It all started with the index finger, which people eventually replaced with “chewing sticks…”
[Editor’s Note: This article is part one of a three part series. You can also read part two and part three.]
The variety of choices we have for dental care products has grown rapidly in the past one hundred years. Some time-tested tools have achieved classic status. The toothbrush and toothpaste come immediately to mind. But the list hardly ends there.
Today, we have electric toothbrushes, water flossers, gum stimulators, whitening products, and denture preparations.
In this three part series we’re going to dig into the details about dental care products.
Part one of our dental care products tour will look at toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouthwash.
The history of the toothbrush goes all the way back to at least 5000 years before the current era (BCE), according to Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. It all started, he says, with the index finger, which people eventually replaced with “chewing sticks,” a name for the twigs that people simply chewed on. These were first used in ancient Babylonia around 3500-3000 BCE.
Now, flash forward all the way to the 1930s. That’s when the toothbrush, as we know it, finally arrived on the scene thanks to the invention of nylon, which quickly found its way into toothbrushes in the form of bristles.
What it does: Toothbrushes help scrape away food particles and plaque, the film that forms on teeth after eating, which is the primary cause of tooth decay.
Why it’s important: Aside from the fact that chewing on twigs is kind of gross, a sturdy, modern toothbrush is the first and best way to keep your teeth clean and healthy.
Who should use it: Only people who want to keep their teeth.
With electricity came a whole flood of inventions that just as quickly disappeared or never even saw the light of day. We’re thinking, for example, of Thomas Edison’s epic fail, the electric pen, which, rather than push ink, poked holes. (Seriously, you can look it up.) The electric toothbrush, on the other hand, is here to stay.
What it does: Just what a manual toothbrush does, but with far less manual work on your part.
Why it’s important: According to Consumer Reports, it might not be all that important. “In the past, Consumer Reports has said electric and manual toothbrushes are equally effective as long as you brush teeth thoroughly for 2 minutes, twice a day. An electric toothbrush may help, however, if you have arthritis or a dexterity problem that makes thorough brushing difficult.”
Who should use it: Anyone who is able to use a manual toothbrush should be able to use an electric one. Kids, of course, may need a little help at first. And if arthritis or another problem affects your ability to use a manual toothbrush, an electric brush may be just what you need.
When did toothpaste make it’s first appearance, you ask? According to Dr. Connelly, “ancient Egyptians were making a ‘tooth powder’ as far back as 5000 BC.” This tooth powder, he says was the first toothpaste. It “consisted of ash from ox hooves, myrrh, eggshell fragments and pumice,” he notes. Tasty.
What it does: Like soap, toothpaste lubricates and traps dirt – food particles, plaque, and other germs, in this case – so they can be rinsed away more easily, leaving the teeth clean, or at least cleaner than before.
Why it’s important: While brushing goes a long way toward getting teeth clean, brushing with toothpaste can be an even more effective combination. Dentists recommend you use toothpaste with fluoride.
Who should use it: Just about everyone. Talk with your dentist about the right type for you and your family members.
Did you know there are three basic categories of mouthwash? Which type is right for you?
How did there get to be so many rinses to choose from? And how can you narrow it down to make the best choice?
Well, it may help to know that there are three basic categories of mouthwash: antiseptic rinses, mouthwashes that contain fluoride, and ones that offer cosmetic benefits.
What they do: The antiseptic type is intended to help fight tooth decay. It attacks plaque, the film of bacteria that would otherwise build up on the surface of your teeth. Mouthwashes with fluoride also help fight tooth decay. However, they work by making the enamel surfaces of your teeth resist plaque better. Finally, the cosmetic mouthwashes do little more than mask bad breath, though they may taste or feel refreshing as well.
Why it’s important: Using a dental rinse may be very important in some cases, and it may not be recommended at all in other situations.
Who should use it: Depending on a person’s situation and whom you ask, the question whether to use a daily mouthwash or oral rinse may have different answers.
Unlike toothbrush and toothpaste, there is some leeway for when and if to use mouthwash as part of a dental hygiene routine. So, it’s important to discuss mouthwash use with your dentist.
