Oral health is one aspect of health that I consider under-represented in the media and at the community level. The overall health-seeking behaviour of Nigerians is poor, and even more so for oral health.
I remember a time I mentioned to my sister that I was supposed to go to the dental clinic for a checkup because I was having a toothache and suspected that I had a plaque around the tooth. ‘Dental clinic?’ she scoffed, Who books an appointment with a dentist? Doesn’t the pain go away after a while?‘
Her mindset mirrors that of most persons which is a wrong one as dentists recommend routine biannual dental checkup for early detection and treatment of dental problems.
From wondering if the correct time to brush is before a meal like I was taught growing up or after – the new teaching circulating in the media – and other oral health concerns, I thought it best to consult a colleague, albeit virtually to quell these concerns and provide expert knowledge.
Please, meet my friend, Dr Ogunye, a dental surgeon, who was kind enough to oblige me and provide answers to my questions.
Anita: Hi, Dr Ogunye. Please, introduce yourself.
Dr Ogunye: Hello. I am Dr Ogunye Tolulope, a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State, Nigeria with a bachelor’s degree in Dental Surgery obtained in 2017.
Anita: Tell us, has brushing after food always been the right way to brush or is it a recent discovery?
Dr Ogunye: Knowledge is dynamic I must say, and you will agree with me that a lot of the facts that were the ‘holy grail’ some decades back have been completely discarded in favour of newer and more progressive ideas, especially in this age of research and evidence-based medicine.
Brushing after breakfast and other meals have been advocated for decades now, but people usually tend to go for whatever is more convenient which in this case happens to be brushing before breakfast.
Anita: If one fails to brush at bedtime as advised, is brushing after food as opposed to brushing before food more beneficial?
Dr Ogunye: Yes, brushing after food is definitely more beneficial. It cleanses the mouth of food debris, and food debris from refined carbohydrates (such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, white rice and others) is one of the risk factors for caries and even (albeit indirectly) periodontal diseases.
Brushing after food also helps to quickly normalize the Ph of the oral cavity. Intake of refined carbohydrates lowers the Ph of the oral cavity, making it acidic, and this acidic environment allows for microorganisms to thrive and also aids the decalcification (loss of calcium) of the enamel layer of the teeth.
Anita: Some say we are supposed to brush three times a day, how true is that? Does that imply we carry our toothbrushes with us and brush in the course of our day?
Dr Ogunye: As dentists, our advice is to brush after every meal, ideally. But due to our daily schedules we know that might not be realistic, so what we advocate is that you brush twice daily: after breakfast in the mornings and just before going to bed at night. You can drink lots of water and rinse out your mouth after other meals if you will are unable to brush at those times.
Anita: I have heard that toothpicks are unhealthy for our teeth. If that is true, please, tell us about dental floss, the healthier alternative.
Dr Ogunye: Yes, toothpicks have been proven to be quite damaging to the periodontium, the specialized tissues that both surround and support the teeth. It physically traumatizes and destroys these tissues, thereby removing the innate protective effects that intact tissues have against microorganisms in the mouth. It even helps to introduce microorganisms into the spaces around the teeth and this way, you are helping the microorganisms by giving them a free ride to a less oxygen-rich environment where a lot of them thrive and do a great deal of damage.
Dental floss has been advocated for years now as it does not damage the gingival and periodontal tissues if used appropriately. Also, it can navigate the tight contacts between teeth better than a toothpick can, which gives a more effective clearance of food debris from between the teeth. It is also an excellent alternative for people who find it difficult to brush after meals. It is affordable, available, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Anita: What’s the best way to store our toothbrush? I have gotten varying advice from the media.
Dr Ogunye: The best way to store your toothbrush is in a lidded container after thoroughly rinsing it to prevent it from being exposed to air, insect and even other humans.
Anita: Thank you so much, Dr Ogunye, for engaging in this conversation with me. I have learnt a lot and I am certain other persons reading this post have, too. The onus is on us to take up this advice and consciously improve our oral hygiene. Is there anything else you will like to share with us?
Dr Ogunye: It has been an absolute pleasure to have been given this opportunity to enlighten people regarding their oral health. Thank you, Anita. I will remind us not to share our toothbrush with other people. It is unhealthy and increases your risk of contracting some communicable diseases.
Old habits, they say, die hard. I have not found it easy incorporating this health advice into my daily living. I hope this conversation helps me make the necessary lifestyle changes. One place I score high is changing my toothbrush every three months.
Over to you! What is your relationship with your oral health like? Did you know most of these or learnt something new? If you did, do you follow them religiously? Let’s discuss in the comments.
PS: I am curious. What is your go-to source for health information? Social Media? The internet? Family and friends, who are doctors? Health personnel in the hospital? In your opinion, what can doctors do to improve the quality of health information at the community level?