From Oral Health to Perfect Smiles
World Smile Day was initiated by Harvey Ball, a commercial artist from Worcester, Massachusetts who was responsible for creating the yellow smiley in 1963. That image went on to become the most recognisable symbol of good will and good cheer on the planet. The smiley face knows no politics, no geography and no religion. Ball was also responsible for his idea for World Smile Day® where we could devote one day each year to smiles and kind acts throughout the world. He declared that the first Friday in October each year would henceforth be World Smile Day®. Since its inception in 1999, World Smile Day is celebrated by performing acts of kindness to make the world a better place for all.
What is World Smile Day without a bright, flashing smile on your face? Since we were young, our parents, teachers and dentists have enthusiastically encouraged us to brush and floss our teeth to keep them clean and sparkling. But how much do you really know about oral health? Keep reading to find out more.
Are toothpastes really safe?
The age-old method of keeping your teeth clean has always been simple – you just need a toothbrush and toothpaste and brush your teeth well. Since we were young, we have been told to brush our teeth once upon waking up, once before going to bed and if possible, after every meal too. That certainly is a whole lot of brushing, have you ever wondered about the toothpaste that we use so frequently? Everyone assumes it is safe, because it is unlikely that something we have used for generations for oral health would be harmful, right? Besides, adverts always feature ‘dentists’ in lab coats telling you how good toothpaste is. Let’s delve deeper into the ingredients that make up toothpaste to determine if they will do you good or harm:
At least half of toothpaste’s contents consist of this material. The main function of abrasives is to remove plaque from teeth, indirectly reducing the occurrence of cavities and periodontal diseases. Abrasives act by corroding the plaque that forms on the teeth but unfortunately, they erode the enamel that protects your teeth at the same time too. Whitening toothpastes works based on this concept as well where the top layer of your teeth is actually being chemically scraped off to make it look whiter. Abrasives used in toothpaste include chemicals such as aluminium hydroxide, calcium carbonate and silicas. These substances are harsh when used excessively, leading to damage of the enamel layer.
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is commonly used in toothpastes to act as a detergent to foam the toothpaste so that they spread more evenly on your teeth. It has been discovered that SLS can actually react with the other chemicals in toothpaste and cause the production of cancer-producing compounds within the toothpaste itself. SLS is labelled as one of the most potentially harmful substances used in personal care products, yet we have this in our mouths several times daily.
This antibacterial agent is added to most brands of toothpaste to prevent gingivitis and bad breath. However, concerns have been raised about its chemical reaction with chlorinated tap water, which results in the formation of chloroform, a carcinogenic toxic substance. As most of us would have seen on TV, chloroform is potent enough to knock someone out. Chloroform served as anaesthesia in earlier days but due to its association with headaches, dizziness, heartbeat irregularities, gastrointestinal ailments and cancer, newer anaesthesias are now used but unfortunately, we are still exposed to chloroform through the use of our toothpastes. Triclosan itself poses danger to our health too. Constant use can lead to the weakening of the immune system, leading to lowered resistance to bacteria and antibiotics, asthma allergies and eczema. Not only that, triclosan is a cancer-causing agent too.
This substance is odourless, colourless and even tastes sweet but don’t let its harmless characteristics fool you. Diethylene glycol is harmful enough to kill if it is swallowed, so much that its presence in Chinese-made toothpaste led to a large-scale recall in 2007. Since then, a ban on diethylene glycol has been administered but it is still good to keep a look out for this ingredient in our toothpastes just in case some make it to our shores undetected.
Fluoride is the most popular active ingredient used in toothpaste to prevent cavities. In small amounts, it helps to strengthen the enamel and bones. However, in large doses, it has been found to be very dangerous. We will take a closer look at fluoride on next page.
I thought fluoride is good for my teeth?
Since it was discovered that fluoride is effective in reducing tooth decay, it has been a staple addition to toothpaste brands worldwide. However, did you know that the very same sodium fluoride used in toothpaste is also used in rat poison? It is shocking that all it takes to kill a young child within a matter of hours is 4 oz. of most commercial toothpastes.
If swallowed in small doses, fluoride has multiple side effects in adults. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and excess drooling. In larger doses, this toxic substance can lead to paralysis and muscle weakness, with a possibility of respiratory and heart failure in the following hours if medical attention is not sought.
The hazards of teeth whitening
Everyone envisions gleaming white teeth as the perfect set of chompers to have.
