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Straight, No Chaser: How's Your Dental Hygiene?

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD November 13, 2018


If you ignore your teeth, they’ll go away.

Working in an emergency department is interesting for many different reasons. One thing in particular I’ve noticed over the years is how oblivious some people are to their smiles—especially their teeth. We see it all: loose teeth, missing teeth, broken teeth, infected teeth, sensitive teeth, erupted wisdom teeth, gingivitis, bad breath, dental infections (especially abscesses), things stuck in the teeth, mouth cancer, yeast infections, rashes inside the mouth and other conditions. The mouth is the gateway to the body. Through it, you introduce many substances that can infect or otherwise damage you. Clinically, the appearance of your mouth, gums and teeth are often a direct statement about how well you care for the rest of your body.
You would think dental hygiene is an especially difficult proposition, but it’s actually quite simple. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), all you really need to commit to good dental hygiene is less than five minutes at a time, at least twice a day. Surely that’s not too much to ask of yourself for yourself, is it?
Let’s identify three sets of conditions you should be prepared to address with your activities. Each measure contains simple tips and habits you should employ to keep your smile making the right kind of introduction.
1. Prevention and self-maintenance


Brushing and flossing keep your gums and teeth healthy by removing plaque and food particles that can serve as a source for infection and tooth decay. Here are your essentials.

  • Brush for two minutes at a time.
  • Brush at least twice a day and preferably after each meal.
  • Flossing is important. There are particles that collect under the gums and between the teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach.

Avoid the stainers. Tobacco products (e.g., cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars), excessive red wine and coffee contain a high quantity of very strong chemicals that stain and damage your teeth. Cranberry and grape juices also may stain teeth if consumed in excess. Besides cosmetic considerations, the staining isn’t the problem as much as fact that the chemicals causing the staining are also damaging your teeth and gums.
2. Prevention and professional maintenance
Do you have a dentist?

  • Regular dental checkups are very important for the ongoing maintenance of your teeth and the early identification of dental problems—before excessively expensive and painful options are needed.
  • Dental exams provide an opportunity for identification of several medical conditions and diseases whose symptoms can appear in the oral cavity (mouth).

3. Recognizing possible dental emergencies


It is simultaneously understandable and befuddling that patients go without dental care as long as they do. By the time they come to the ER, invariably, some of these symptoms have been present and were ignored. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you’d do well to see the dentist early, before you end up in the ER.

  • Your teeth have become sensitive to hot or cold stimuli.
  • Your gums are swollen and/or they bleed with brushing, flossing or eating.
  • You have continually bad breath or bad taste in your mouth.
  • You have difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • You have pain or swelling in your mouth, face or neck.
  • You have spots or a sore that doesn’t look or feel right in your mouth and it isn’t going away.
  • Your jaw sometimes pops or is painful when opening and closing, chewing or when you first wake up.
  • You have an uneven bite.
  • Your mouth is becoming unexplainably drier than normal.
  • You have a medical condition such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, eating disorder or are HIV positive with new dental problems.
  • You are undergoing medical treatment such as radiation, chemotherapy or hormone replacement therapy with new dental problems.

Upcoming Straight, No Chaser posts will evaluate individual dental emergencies.
Feel free to contact your SMA expert consultant with any questions you have on this topic.
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0 thoughts on “Straight, No Chaser: How's Your Dental Hygiene?

    1. Hi, DeAnna! Brushing for kids can be very fun if you can make it a game with rewards. Don’t forget that taste is very important. The toothpaste companies have done a good job at improving taste. Thanks for your comments and for following Straight, No Chaser.

  1. I find it funny at how individuals would complain about their imperfect teeth and never do something about it, or if they do it is too late. Here again is another reminder for all of us, which I hope doesn’t fall to deaf ears. I had only once tooth ache ever since and that was when I was 10 years old, at a young age I swear to take care of my teeth to never experience that type of pain ever again. I’ve got my cosmetic dentist as well (, asked for advice about whitening my teeth (not that my teeth are stained), just want them to look perfect and they’re great.

    1. Hi, Jean. Many individuals don’t have the means or knowledge to optimally care for themselves, much less their teeth. That said, there are simple measures everyone can take to prevent gum and dental disease and to better care for their teeth, and that’s what we’re trying to help with. Thanks for your comment and following Straight, No Chaser.

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