The consequences? Disease, the occasional dead child, decreased productivity. Increases health care costs. A nation of sickos. The teeth are often the first domino to be tipped. Prevention here is perhaps the best investment of time, money, and effort a nation can make.
But you are left on your own. So time to bone up...
The future could be very bright for your teeth. We're on the cusp of pretty much eliminating cavities through vaccines, to use the term loosely. For damage to existing teeth and the jaw, ultrasound may soon be working wonders. Finally, there is work afoot to regrow teeth in place entirely from stem cells. It looks like after decades of lingering in the middle ages, dentistry is beginning to modernize. You may want to look into getting your child's baby teeth banked so they don't have to dig around for those stem cells.
What matters is the present, though. Economies wane, companies go under, and the even most promising medical developments can sometimes be thrown out with the bathwater (onto the investors.) So if you are about to lose your dental insurance, or never had any to begin with, what are some of the things you can do or get done to keep those pearly whites intact? Other than flossing, which is a given...
We'll start with the "what to do if you still have insurance" part:
Even adults can get their molars sealed. Dental sealants are one of the most effective cavity prevention tools your dentist has. They fill in the pits in your molars, where most cavities form these days. If you still have a few good molars, you can get them sealed even later in life.
Kids, of course, should have their molars sealed. They have been available for over three decades, yet we still have a long way to go -- it does not look like we'll be making that meager 2010 50% goal. I wonder why.
And it wouldn't hurt if you helped spread the word to legislators, officials, and company human resource departments about just how much can be saved in health care by tackling one of the roots of the problem (pun intended).
Now onto the simple and easy things:
Yes, chewing gum works. That may not be news to you. What may be more interesting is that it works in more ways than one -- it doesn't just help get the food off your teeth. It also produces saliva, and saliva contains natural defenses against tooth decay -- so much so that there is a flouride compliment/alternative based on this effect. It doesn't end there.
Just a few years ago many of the "sugar free" gums reformulated to include a rather interesting chemical. It's called "xylitol," but relax all you naturalists -- it has a couple earthy-crunchy names as well: "birch sugar" and "wood sugar." There are 100% natural cinnamon gums containing xylitol if you prefer.
Why was this chemical so important that the big chewing gum companies had to have it? Well, as it turns out, this sugar alcohol is one slippery little trickster. Once it has coated a surface, microbes have a hard time grabbing onto it. Not only that, but it may look nice and tasty to some of these microbes, but doesn't contain much energy for them -- there is evidence building that it causes all sorts of nasty buggers to starve.
As an added bonus, it will actually get up into the back of your mouth and help keep infections from spreading between your nose and ear. The physical motion of chewing also helps clear earwax and the sinuses.
So keep a pack of gum handy, everywhere, and check the ingredients (but of course also be careful to check for contraindications.) Remember order matters -- if xylitol is after nutrasweet, there's hardly any in there.
Chewing gum is no substitute for brushing of course. Get on your kids, and your own, case about this. I'd write about tooth brushing innovations, but it's already been done. So learn a bit more than you know -- a mundane subject, yes, but a useful one. One of the things I picked up was to chase my alcohol-based (acidic/drying) mouthwash with a non-alcohol basic mouthwash after a several minutes. And, no, brushing is no substitute for flossing.