The Dental Care Products Overview as Just Begun
Today, many dental care products vie for our attention. We’re all pretty familiar with the top 3 covered in this post. However, do you know what all those other products are for, why they’re important, or who should be using them?
To learn more, read part two and part three of our dental care product overview.
I was born with dental anxiety, and I’ve had it all my life. Growing up, trips to the dentist involved being poked with sharp instruments while the dentist looked for cavities. A cavity meant submitting to the drill and enduring the ever-present possibility of great pain. I could hear the squeal of that drill in the waiting room, and I was certain that I also heard screams of dismay from whoever was unlucky enough to be sitting in the chair.
The Effect Of Dental Anxiety On Dental Hygiene
You would think that my fear of dentists and drills would have motivated me to take good care of my pearly whites. Just the opposite was true. My dental hygiene was minimal. A quick brushing in the morning was usually all I could manage, and never mind the flossing and mouthwash. I somehow developed the belief that the less I focused on what was going on inside my mouth, the less likely I would be to get cavities. This seemed to work. I had very few cavities growing up, and I ate plenty of candy.Gingivitis: An Early Dental Warning System
As a teenager, I started to get bleeding gums whenever I brushed. The dentist said I had gingivitis. That’s inflammation of the gums, and it’s caused by a bacterial infection. The dentist said if I didn’t floss and brush three times every day, the gingivitis would turn into periodontal disease which is the major cause of tooth loss. I was also told to get a cleaning and exam every six months. Rather than motivating me to take better care of my mouth, I simply continued to brush once a day, usually in the morning. Unlike periodontal disease, gingivitis is not really a big problem. Even with inflamed gums, I could still convince myself that everything was fine and that brushing in the morning was enough.
Periodontal Disease: Stuff Gets Serious
By the time I was a young adult, my gums began to protest. I was told by my dentist that I had periodontal disease. If I didn’t get gum surgery, I would lose almost every tooth within a few years! I started getting abscesses that involved some serious pain. But the dental anxiety that had so far kept me away from the dentist continued to convince me that I was better off on my own. Besides, I had no dental insurance, and the cost of gum surgery was considerable. Instead, I got antibiotics to treat the abscesses, and for the time being, it worked out quite well.
Falling Out And Moving Around
Although I had started out with an awesome smile, the periodontal disease started doing strange things in my mouth. My teeth became loose and were shifting their positions. My gums receded, the roots were exposed, and the roots were extremely sensitive to almost everything. I was getting abscesses more frequently, and the antibiotics were no longer able to kill off the infections. One day after dinner, I noticed that one of my smaller molars had vanished. Apparently, I had swallowed it. Almost every tooth was now crooked, and the gums were pulling even farther away from each tooth. I had abscesses constantly, there was significant bone loss in my jaw, and additional teeth began to fall out. I finally realized that even though I didn’t have dental insurance, I would have to fix the problem whether I had insurance or not.
The Scary Final Fix
I was told that because the periodontal disease was so advanced, every loose and crooked tooth would have to be extracted. Upper and lower partial dentures would be needed to fill in the gaps and create an even smile. The treatment involved almost ten extractions and being fitted for two partial dentures. The cost would be thousands of dollars, and the procedures were not covered by my insurance. Although I was still afraid of the dentist, I now had only two options. I could continue to ignore the problem, or I could get the job done. I made an appointment and lived in a state of terror for the week before the procedure. After looking for numerous last minute insurance plans, none would cover the treatment within the needed time frame, so I would have to pay for it myself, and it wasn’t going to be cheap.
A Happy Ending
Although I dreaded the procedure and wasn’t sure whether partial dentures would look natural, I was surprised by how well things turned out. My dentist put me under anesthesia, and the next thing I knew, I had teeth that were white, even and beautiful. I have learned from this experience. I no longer see the dentist a as predator armed with drills and pliers. I get regular cleanings, I brush and floss twice a day, I rinse with mouthwash and I visit my dentist for regular exams and cleanings. I now have a great dental plan to cover these visits, without having to pay for each visit myself. My mouth is now healthy. My only regret is that it took me so long to see that cooperating with the dentist would give me a better outcome than avoiding the dentist.