If there were just one thing Canadian dental hygienist Rebecca Allaeddine wishes all her patients knew, it would be how much the mouth is connected to the entire body.
“Bacteria in the mouth can transfer into the bloodstream and move into the gut,” she says. “The link to major systemic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease has been proven. A healthy mouth equals a healthy body.”
We caught up with Allaeddine, who works at Dr Roze Dental Clinic, a biological dental practice in Dubai, for some expert tips on how to care properly for your teeth and gums.
How is biological dental cleaning different?
We add biological elements to conventional dental hygiene and the main difference is that as well as manual treatment, we also use ozone to remove the bacteria in your mouth. It’s non-invasive and removes bacteria naturally, to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Ozone removes all bacteria so we give patients probiotic sticks to use for two weeks to replenish the good bacteria that should live in the mouth and rebalance things. You just put the stick under your tongue and hold it there.
Patients also get a disclosing solution. This is a dark blue gel that you apply and after rinsing, whatever is left behind is plaque. The deeper the blue, the longer the plaque has been there. It also reveals acidic plaque, which is harmful as it breaks down the tooth.
We use bio-compatible products such as calcium and phosphate instead of fluoride. It’s been proven that fluoride strengthens teeth, but we use alternatives that are just as good. We don’t use metals, either.
However, we also offer conventional cleaning if you’re not ready for biological cleaning.
What are the biggest teeth mistakes people make?
Brushing technique for sure. Even if you brush twice a day, you can still miss bits and get bleeding gums.
The right way is to clean along the gum line, slightly on the gums, where the gums meet the teeth. Use a soft bristle brush and use a gentle, circular motion. Don’t apply too much pressure – one of the biggest mistakes is brushing too hard and too long in one area, which can cause gum recession.
If you find it hard to break the habit of pressing too hard, try holding your toothbrush between the tips of one or two fingers and your thumb, instead of your whole hand. That’s as much pressure as you need.
Another big mistake is not flossing. If you don’t floss, you’re not removing the bacteria from between the tooth and gum, where a toothbrush can’t reach. If you don’t remove that bacteria, it sits there and will irritate the gum, leading to minor infection and bleeding, which then becomes more severe with more swelling and eventually leads to bone loss and cavities.
What’s the right way to floss?
People usually go up and down but you should curve the floss around each tooth and keep it tense, so that you’re really scrubbing against all the surfaces. Use a longer piece of floss so that you can switch to a clean part of the string for each tooth.
Waxed floss can help with guiding the floss around, especially if your teeth are really tight together, as wax is a lubricant. If you want something more natural, unwaxed floss is fine. It’s purely a matter of preference.
What about bad breath?
First, we need to rule out a systemic problem by flossing every day for two weeks. Bad breath is often caused by bacteria not being removed.
Second, use a tongue brush. The tongue is like a sponge for bacteria. You can clean the tongue with a regular toothbrush but a tongue brush is better because it’s wider with curved bristles. It’s basically a triangle on a stick and also has a scraper. But a toothbrush is better than nothing. Scrub the tongue gently and you will notice the freshness.
Third, check for dry mouth. This could be a side effect of certain medications. We have products to deal with it, but swishing around regularly with water will regulate the acidity.
Dry mouth is a big problem during Ramadan, when people can’t drink, so try and keep up good oral habits during the hours when you’re allowed to drink. And you can still use a tongue brush to keep your mouth fresh.
What about mouthwash?
It’s a good way of removing extra bacteria but it doesn’t replace brushing or flossing, although it can seep into deeper spaces. We recommend using alcohol-free mouthwash as alcohol dries out the mouth tissue. A dry mouth is more susceptible to cavities, too.
Does coffee or tea harm the teeth?
If you drink black coffee, it’s not harmful at all. It’s the sugar and cream that’s harmful. People don’t chug down a cup of coffee so if you’re sipping, every sip is increasing the acidity in your mouth and acid causes cavities.
Black tea with no sugar is also fine. Unfortunately it stains more than coffee but tea has some natural properties which help teeth.
What about smoking?
Smoking causes a lot of different issues. Cigarettes contain chemicals that are harmful to teeth and the tissues of the mouth. Smoking causes bone loss because it weakens the blood supply and decreases the circulation. The capillaries in the mouth are already small so without a good blood supply, the bone can’t be replenished.
What about lemon water?
It’s very acidic, so with every sip you are weakening the tooth enamel. It’s very noticeable in people who do this. The same thing is true of apple cider vinegar. I would recommend putting mint leaves and cucumber in your water instead.
Rebecca Allaeddine was a guest on the Livehealthy podcast on May 19, 2021.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.