A recent headline from a British tabloid:
Actually, toothpaste really isn’t all that necessary. A soft bristled brush is. And your arm power. But that’s about it. In fact, some research has suggested that brushing without toothpaste may be more effective than with – at least on some surfaces of the teeth. Of course, as a 2007 article in Periodontology starchily put it:
The effectiveness of the toothbrush… depends on any one individual acquiring the skills and having the personal motivation to use it properly.
Yet maybe you recall hearing a while back that even dentists don’t agree on the right way to brush. While two minutes twice a day is pretty standard advice, there are variations in technique. The senior author of the study that first drew attention to this issue has suggested that a simple scrub may be enough.
“Brush gently with a simple horizontal scrubbing motion, with the brush at a forty-five degree angle to get to the dental plaque,” Professor Sheiham advises. “To avoid brushing too hard, hold the brush with a pencil grip rather than a fist. This simple method is perfectly effective at keeping your gums healthy.”
So why bother to use toothpaste at all? The extra grit it offers may be helpful in breaking up the sticky biofilm that bacteria and other microbes form between cleanings. Some products include helpful ingredients like herbal antimicrobials or compounds to help remineralize tooth enamel or clay for whitening. (And some include ingredients you don’t really want.)
Much more shocking – maybe “disturbing” is the better word – than folks foregoing toothpaste is another finding from the survey: 9% of people confessed to sharing a toothbrush. Bad idea – well, unless your goal is to transfer bacteria, viruses and other potential pathogens to your loved ones.
Not so shocking, though just as disturbing, is the fact that 68% reported not using floss. So unless they’re using interdental brushes, a Waterpik or other device for cleaning between the teeth and at the gumline, they’re only cleaning about 60% of the total surface area of their teeth.
Now it would be all too easy to make a cheap joke about this being a survey of people – Brits – who are not, to put it mildly, well known for their great teeth. But the thing is, Americans responses probably wouldn’t be all that different. As a recent CDC report noted, by the age of 65, almost all of us – 96% – have experienced tooth decay. More than a quarter have untreated caries. Most of us – as much as 75% – have some degree of gum disease.
We may have straighter teeth and whiter, brighter smiles, thanks to orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry. But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily healthy smiles.
But they could be, starting with good oral hygiene at home: brushing twice and flossing once daily…with or without toothpaste, as you prefer.