Time to confess: How often do you brush your teeth? After every meal? Twice a day? Once at night? Or do you take the Jessica Simpson route and brush three times...a week? Simpson admitted on Ellen that she doesn't brush her teeth daily, often opting instead to simply wipe them down with a clean shirt.
A few weeks ago, a dentist came to my children's school to talk about oral hygiene, and he asked the kids who had brushed their teeth that morning. I'll admit that prior to his visit, when we are running out the door, trailing bags of dried cereal to eat in the car, shirts on backwards and shoelaces untied, permission slip dangling precariously out of the school bag, brushing teeth is one of those things that fly out the window. It was one of those late-start mornings where we ran into the building five minutes late. Nothing can shame a person faster than finding out that your children were the only two who didn't raise their hands when the dentist asked his question.
It was embarrassing, but the dentist was also right. Teeth do need to be brushed at least twice a day, preferably once after breakfast and once before bed, in order to remove plague and bacteria. And that's the minimum recommendation, according to the American Dental Association.
My kids are lucky that I'm their mother and not Jessica Simpson who might just toss them a clean T-shirt for a quick wipedown. Since that embarrassing day at school, I've been making sure we have enough time to brush, even laying out their clothes for the day near their toothbrush.
After reading about Simpson's habits, I called my cousin Roger (please, I was not going to embarrass myself and call my dentist with this question). Roger's a dentist up in New Jersey. I asked him what would happen if someone didn't brush her teeth.
At first, he gave the standard answer: your gums will become red, deposits will grow on your teeth and then harden (which is the reason your dentist needs to scrape deposits off your teeth at your six-month cleanings -- and that's with twice-daily brushing).
Eventually, Roger got suspicious about my motivation for asking -- as if he thought I might really be as stupid as he suspected I was when we were kids (after all, I am the cousin who forgot to pack pants last year when I went up to visit). When I told him about Simpson's confession to Ellen, he exploded into a raging river of information about why this was possibly one of the stupidest things she could do to her mouth.
"Are you kidding? She must be kidding. Her gums will bleed and this could cause cardiovascular problems. It could cause infections in her mouth, and the bleeding in her gums could get into her bloodstream and spread that infection to other areas of the body. She could lose her teeth from gum problems. Or cavities. Or both!"
As my cousin explained, until we're 20 we are cavity-prone. Then, as adults, we go through a period of time from our 20s into our mid-30s where we can somewhat abuse our body and it will still bounce back. So if Simpson doesn't brush now, her body can still compensate and keep trucking along as if nothing is wrong. But around age 35, the gums can no longer take the abuse and start showing the effects of that lack of care.
So there actually are important reasons to brush your teeth, ones that extend beyond the desire for fresh breath and non-mossy smile.
So fess up: how many times did you brush your teeth today
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