but the technique of "pulling" might be considered.

Basically, it's swishing a mouthful of oil for 20 minutes, supposedly fighting back bacteria and plaque. It's popular in countries where dental hygiene is lacking, such as India.
posted by coldblackice at 8:33 PM on June 19, 2010

Best answer: Brushing on the go is not needed to prevent tooth decay. Rinsing your mouth after sugar is sufficient and don't drink sugar sodas, ever, especially colas. Brushing is really about controlling plaque and not about getting the food from a meal off of your teeth. Gum doesn't help that much with plaque, at least compared to flossing (I never) and brushing. I hate flossing, but these Stim-U-Dents work just as well. Brush in the morning and evening and keep sugar off your teeth and you should be fine. Oh, some sugars are worse than others. Brush after honey as it sticks to enamel like glue.
posted by caddis at 10:20 PM on June 19, 2010

Swishing with water or lightly rubbing your teeth with a soft cloth [or even paper towels- learned that on a camping trip] works pretty well, too!
posted by shesaysgo at 10:34 PM on June 19, 2010

I also found xylitol gum at the health food store.
posted by bentley at 8:14 AM on June 20, 2010

Best answer: Cheese supposedly works well. Growing up, it was the one snack I was allowed to have after brushing. This wikipedia article doesn't explicitly mention teeth cleaning, but does mention it's benefits for oral hygiene:

"Cheese contains calcium and phosphate, which helps balance pH in the mouth, preserves (and rebuilds) tooth enamel, produces saliva, and kills bacteria that cause cavities and disease"
posted by susanvance at 10:20 AM on June 20, 2010

Cheese, celery, and carrots seem to be good post-meal options for teeth. Also, from what I read, green tea. You should rinse with water afterward to avoid staining, but supposedly it won't be too bad as long as you rinse/floss within a normal amount of time.

I like the question though. I even try to avoid sugary drinks during parties at work because I'll freak out about the sugar and acid eating away my teeth for the next couple of hours.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:00 PM on June 20, 2010

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