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Mouthing Off: Oral Hygiene

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Recently, we interviewed the face-yoga guru and jewelry designer Ranjana Khan, who, among other bon mots, gave us the following unexpected lesson in oral hygiene:

“When it comes to personal hygiene, people don’t take care of their tongues. To have a white-coated tongue when someone’s talking to you is so unattractive. So, I use a tongue scraper every day.”

Though I've long considered myself to be very serious about day-to-day hygiene, Khan’s pet peeve left me wondering if I'm really doing enough for my mouth . If we could learn this much about washing our face, and this much about eating, then what could we glean from sitting down with a verified professional about what the Orbit girl would call that “dirty mouth' of ours? Plus, what's the use of a bold red mouth if the breath coming out of it is...equally bold? (Sorry, sorry.) I reached out to my dentist, Dr. Peter Farrington, DDS , not only because his operating chair offers the best view in Manhattan and his office conversation is not unlike that in The Barber Shop, but because he's given me the most straightforward dental advice I’ve ever come across, which I thought I'd share with you.

First, the Good News : “I always say, 'The best dentistry is no dentistry.' It’s about having health. People who have really good basic hygiene tend to have good oral hygiene. Young people now have far fewer problems with cavities because, as kids, they had good, conservative dentistry, and fluoride was introduced very early. As they got older, braces, etc. were used to straighten the teeth, because, the straighter your teeth are, the healthier they are, and the easier they are to clean. So, tooth decay is down with younger people. Even if you don’t floss, a young healthy person is probably not going to lose their teeth—this wasn’t the case with your parents’ generation or your grandparents’ generation, who had way too much work done. It’s about developing a really good program, and finding a good dental hygienist and dentist.”

The Basics: “Sometimes people want to look at things as a little isolated, but there’s really a bigger picture to things. The more work you’ve had done, the more you have to clean things. Try to drink a lot of water, don’t consume a lot of sugary drinks and carbohydrates, and brush, rinse, and floss every day. And go to the dentist!”

The Real Causes of Bad Breath: “The soft tissue in your mouth causes a lot of breath situations. For example, if there’s a lot of stuff on your tongue, germs and bacteria are present. That usually lives on the back of your tongue, so you should really exfoliate or scrape it when you’re cleaning your mouth. Of course there are medical and genetic conditions, but decay and plaque on your teeth, and even being dehydrated, which can be caused by a number of things—a lot of anti-anxiety medications create excessive dryness—breathing out of your mouth, and sleeping with your mouth open at night can all contribute to bad breath!”

Where to Begin? “I think it really starts at night, before you go to bed. That’s the most important time. You need to meticulously brush your teeth for two minutes, to floss—I use Glide—and use mouthwash—I like Listerine, but if you’re a person that has cavity problems, I would suggest ACT, which is a fluoride rinse and helps strengthen the enamel. You want to use mouthwash for 20 seconds. And, like I said, stay hydrated at night, drinking a lot of water. If you don’t take care of your teeth at night, you’re going to smell like you have bad halitosis in the morning!”

Brush Your Teeth Like a Dentist:'A big misconception is that to clean your teeth really well, you should brush with excessive, hard motions. It’s really about massaging the gums in an almost circular motion. There are four quadrants: the upper right and left, the lower right and left, the front, and the back. A common mistake is to not hit all of these areas equally. Surprisingly, most people brush the back of their teeth better than the front because it takes a different type of dexterity to brush your front teeth. And brush for a full two minutes , which might feel like eternity, but it counts. Use a tooth timer if you have to, or the new Sonicare toothbrushes have timers built in. Always, always, always use a soft-bristle toothbrush. They’re recommended by the American Dental Association because they’re the most effective and do the least amount of damage to your teeth. Over time, harder brushing can cause your enamel to erode—a very acidic diet can do this, too, like drinking too much orange juice!”

The Flossy Flossy: “ Floss twice a day, absolutely, to get rid of plaque and food. Most people do not floss. But cavities start between your teeth. The food that gets lodged in there forms plaque, which can then lead to cavities!”

Speaking in Tongues: “Clean your tongue as meticulously as you can using a tongue scraper or your toothbrush. Tongue scrapers are kind of a difficult procedure, which is why a lot of people don’t use them. You almost have to hold your tongue with one hand and use the scraper with the other. It looks like a comb but it’s very flexible, and you bend it and scrape. When I do it to people, they are really grossed out. If you've never done it, a whole filament will come off of your tongue. It’s especially important for people who drink a lot of coffee. They get a good layer going. [Laughs] You’ll know you’re done when your tongue has a pinker consistency!”

Tonsil Hockey : “Tonsils are another area of soft tissue that can accumulate plaque and food. It’s less common today to have your tonsils removed. So, like everything else, you should try to keep this area as clean as you can. You can use a water pick to irrigate your mouth. It’s like giving your mouth a shower!”

And with that, Happy Hygiene!

—Mackenzie Wagoner

P.S. Start at the 1:19 mark...

Photo via ITG.