“The great part about being a dentist in this decade is that there’s almost nothing we can’t fix—and that hasn’t always been true,” says Matthew J. Messina, D.D.S., an assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry and the interim director of the OSU Dental Oncology Clinic.
But much of the stuff that goes wrong with your mouth and your teeth shouldn’t have to be fixed in the first place. Here’s what Dr. Messina does to take care of his own mouth (and breath), and to prevent the health problems that can start there. You’d be wise to do the same.
Get the HPV vaccine
If I hadn’t turned 45 already, I’d rush out and get the HPV vaccine. (It’s recommended if you’re between nine and 26, optional up to age 45.) The presence of HPV increases the incidence of oral cancer, which hits men twice as often as it does women. This cancer used to happen in older guys who drank and smoked, but about a quarter of cases now are in men younger than 55. Oral sex can transmit HPV, which may cause as much as 70 percent of oral cancers.
Shed stress to save your teeth
You absolutely have to give your body a way to get rid of stress or it will try to expend that energy another way—and often that’s grinding or clenching your teeth at night. It’s your mouth’s version of tossing and turning. Since the pandemic began, my colleagues and I have seen an uptick in the number of people with broken or cracked teeth. I’m no Olympic athlete, but I do take my two cavachon pups for long walks each day to help me relax. Physical activity is an excellent way to reduce stress.
Keep some scissors handy
I use my teeth for meals, not for opening bottles or tearing off tags, which can break and chip your teeth. Over the years, I’ve had to do plenty of dental work on people who use their teeth as tools. Same thing for people who don’t wear a mouthguard while playing sports. That inexpensive investment can save you thousands in dental work.
Add a rinse
Along with a manual toothbrush and unwaxed floss, I use an oral rinse (aka mouthwash). Food and bacteria left in your mouth can cause inflammation in your gums. Since the blood vessels there connect to the rest of your body, that’s potential trouble all over. Inflammation can cause pain in those with rheumatoid arthritis and even affect your heart and brain. Look for an ADA-approved antiseptic oral rinse to reduce the amount of inflammation-causing plaque and bacteria in your mouth.
Listen to what your mask is telling you
Any mask will make you more aware of your breath, but the more highly filtering kinds, like surgical masks, will amplify the effect. I’ve been wearing a mask for years, so I know. If your oral hygiene has been lacking during COVID-19, that smell in your mask is a solid reminder to clean up your act. And drink more water. If you’re dehydrated, any odors are going to be magnified, because there’s less rinsing away of the bacteria and food particles that create odors.
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