Give me your old wive's tales about dental health, please.
June 4, 2012 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Please share your wingnut advice about healthy teeth and gums.

I'm so good to my teeth. I floss, I brush, I use fluoride rinse, I'm addicted to Gum soft-picks, I don't drink soda, I rarely eat potato chips, I go to the dentist every six months. Yet my gums are receding and I still need to get fillings all the freaking time.

I'm doing -- and am going to continue to do -- all the conventional stuff for good dental health, but I'm wondering if there are any less-standard things I could be doing. Do you have any oral hygiene tips that are less well-known?

Should I massage my gums with birch leaves? Did your grandmother carry a nail in her pocket to keep cavities away? Anecdotes are very welcome.
posted by The corpse in the library to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
For awhile I was rinsing with diluted hydrogen peroxide after brushing and flossing; the dentist was impressed with the results but I quit doing it because the aftertaste of H202 was so nasty I had to brush my teeth again all over and it got tedious.
posted by The otter lady at 9:22 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Genetics have not been good to my teeth either. Two things have helped out quite a bit: using an electric toothbrush (I use a low-end Braun) and going to the dentist every 3-4 months for professional cleaning and evaluation.
posted by exogenous at 9:25 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could possibly be brushing too hard? TBH most of these issues are apparently genetic.
posted by elizardbits at 9:26 AM on June 4, 2012

Genetically my teeth should be terrible. My mom took flouride in tablets when she was pregnant with me, I also got flouride treatments every 6 months (GAK! Is that nasty tasting stuff!)

I've never had a cavity worth discussing.

I don't know how to go back in time and solve your problem, but if you have kids, I'm thinking flouride is amazing stuff.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:27 AM on June 4, 2012

Use an "Extra Soft" toothbrush (not just "Soft!") like these Perio ones or these by Colgate, and brush very gently. They're amazing.
posted by argonauta at 9:28 AM on June 4, 2012

Yea, genetics. But I have to say, irrigating the gums is a thing I never saw the benefits of until I, like, did it. AMAZING what comes out of your gums, even after you floss. My dentist is very gung-ho about it.

Water Piks with a chamber are a little awkward; I really like my sink-attached one for an endless supply of water at just the right pressure and completely adjustable temperature.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think some of this has to be chalked up to genetics. My middle aged dentist flosses twice a day and does everything one could do to prevent cavities, and even she has a few crowns that needed to be put in.

Also keep in mind that with the advent of those laser devices, dentists can find much smaller cavities more easily and are quick to fill them, so you're going to see an uptick in the number of cavities you're getting, because they can find more of them and find them much earlier than they used to.
posted by deanc at 9:31 AM on June 4, 2012

Does your tap water have fluoride in it? Despite th controversy I think it's been great for dental health.
posted by whalebreath at 9:41 AM on June 4, 2012

Never Brush Your Teeth Immediately After a Meal

Not before either. It's probably well known since I got it from my dentist. There's a film that builds up between meals and insulates your teeth from what you eat; you should eat when that film has developed, and shed it with the food that it carries half an hour or so after the meal.

Another that may well be an old-wives tale, or at least it's the experience in my family: people tend to have either good teeth or good gums; I don't know if one trait is dominant or if it's more complicated.
posted by Tobu at 10:09 AM on June 4, 2012

I've often heard that chewing sugar free gum for about 15-20 minutes after a meal helps generate salavia which reduces bacteria and plaque build up. I tried it but quickly learned that chewing that much artificially sweetened gum was bad for me in other ways.
posted by COD at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cavities are known to be influenced by both genes and environment (e.g., sugary foods, poor dental health), so you might just be SOL if you got a bad toss on the genetic dice. One thing that might help is to NOT rinse with water after brushing (just spit)- I've been told that the fluoride in toothpaste is more effective if it's not rinsed off immediately after brushing. Also be sure to avoid eating and drinking for a half hour after rinsing with fluoride mouthwash.

