Tips for keeping those pearly whites


PORTLAND, Ore. -- The five years between now and 2010, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention's goal for an 11 percent reduction in tooth
decay rates in children, will go by in a heartbeat. Getting good habits
into place while the government is making headway in addressing oral health
is crucial.

Taking care of one's teeth and learning to eat and drink in ways that don't
promote decay may feel like too much at first, but as with any new habit,
half the battle is starting small and sticking with it while working up to
the goal.

Children under two years don't need toothpaste, but wiping down their teeth
twice a day with a washcloth is a great way to start them on the road to
good oral care. Experts also suggest giving water at night instead of milk,
juice or sugary formulas that leave deposits on the teeth during sleep when
saliva production is low. Also, experts say modeling good oral care for
youngsters as they grow does wonders in helping little ones get used to the
idea that healthy teeth and gums require attention. As kids get older and
start brushing with a pea-size bit of toothpaste at first, there are always
songs and games to keep things fun -- even a chart with stickers to mark
each morning and night of successful oral care.

"Successful oral care" sounds so official. Yet on closer examination, it
appears that the phrase means different things to different people. Even
among dentists, opinions vary on what folks need to do to protect their
teeth. A particularly aggressive approach comes from Prosthodontist Nader
Rassouli of Portland. "You need to brush for eight minutes. That's what it
takes to really get your teeth cleaned -- and the gums too. I do it twice a
day and recommend that for my patients."

In the business of restorative dentistry, Rassouli has seen more than one
mouth in seriously bad shape, so it stands to reason that his approach is
ultra-conservative. Most hygienists, though, shoot for a two-minute brush
after breakfast and dinner, with flossing: eight to 10 swipes per tooth

Additionally, across the board, dentists and hygenists say to always brush
or at the very least rinse after eating or drinking sugary foods or soda
pop. "You can eat sugar," said Rassouli, "but it's best to do it at
mealtimes and then brush right after. Any time people drink a pop or eat
candies and don't clean their teeth right away, the sugar starts working on
the tooth enamel and before people know it, they've got decay."

Aside from cultivating good oral care and eating habits, getting in to see
the dentist in a timely fashion also helps preserve the pearly whites.
Dentists advise taking children in for their first appointment around their
first birthday. These visits give dentists an opportunity to check for any
abnormalities and give kids basic advice about caring for their teeth and
gums. Starting early and making it fun by taking along a favorite toy for
comfort -- not to mention collecting whatever prizes the dentist gives out
-- does much to lessen fear of the dentist that people can develop if they
wait until they have a toothache for their first appointment.

That's the problem with toothaches and people: while we tend to take some
aspirin for a headache, when it comes to a painful tooth, the tendency is
delay. Commenting on reasons people give to delay seeing the dentist,
Joseph Riley III, associate professor of the University of Florida's
College of Dentistry, said, "According to the data from the recent urgent
dental visit study, males are the most likely to have oral pain and not
visit a dentist. Some people believe that dental care isn't useful; their
perceived quality of past care and trust in dentists are low. There are a
small percentage of patients that dread a dental visit to the point of
avoidance for years.

'Mostly, though, it is a cost/benefit issue. Only when the pain or other
symptoms like difficulty eating, or when people don't like the way their
smile looks, does this group finally visit a dentist. Persons that don't
value their oral health are also less likely to take the time to brush and
floss. It takes a lot to motivate them to come in for an appointment --
especially regular checkups."