Whether or not you wear braces, good oral hygiene is an absolute must for clean, healthy teeth and gums and a dazzlingly bright, white smile. You might not be aware of all the available options when it comes to getting rid of plaque and bacteria or in your efforts to remove stains and keep teeth white. Ready to learn?
Colgate was the first company to produce a commercial toothpaste, and they started selling jars of the stuff in 1873 (collapsible toothpaste tubes were invented in 1892). It wasn’t until 1914 that manufacturers began including fluoride in toothpaste.
These days, you’re probably confused by the dizzying array of toothpaste and tooth gel options with fluoride, tartar control ingredients, and whitening formulas, as well as formulas designed for those with sensitive teeth. To reduce confusion, find a brand that you like that is ADA approved and stick with it. Just make sure that the toothpaste you choose isn’t made in China (Chinese toothpastes have been shown to include some harmful ingredients) and that it doesn’t include micro cleaning beads (the beads can get stuck under brackets or gum lines).
Before there were toothpastes, there were tooth powders. For millennia, people have used tooth powders (which can consist of one ingredient or many) to scrub away plaque, mineralize teeth to prevent cavities, kill unwanted bacteria, and freshen breath without the chemical ingredients of commercial toothpastes. You can purchase commercially made tooth powders or make your own in order to control what goes in it. As long as you rinse very well, using a tooth powder with your braces is not a problem.
Common ingredients of tooth powders include:
- Baking soda
- Bentonite clay (Montmorillonite clay)
- Essential oils
- Clove powder and/or cinnamon powder
- Calcium powder
- Edible bark powders
Bentonite clay—volcanic ash harvested primarily in Benton, Wyoming, as well as in Montmorillon, France—is used both as a supplement (it contains numerous bioavailable minerals, including fluoride, calcium, iron, and more) and a detoxifier. Negatively charged Bentonite clay binds with positively charged heavy metals and toxins that can build up in your mouth, gut, and bodily tissues and cause harm. You can use Bentonite clay internally, on your skin, and in your mouth to remove toxins and heavy metals. For this reason, you’ll often find the clay as an ingredient in natural toothpastes and tooth powders, though you can use it on its own as a daily mouth rinse.
Activated charcoal (also called “activated carbon”) is not the burned leftovers in your BBQ grill or fireplace. Activated charcoal has been processed to remove harmful impurities, so it’s safe to use internally and in your mouth.
The two main reasons to use activated charcoal are 1) to absorb excess drugs or alcohol in the stomach when someone has overdosed (and this is why you should never ingest activated charcoal at the same time that you use prescription medications, as the activated charcoal will absorb the medicine and render it ineffective), and 2) to safely whiten teeth.
To whiten teeth with or without braces, simply break open a capsule of activated charcoal (or crush a tablet, or use a scant ½ teaspoon of loose powder), mix with about 1 ½ Tbsp of clean water, and then hold the resulting black sludge in your mouth for five minutes. While your teeth, tongue, and gums will momentarily turn black, the activated charcoal will suck stains right off your tooth enamel with no negative side effects. After five minutes, spit the sludge out and rinse your mouth thoroughly. You should see whitening effects within just a few days, and it can be used indefinitely.
A Great Toothbrush
A toothbrush is the most efficient way to brush away food debris and plaque. While our ancestors often had to resort to using shredded birch twigs or pieces of cloth to scrub and polish their teeth, modern-day toothbrushes are easy to find and very effective.
Whether you prefer an electric or a manual toothbrush, what is essential is that the toothbrush be ADA approved, the right size for your mouth, and that the bristles are not too stiff, which could cause gum irritation and excessive enamel wear. For the average adult, an adult-size brush head with soft nylon bristles is perfectly acceptable. Children find that a child-size head is easier to maneuver in the mouth, and inexpensive electric children’s toothbrushes make it more likely that teeth are being cleaned and polished adequately as long as the child is brushing long enough (young children should always be supervised to make sure they are brushing all areas of the mouth).
Last but certainly not least, dental floss is one of the most important products when it comes to keeping your teeth and gums clean and healthy. Most caries (cavities) begin between the teeth, where bits of lodged food particles encourage plaque and bacterial buildup that eats away tooth enamel.
Floss daily, either before or after you brush your teeth. Use this guide to be sure you are flossing in the most effective manner possible. You can choose flossing string or tape that is flavored or unflavored, but the important point is to remove any lingering food particles and plaque from the spaces between teeth. For braces wearers, your orthodontist can show you how to maneuver floss around brackets, or watch this how-to video. While flossing with braces can be time-consuming, do not forego this vital step in keeping your teeth and gums healthy and cavity-free!