Deborah Fellinger
Health & Wellness

Brush up on dental home care this Halloween

Don’t be a pumpkinhead this fall! (After all, most jack-o’-lanterns are missing a few teeth.) If you’re indulging in some Halloween candy this month, take the time to brush up on your dental home care routine. We spoke with Dr. Patricia Gilleran, D.D.S. on the ways you can avoid the jack-o’-lantern look.

Use an electric toothbrush
Is an electric toothbrush really better than a manual? Yes, it is. An electric toothbrush’s speed is able to clean teeth more efficiently than manual brushing. “The sonic vibration removes plaque well beyond the bristles,” Dr. Gilleran says. Replace the brush head when it looks worn out.

Get between teeth
We learn flossing is equally important to brushing, but that’s not necessarily true. “Flossing isn’t the be-all end-all,” says Dr. Gilleran. “It’s about how you clean between teeth.” Whether it’s flossing, using a water flosser, or trying out an interdental brush, something has to get between your teeth. “If you don’t clean between your teeth, you can get cavities between your teeth. You can get plaque under your gums, which causes gum disease,” says Dr. Gilleran.

Add xylitol to your routine
First, let’s review a little chemistry. The pH scale measures acids and bases. Living things operate optimally at different pH levels. Even throughout your body, pH levels vary. Stomach acid is –– as you might assume –– quite acidic. Your mouth is at a more neutral pH.

“The bacteria that cause cavities live in a low pH,” says Dr. Gilleran. “If you increase the pH in your mouth, you kill off bacteria.” To neutralize the pH of your mouth, Dr. Gilleran recommends using a product containing xylitol. (Some more science: xylitol is a sugar alcohol often sold as a sweetener or sugar alternative. It’s found in fruits and vegetables, but is also extracted from birch trees.) While many gum products contain xylitol, look for products with 100% xylitol, or where xylitol is the first ingredient listed. Try to use a xylitol product 4-5 times per day, especially after meals. (For some people, xylitol might be rough on the stomach at first. If that’s you, start small and work your way up.)

Watch the Halloween candy
It isn’t that Halloween candy is bad per se. “Bacteria in your mouth eat the sugar,” Dr. Gilleran explains. “The digestion of the sugar creates acid that causes cavities. If you reduce the bacteria, or reduce the frequency of sugars, you’ll reduce cavities.” Her advice? Don’t graze on sugar. When you do, you’re constantly creating an acidic environment in your mouth (which we just learned can foster cavities). Maybe enjoy a piece of xylitol candy instead?

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Deborah Fellinger
Content strategist at Zest Health. Writes copy, drinks coffee. Author of this and other sentences.