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Oral Hygiene
Posted on 7/6/2022 by Mark Mutschler
Family practicing oral hygiene.Oral hygiene is just mouth cleaning; cleaning the microscopic life that grows in our mouths off of our teeth and gums. 

Why is oral hygiene important?  Oral hygiene keeps us healthy. It is common knowledge that germs cause disease and are contagious but I want to discuss this further from a dental perspective.

The most common mouth diseases are gum disease and tooth decay, both of these diseases are caused by bacteria. Cleaning the germs off of our gums keeps our teeth roots strong and cleaning our teeth prevents cavities. 

Did you know that sugar does NOT cause tooth decay?  Are you surprised? Brushing and flossing teeth is not intended to remove food from teeth - it is to remove the germs from teeth because cavities are not caused by sugar or candy alone, they are caused by germs eating those sweets!

Bacteria eat the same food you eat and poop out a sticky acidic substance we call plaque. If acidic plaque stays on your teeth very long, the enamel surface of your teeth will start to dissolve into a hole that is hard to clean the plaque out of.  Once there is a cavity in your tooth, it is hard to clean so the plaque bacteria safely grow making more and more acidic plaque that makes the cavity larger and larger until you get a toothache or get the cavity filled by a dentist. Knowing this, you may want to eat a candy bar after brushing and flossing your teeth because all the bacteria that could turn the sugar into acid will be gone and the chocolate will remove the nasty toothpaste taste!

We live surrounded by microscopic germs of all kinds such as fungus, yeast, viruses, protozoa, and bacteria.  We try to keep away from sick people because we know that germs are contagious and we don’t want to get sick too.

There are bad germs that make us ill and there are good germs that help us.  Bad bacteria infect us and cause problems like pimples on our skin or ulcers inside our stomach or cavities on our teeth or abscesses on our gums.  We do our best to remove bad bacteria by washing our bodies with soap and water and brushing / flossing our teeth and gums. Our gut germs (called microbiota) provide us with benefits like digesting some foods for us and making vitamins we need to be healthy and, very importantly, preventing bad germs from growing there. In fact, we now know that antibiotics can make us ill by killing all the good germs in our guts and allowing bad germs to take over.

Because mouths are the gateway to our digestive system, they are the first stop in growing our gut microbiota.  We try to replace the bad bacteria with good bacteria by eating foods like yogurt or other "live culture" foods with probiotic bacteria that are beneficial to our health. 

Thinking about good and bad germs, we don’t often think about how we got our very first germs. Mostly, you can thank your mom.  When you are born, you move from a sterile womb into a world teeming with life.  The birth canal is a baby's first introduction to bacteria and babies also get infected with bacteria from nursing, sharing food, hugging and kissing - all of which largely comes from mothers.

Some patients tell me that bad teeth run in the family. That may be true but not in the way they think.  As you now know, our germs come from our mothers and our mothers got their germs from their mothers. So, if your grandmother had lots of cavities, she had the aggressive type of bacteria that are really good at turning food, and especially carbohydrates, into acidic germ poop called plaque that dissolves tooth enamel into holes we call cavities.  It is very likely that she passed those bad bacteria on to your mom who then passed them on to you.

This is important because you may be able to break the mother-to-child spread of those bad bacteria by working especially hard at brushing and flossing your teeth to remove as many bad bacteria as possible and then reinfecting your mouth with good probiotic bacteria that are not as good at making acidic plaque as the old type of bacteria you got from your mom. In fact, dental probiotic supplements are now being sold to people who want to change their bad germs for better ones.

Oral hygiene is important for your health and happiness and there are effective steps you can take keep your mouth clean:
•  Brush and floss your teeth and gums a couple of times each day, taking the time to do a thorough job cleaning all the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.
•  Visit your dentist for checkups to see how good your brushing technique is and for any pointers to do better.
•  Floss your teeth.
•  Use fluoride supplements for kids in areas without enough natural fluoride in the water.
•  Use fluoride containing toothpaste.
•  Avoid frequent sweet drinks and starchy snacks because it is hard to clean ALL the germs off ALL your teeth ALL the time!
•  Even if cavities run in your family, you can overcome aggressive germs with excellent brushing and flossing and consider using probiotic supplements.
•  Did I mention flossing your teeth?
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