The smile is probably the first thing you’d notice about someone you’re meeting for the first time. Therefore, people go to great lengths to have the most attractive smile made up of white healthy-looking teeth. There are a number of ways one can get their teeth whitened but are they all safe and without risk? Here is a lowdown on the most common teeth-whitening methods:
Whitening toothpastes are the most convenient and cheapest method of teeth whitening. Unfortunately, these toothpastes contain peroxide which is a well-known chemical bleaching agent. Whitening toothpastes work by using abrasives and peroxide to remove stains on the surface of the teeth. However, the term ‘whitening toothpaste’ is a slight misnomer as they can only rid the tooth’s surface of dirt and stains, not whiten it beyond the natural colour of the tooth. Used in excess, whitening toothpaste can cause the enamel of the teeth to wear down and cavities form more easily subsequently. This definitely beats the purpose of brushing your teeth, doesn’t it?
This is usually performed by cosmetic dentists. As we age, our teeth change in mineral structure and become considerably darker than how they used to be when we were still children. Other factors that strip our teeth of their natural whiteness include smoking and coffee stains. Teeth bleaching can be performed by a variety of ways, with the most common method being light-accelerated bleaching or more widely referred to as ‘laser bleaching’.
The risks you undertake when you bleach your teeth include an increased risk of tongue cancer, pain in sensitive teeth, chemical burns to the mouth and overbleaching. These do sound like a lot of risks for a shinier smile, don’t you think? With all those risks, it is now likely that you will end up with a smile worse than before. If the pros and cons of teeth bleaching are considered thoroughly, it certainly seems like the risks far outweigh the benefits of teeth bleaching.
How to keep your teeth white – naturally
Not everyone can afford expensive teeth-whitening treatment and after reading about the hazards associated with it, not everyone would want to. In that case, how would you maintain a pearly white smile? There are plenty of natural methods you can use to whiten your teeth without involving expensive or risky procedures, most of which you can even do it all in your own kitchen. Here are just a few of the methods you can try in the comfort of your own home.
- Mix one teaspoon of salt with some lemon juice to form a paste-like substance. Take your favourite toothbrush, prepare a grimace and start brushing. The taste isn’t the best by far but brushing your teeth with this concoction is known to give you a brighter smile.
- Take caution when you consume fizzy drinks and fruit juice. The acid in the drink can slightly erode the enamel layer, so brushing will do more harm than good in this case. Give it a while before you reach for the brush. If possible, try using a straw to reduce contact.
- Eat more crunchy food such as fruits and vegetables. Apples and broccoli are excellent examples as they promote chewing and in the process, remove dirt from between your teeth. The increased saliva produced while chewing also helps to cleanse the mouth. As a plus point, you get all the natural vitamins and minerals found in the fruits and vegetables.
- Take a small bowl and put some baking soda into it. Dip your toothbrush into it and give your teeth a good brush with it. It won’t taste good as well but does anything that’s good for you ever taste good? The nice shine on your teeth after brushing will be all worth it though.
- Strawberries are said to be natural bleaching agents. They contain an enzyme that acts on your teeth, making them look clean and shiny. To use, rub the raw strawberries on your teeth and wait for several minutes. Don’t forget to rinse and brush later, as the natural sugars from the strawberries will promote tooth decay.
Caring for your gums the chemical-free way
With so much focus on having nice, beautiful teeth, our poor gums are often neglected. Don’t forget that your smile includes your pink gums as well! The gums are the foundation that hold our rows of dazzling teeth, thus they deserve some tender, loving care as well. Unhealthy gums lead to many dental problems including the possibility of losing your teeth. They are also a major cause of bad breath.
- Gum diseases are common in the world and most stem from improper dental hygiene. Some signs of having unhealthy gums include reddish looking gums, receding gums, gums that bleed after brushing and painful gums. There are plenty of ways to take care of your gums, so let’s explore some natural methods:
- Aloe vera gel is useful not only for the teeth but for the gums too. It helps in the healing process of gums and can numb extra-sensitive gums and teeth. Besides, it can increase moisture in your mouth, eliminating bad breath. How to use it? Simply smear some aloe vera gel on your toothbrush and gently massage your gums with it.
- Calendula tincture is a herb which is renowned for treating gum disease. It is particularly known to help with bleeding gums and receding gums. Add a few drops of calendula tincture on your toothbrush along with your regular toothpaste and brush your teeth just as you usually do, massaging your gums softly. Your gum tissues will be revitalised in no time.
- Soaked tea bags can be used to soothe swollen gums and gum abscesses. The tannins found in the tea bag are known to reduce tenderness and swelling, making your gums feel much more comfortable. Soak a tea bag in hot water, let it cool down and then place it over the affected gums.
World Smiles Day is certainly timely for us to put some thought in what goes into our toothpastes and the effects of various cosmetic dental procedures that we undergo. Going organic is a good, if not better, way to have a brighter and healthier smile on our faces.