Ensuring Good Oral Hygiene


By Bilkis Bakare

If there are any parts of the body that people normally treat with lesser attention and care, they are the teeth. The teeth are hard substances found in the mouth and are essential for biting and chewing. They also play an important role in speech.  Normal adult teeth are white and are 32 in number, divided into incisors, canines, premolars and molars. A close examination of a tooth shows the following parts: the enamel which is the hardest, white outer part, mostly made of calcium phosphate, a rock hard mineral; the dentine, the layer underlying the enamel, made up of living cells which secretes a hard mineral substance; the pulp is the soft , living inner structure of a tooth. Blood vessels and nerves run through the pulp of a tooth. Other parts of a tooth include the cementum, a layer of connective tissue that binds the roots of the teeth firmly to the gums and jawbone while the periodontal ligament is the tissue that helps hold the teeth tightly against the jaw.

At about the age of 13, an individual is supposed to have 28 teeth with the exception of the last four teeth called the Wisdom teeth which erupt at around age 18. When properly taken care of, the teeth also serve aesthetic purposes as they add to the beauty of the mouth. But the reverse will be the case if the teeth are neglected, leading to problems such as dental cavities, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and bad breath among others.

One third of adult tooth loss is caused by severe gum disease while dental plaque, tooth decay, tartar and hole in the tooth account for the remaining two third. Tooth decay is the commonest global dental disease. On the other hand, cavities or holes in the teeth occur as a result of leftover food trapped on chewing surfaces after every meal where brushing cannot reach and saliva or fluoride have no access to neutralize the demineralised teeth.

Plaque is a yellow, sticky film that forms on the teeth and gums which can be seen at gum margins. Activities of bacteria which convert carbohydrates in food into acid that demineralise the teeth result in plaque formation. These eventually lead to formation of cavities. In addition, plaque also causes inflammation of the gums, making them red, tender and causing them to bleed. Gums can be pulled away from the teeth, leaving cavities inhabited by bacteria and pus. If this condition is left untreated, bones around the teeth can be destroyed, loosening of the teeth and eventually the teeth may have to be removed. This is where the issue of oral hygiene comes in.

Oral hygiene is the practice of keeping the mouth and teeth clean and safe from germs to prevent dental problems. Before the advent of fluoride toothpaste, various means and methods were employed to achieve good oral hygiene. These include the use of neem tree or daafun common among the Indians to create teeth cleaning twigs, which is chewed on one end until it resembles the bristles of  a tooth brush before it is used for cleaning the teeth. The wiswak was and is still  being commonly used by the Muslims for cleaning the teeth. It is made from a twig which has antiseptic properties needed to prevent dental problems.

In Nigeria, different ethnic groups use twigs from trees to brush their teeth to prevent tooth decay and bad breath. Also, garlic is being used in addition to other herbs to fight bad breath. In the south west, among the Yorubas, twigs like “Ayan”,”Pako dudu”,”Pako ata” etc were and still being used to wash the teeth.

However, in this modern time, different types of fluoride toothpastes are in circulation and they are being used to achieve good oral hygiene. Dentists recommend that teeth be brushed twice daily, that is in the morning and last thing before going to bed, and that teeth should be professionally scaled, polished and debriment removed  by a dentist at least twice in a year. These processes are then followed by a fluoride treatment of the teeth. It is also advised that individuals should cultivate the habit of flossing the teeth to prevent plaque accumulation.

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Flossing is an important element of oral hygiene which resembles the local method called picking of the teeth, albeit by using a specialized tool for it. It is used to remove plaque and decaying food stuck between the teeth which can cause gum irritation. It is recommended that teeth be flossed once in a day, preferably before brushing the teeth, so that fluoride toothpaste has better access between the teeth to help remineralise them to prevent receding gums, gum diseases and cavities on the surface between the teeth.

Brushing of the tongue from the tip to the back is also very essential in promoting oral hygiene as debris of food eating stick to it causing whiteness and bad breath. Gaggling should be done with mouth wash or toothpaste to dislodge phlegm from the back of the throat.

In addition to regular brushing and flossing of teeth, eating of balanced diet which include the following are beneficial and necessary to achieve good oral hygiene: Drinking of green tea made from anti oxidant plant compound, which reduce plaque, cavities and gum diseases; eating of dairies and animal foods like beef, chicken, turkey, eggs and cheese high in calcium and phosphate that help balance the PH level in the mouth. Also, eating of fruits like apples and strawberries that contain vitamin c which holds cells together. Crunchy vegetables such as carrots are also good for the teeth as they help clean the gums

Onions are also good for the teeth as they contain antibacterial sulphur compounds, while water helps in cleansing the mouth, producing saliva that deposits essential minerals into the teeth, keeps gums hydrated and washes away particles from the teeth.

On the other hand, the end product of carbohydrate food, sugar, are commonly associated with dental cavities while acids in soft drinks lower the PH level of the oral cavity. Smoking and chewing of tobacco  are harmful habits that are detrimental to good oral hygiene.

Consequently, as the world celebrates ”global oral health day”, emphasis should be on inculcating good eating habits and encouraging children to cultivate the habit of brushing their teeth properly at least twice daily for a good and healthy mouth and teeth which can boost their confidence in life.

•Bakare is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.