I have problems with gum recession too. My dentist said that there are a variety of schools of thought on why gums recede, and it's most likely that there's some truth in each explanation. Some people think it's genetics, some people think it's a consequence of hard toothbrush bristles and the grit from toothpaste, others think it's from clenching/grinding your teeth. I'm sure that there are other hypotheses that I'm unaware of. I was more or less able to slow the progress of the gum recession and eliminate root pain by changing my dental health habits. First, I cut down the amount and frequency of my toothpaste use. In the morning, I use a tiny amount on a soft toothbrush and rinse with fluoride mouthwash. At night, I floss, brush with a soft brush without toothpaste, and rinse with fluoride mouthwash. I also use Sensodyne, which helps with the pain from the exposed roots. Lastly, I'm a lot more conscious of clenching my teeth (I had tiny cracks in the base of my teeth from clenching), and I think I've been able to reduce that just by being aware of it and generally not stressing out about life.
posted by quiet coyote at 10:16 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try a new dentist. I used to go to a dentist that always managed to find something that needed drilling and filling, and I always just went along with it. Trust the doctor, right? But then, for unrelated reasons, I started going to a new dentist, and guess what? I haven't needed a single filling since.
posted by spilon at 10:17 AM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

I have this problem too, it's awesome. Those minutes of flossing are thankless.

My recommendation: child's toothbrush. They fit better into the way back sides and tops, and they're softer. Plus, mine says Crayola on it and has a blue flashing light in the handle, so that's nice.

General routine:
flossing + electric toothbrush at night, sometimes saltwater rinse
Kid's toothbrush in the AM, flouride rinse.

After some harrowing dental experiences, my teeth are stable, which is all I hope for. I also go to the dentist four times a year for cleanings, so that's fun.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:27 AM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Has your dentist given you a reason that your gums are receding? The fact that you mention this and do not mention that you are being treated for it is of concern. What does your dentist say about your gingival/periodontal health? I had a dentist that neglected mine in the past -- sure, my crowns and fillings were taken care of, but then when I moved and changed dentists, I found out that I had severe periodontal disease that had not been appropriately treated. I've now spent thousands of dollars cleaning up the wreckage. So, my advice is to make sure that your dentist and hygienist are vigilant in that regard.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:38 AM on June 4, 2012

You ever try a Water Pik? I use one with a 1:5 peroxide:warm water mix and dentists always remark on how great my gums look.
posted by notsnot at 10:43 AM on June 4, 2012

Response by poster: My dentist says I'm doing everything right except that I could be flossing a little better, which she showed me how to do. It's mostly genetics for the teeth and aging for the gums, is my impression.

My gums haven't receded to a point that surgery is needed. They just do that awful poking test once a year. Is there more that can be done, before it gets bad, that my dentist hasn't told me about?

These answers are all great. Thank you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:44 AM on June 4, 2012

I have thin enamel having grown up in a town with no flouride in the water. Plus, of course, my genes.
I used to constantly have cavities, but I haven't had one since I started using expensive enamel hardening toothpaste from Germany once a week. I can usually find some on ebay. I told my dentist about this and he suggested Sensodyne Enamel hardening toothpaste, which I now use the other days of the week.
posted by Duffington at 10:54 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dentists really know what there is to know about teeth and gums. One thing you might think about is seeing a periodontist (specialist in gums) to see if they have any more specialized prevention strategies or recommendations.

I also grew up without fluoride (born in a weirdly John Bircher town and moved to a town with well water only) and use special enamel-hardening toothpaste, as Duffington discusses. That's a fairly low-effort intervention, though it can get a bit pricey.

All the "alternative" interventions I've ever seen recommended for dental health are ridiculous quackery like "oil pulling," which is just a waste of time and energy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2012

My gums stopped receding when I started using a Sonicare electric toothbrush.
posted by advicepig at 11:26 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

My first link didn't work. Here's a small explanation of what it is. In English.
posted by Duffington at 11:33 AM on June 4, 2012

My gums kept receding when I started using a Sonicare electric toothbrush.

