“We always know when you’re lying.”
This was one of the first ominous things that registered dental hygienists Catherine Chadwick and Cynthia Rangel told me after I stepped foot into a treatment room at Dr. Ellis Wong’s Dentistry in Los Angeles. I gulped. When was the last time I told my dentist the truth about how many times a week I actually floss? I believe the correct answer is...never.
I'm not jumping out of my chair in excitement to visit the dentist. You're shook to hear this, I'm sure.
Every time I visit there are a few concerns that pop into my mind. Do they know the fluorescent light makes my eye twitch? Is that air suck-y thing-y going to rip my tastebuds off? Can we add some flavor drops to the cotton balls? Don’t they know I’m only here because I ran out of travel-sized Crest?
But, really, hygienists are just trying make our mouths healthier, because as Catherine put it, “The mouth is the portal to our bodies.” In fact, our gum health tells them everything about our overall health. Who knew?
During my last cleaning a couple months ago, my gums started to feel sore. This got my wheels spinning… I like to think I’m doing oral hygiene correctly — but in the same way I like to think that frosting-covered pastries are a healthy way to start the day. Turns out, if I’m brushing twice a day and flossing once, that's only doing the bare minimum, according to Catherine and Cynthia. Yikes. I’ve always known, in my heart of hearts, that I could be doing more to take care of my mouth, but I've been keeping that thought buried deep next to my list of childhood embarrassments. Since it’s 2018 and living our truths is trendy, I decided it was time to find out exactly what I needed to do to make my mouth healthier.
It’s easy to pretend that just brushing my teeth is enough to pass for "being healthy," but I am very, very good at convincing myself that bad things are good for me. (DM me if you’d like pointers on how not doing laundry minimizes your pores and helps you lose 10 pounds before summer.) So, I called up Dr. Wong’s office to begin my journey.
After speaking with Catherine and Cynthia for all of two minutes, I’ve already discovered that I’m doing everything wrong. Turns out, if I’m not brushing for at LEAST two minutes twice daily (TBH, my average time is all of 40 seconds), “first comes gingivitis, which is an inflation of the gums, and once your gums inflame, they start to pull away from the root’s surface.”
Catherine goes into full scientist mode and breaks down how skimping on oral health care now will only lead us down a road toward Bacteria City. As a millennial who enjoys putting things off and “crossing that bridge” (to Bacteria City) when I must, what she tells me next is a true wake-up call. Basically, once you've neglected brushing correctly for long enough, the protective tissue surrounding your teeth starts to SHRINK, which is essentially the beginning of gum disease. It also turns out I have been approaching the task of flossing incorrectly this entire time. If I just flossed before I brushed instead of after, then I'd actually/totally floss more. I feel just a little bit stupid that I never thought of this.
She shows me the gum disease visual, which is all I really need to understand how horrible this could be. Catherine continues, “Once you get periodontal disease you’ll always have it. You can’t grow bone back.” Ew.
“But, like, I don’t need to worry about that though because that’s just for older people, right?” I ask. Both Cynthia and Catherine let out a giggle. “It can start as early as your twenties. Even teenagers can get it.” Catherine goes on to estimate that around 70% of the population has undiagnosed gingivitis or gum disease. Because apparently it might not even hurt, so you might not even know when it’s happening!! WTF, teeth.
Catherine’s two life mantras are, “Prevention is cheaper than care,” and “Floss the ones you want to keep.” The latter gives me immediate chills, because gross. The thought of losing teeth sounds like every anxiety nightmare come true.
As tears begin to well up in my eyes, I start to wonder which kinds of things I could do other than brush and floss to make DANG sure I won’t be losing any teeth in my near future. Missing Tooth Tara is a nickname I never want to have. “Sugary energy drinks, soda, even diet soda is awful because it’s acidic and terrible for your teeth,” Catherine informs me. This includes water with lemon! Now I’m really screwed because I truly LOVE soda. My eating and drinking habits are closer to that of a 14-year-old girl than a 30-something woman.
While my time with Catherine and Cynthia was eye-opening to say the very least, it’s clear to me that they both truly love what they do. They both lit up and were eager to answer my questions because it turns out that I, along with so many of YOU, have been doing things wrong and can easily do things to fix our mouths. It seems like brushing for at least two minutes is the area I need to improve on most. Secondly, flossing is best “to take the crap out” — as they scientifically stated — and to make the gums stronger, as it’s “kind of like exercise for your gums.” Cynthia compared constant flossing to going to the gym: “It’s like when you go for the first time, and you’re really sore, but you keep going and you’re like, ‘Ah, this feels better.’” They also recommended that I chew gum with xylitol (a natural sugar alternative) because it neutralizes the acidity from foods we eat AND keeps plaque from sticking to our chompers. When I asked if I could just start all this tomorrow, the answer was a resounding “No.” This means that you CAN reach a point of no return, so, everyone: BRUSH. UP. NOW. I used to think I could go a night without brushing and that it would be a tiny secret reward to myself, but oh god, never again!
Since I am a human and therefore inherently vain, I do not have time to lose any teeth due to poor oral care. So, I started using Crest’s Gum Detoxify toothpaste during my weeklong meltdown following my trip to the dentist, and I must say that, while I now know that nothing can replace flossing, my mouth actually feels cleaner after each scrub. You know how sometimes after you brush it still feels like there’s some stickiness around your gumlines? It feels like this toothpaste actually does a deeper scrub around those “problem areas,” which has put my anxiety about turning into Missing Tooth Tara to rest.
So. Have you been taking proper care of your mouth, or do you also lie to your hygienists? Impress your dentist before your next visit by choosing Crest's Gum Detoxify toothpaste, which helps penetrate the gumline in order to prevent oral health issues before they start!
Images by Eileen Connors / Design by Marjan Farsad