Sounds like a pretty basic question for a dentist, does not it? In fact, I'm not really asked that question often because "everyone knows" you should brush your teeth twice a day. But should you really?
After all, you can pick up almost any tube of toothpaste and it says right there "brush twice daily, or as directed by your dentist".
Some time ago, I started asking patients how often they brushed their teeth when they came in for their periodic cleanings. The most common answer – by far – is "twice a day." My next question is usually, "Yes, but when during the day do you brush?" As you read this, many of you who do brush twice daily are thinking "when I get up and again before I go to bed."
If you have experienced dental cavities, that could be part of the problem.
When I mention this to patients I usually get this sort of silent stare. It's kind of a cross between, "well that makes no sense at all" or, "then I might as well just give up."
Let me explain.
It starts with an understanding of what causes dental cavities. There are a few basic elements. The most obvious is that you need to have a tooth. Additionally, you need cavity-causing bacteria. Then you also need a fermentable carbohydrate. This is an important point. Carbohydrates include sugars and starches, but the process of fermentation creates acids. Once the pains form, there is another element that comes into play: time.
If we break these factors down further, it is useful to look at what we can control in the cavity-causing process. For the sake of argument, let's assume we are starting out with a full set of teeth, so that's not entirely in our control. Next, there is the factor of cavity-causing bacteria. We all have both good and bad bacteria in our mouths. While I could get into a discussion of promoting the good and suppressing the bad, this is also not always easily controlled.
The next two factors, however, we have a great deal of control over.
We can control what we eat. Recognition of which foods are acid forming is also useful. But I'm a realist and understand that sometimes we are just going to eat (or drink) those things anyway.
And this is where the time factor comes in.
A little analogy may be helpful here. What would you do if you spilled a strong acid on your bare skin? Chances are you would run right over to the nearest sink and try to wash it off. But what if you had a leather jacket on and did not notice right away? First of all, you would end up with a hole in your jacket, but ever – with time – it would reach your skin and start to hurt.
It's much the same with teeth. Your enamel is a protective layer that does not have any feeling because it is mostly …