Explore the feel-good magic of smiles, the evolutionary significance of a toothy grin and the surprising connections between oral health and overall wellbeing. Here's why correct brushing and a mindful approach to dental care is an act of self-love
A smile. It’s the ultimate feel-good drug. Not just an expression of a positive mood, studies have shown that the act of smiling actually improves our sense of wellbeing by triggering the release of happy hormone, Serotonin. Plus it makes the person wearing it more attractive to others and as we all know, it’s contagious; if someone beams at us, we instinctively reciprocate - social connection in an instant!
On an evolutionary level, a toothy grin isn’t just great for social bonding, it’s also gives a potential mate insight into more than just the mood of the donor. A full set of gleaming gnashers implies health and fertility, whilst halitosis and poor oral health is the ultimate turn-off. With a third of UK adults under 35 having cosmetic dentistry last year, the pursuit of a perfect set of pearly whites has never been so popular.
Looks aside, what happens in our mouths has a bigger impact on our general health than you might expect. Teeth are the only part of our skeleton exposed to the outside world. The barrier function performed by healthy gums prevents a multitude of potentially harmful oral microbes from entering our bloodstream.
Prehistoric human remains demonstrate very little dental disease but our modern day western diet contains high levels of carbohydrates and sugar in particular, which feed the bacteria responsible for gum disease and tooth enamel erosion. They lay down plaque and create “pockets” between the tooth and gum where the most dangerous bugs multiply and can gain access to our bloodstream, causing damage to the lining of blood vessels, heart disease and they have even been found in areas of the brain responsible for memory. Whilst the connection between oral health and dementia has yet been proven, if that ain’t motivation to get flossing, I don’t know what is!
What exactly is plaque?
Plaque is an adherent layer produced by oral bacteria interacting with food particles and saliva. Foods most likely to promote this sticky slime contain carbohydrates and acids, so sweets, fruit juices, smoothies and carbonated soft drinks are all bad news. If not brushed/flossed away within a few days it hardens into dental calculus or tartar, which cannot be removed with simple cleaning and needs to be scraped off by your hygienist.
How to keep your chompers looking pucker:
1. Floss once every single day before brushing. Food particles become trapped in the tiny spaces between teeth that our toothbrush can’t reach. If you find using floss difficult, try interdental brushes.
2. Use a fluoride toothpaste as it helps to strengthen enamel.
3. Brush for two minutes in the morning before eating and again after your last food/drink before bed.
4. Wait at least 30 minutes after drinking anything acidic (e.g. fruit juice, smoothies, wine). Enamel is softened by these and will be more easily eroded.
5. Use a soft brush and only a pea sized amount of toothpaste. Angle your brush at 45 degrees against the gum line. If you are using a regular toothbrush, make circular motions over your molars and premolars; for your front teeth hold your brush vertically and sweep it up and down. If using an electric toothbrush hold it steady over the gum line for several seconds over each tooth-gum interface. Then brush tooth surfaces and finally, the insides of the cheeks and the tongue from back to front.
6. Don’t rinse after brushing. The benefits of fluoride are increased the longer it is in contact with teeth.
7. Veto mouthwash. Many contain harmful substances such as formaldehyde and alcohol which can disrupt the oral microbiome, damaging the delicate lining tissue and paradoxically worsening the bad breath they are often used to alleviate.
8. In the absence of dental symptoms, the current recommendation on frequency of dental check ups is two-yearly. However smokers, diabetics and those with diseases which reduce saliva production, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may need more frequent visits. Your own dentist will advise. Free NHS treatment is available during pregnancy, since good maternal dental health is associated with a reduced risk of a premature or low birth weight baby.
Cleaning our teeth is something most of us rush to get done without giving it much thought. But if we approach this daily ritual mindfully, as an act of self-care, whether the goal is a more attractive dating profile or reducing the risk of chronic disease, it will give us all something to smile about.
Happy New Year!
Love Julia x