(And every single visit, my dentist says, "You're probably brushing your gums too hard," and I say, "I use a Sonicare toothbrush," and he says, "That's good! They stop working when you press too hard to prevent over-brushing," and I say, "Yes, that's what you've been telling me for four years," and he says, "Oh, well, anyway, receding gums happen to a lot of people as they get older." I love the blame-the-patient-first strategy of healthcare providers.)
posted by BrashTech at 12:19 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

My gums receded until I quit smoking and drinking pop. I also switched from aggressive flossing to lightly flossing and more picking with some picks a dentist friend gave me.

Seconding the Sonicare toothbrush. It does wonders once you get used to your nose hair uncontrollably vibrating while using it.

Seconding seeing a periodontist. Yeah, it might hurt at the time, but in the long run it's all worth it.
posted by Sphinx at 12:21 PM on June 4, 2012

Brushing too hard is really easy to do. It will cause your gums to recede. To stop this, get an electric toothbrush. I have a Rotadent, ordered through my dentist. It was about $100, but I've already had it replaced under warranty twice (in like 10 years), so I consider it a pretty good investment.

I have a sort-of small mouth, and tightly packed teeth, so I have to use waxed floss. I like Glide the best. I'd rather not floss unless I have Glide. Try a few different flosses if you think that is contributing to the issue. By the way, electric toothbrushes are also wonderful in that the bristles get under your gums, like what flossing does.

Some people are just destined to have more cavities than others. Don't sweat it, but take care of your teeth. Sounds like you are off to a great start.
posted by FergieBelle at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a link to Seth Roberts' blog.
where people have reported flax seed oil helping with gum problems You did ask for wingnut advice.
posted by artychoke at 7:16 PM on June 4, 2012

My gums are receeding too and I get depressed every time I have to go to the dentist because I know another mini lecture is coming. Ugh.

I brush with an electric toothbrush morning and night, floss daily and use a proxibrush with an antibacterial solution daily. I try and use two fingers only when using the electric, in order to avoid over brushing. I'm also careful to use only a small amount of toothpaste. That, along with regular scraping chez the dentist has slowed things down at least.

No cavities my whole life though. Mom put floride drops in my water and I had sealant put in as a kid.

Genetics suck. Keep fighting the good fight.
posted by Cuke at 8:41 PM on June 4, 2012

OK, there is one small study that suggests swishing oil in the mouth can help gingivitis. I guess it couldn't hurt to try it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:08 PM on June 4, 2012

Sidhedevil's link is probably about oil pulling, which is supposed to be really good for your teeth. I did it for some time but only stopped because I couldn't find a source for the oil I was using in the UK.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:49 AM on June 5, 2012

Ask your doctor about chewing Tums once a day for calcium? Or taking a multivitamin with calcium?
posted by IndigoRain at 4:25 AM on June 5, 2012

Xylitol chewing gum for cavities. No ideas for gums, unfortunately. If you hate chewing gum and your mouth is a little on the dry side, try those done thingies you stick in your mouth at night. I got a mainstream brand drugstore sample and loved it, so I just ordered a bunch of non-mainstream zylitol domes that work by the same realease mechanism off amazon. Sorry, on my phone so I can't link you to xylitol and cavity studies, but you can google or hit pubmed.

But personally, I went 30 years without regular dental visits and not a single cavity. Only started getting them when I started drinking the occasional soda, eating out a lot, and generally not taking care of myself. Xylitol gum is one of the little ways I'm trying to fight back. Electric toothbrush seems to help as well.

Good luck. I'm hoping you get some good suggestions for gums. Memail me if you're interested in the domes and can't find them; I can link to 'em next time I'm at my computer. Also, not all xylitol gum is created equal; I think some of it sucks.
posted by thelastcamel at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The practitioner rinses the mouth with approximately one tablespoon of oil (sesame and sunflower oils are the most recommended) for 15–20 minutes on an empty stomach (before eating/drinking) then spits it out.

From Wikipedia.

posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:30 PM on June 5, 2012

I kind of poked around for even nuttier suggestions, because this question amused me and I found this study on pubmed about about centella_asiatica. Centella asiatica is gotu kola, fwiw.
posted by thelastcamel at 3:50 PM on June 12, 2012

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