Hesperian Health Guides
Taking Care of All Your Teeth
Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!
Make a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.
This book often repeats an important message: eat good food and clean your teeth. It is repeated because this is the most important thing you can learn from this book. Later chapters will discuss what to do when problems occur, but if you follow these two suggestions, you will almost never have problems with your teeth and gums. This is true because good food keeps your whole body healthy, including your teeth. Also, with no ‘colonies’ of germs or harmful factory sugar on your teeth, your mouth cannot make the acids that cause both tooth and gum problems. So, remember:
1. Eat good food
Good nutrition (eating well) means 2 things:
- Eat a mixture of different kinds of foods every time you eat. There are several groups of foods. Every time you eat, try to eat one or two foods from each of the groups. This way, you will get 3 important kinds of food: grow food (body-building food) to give you the protein you need; glow food (protective food) to give you vitamins and minerals; and go food (concentrated energy food) to give you calories to be active all day.
Be sure you eat enough food to give your body the energy it needs. This is even more important than the first suggestion. We get half or more of our energy from our main food. In most parts of the world, people eat one low-cost energy food with almost every meal. Depending on the area, this main food may be rice, maize, millet, wheat, cassava, potato, breadfruit, or banana. The main food is the central or ‘super’ food in the local diet.A spoonful of cooking oil added to a child’s food means he only has to eat about ¾ as much of the local main food in order to meet his energy needs. The added oil helps make sure he gets enough calories by the time his belly is full.
2. Clean your teeth
You may find that different dental workers recommend different ways of brushing teeth. Some ways are definitely better, but often they are harder to learn.
Teach a method of cleaning that a person can learn and will do at home. Let him start by scrubbing his teeth (and his children’s teeth) back and forth, or round and round. Encourage him to improve his method only when you think he is ready.
Toothpaste is not necessary. Some people use charcoal or salt instead. But it is the brush hairs that do the cleaning, so water on the brush is enough.
Scrub the outside, inside, and top of each tooth carefully.
When you finish, feel the tooth with your tongue to make sure it is smooth and clean.
Finally, push the hairs of the brush between the teeth and sweep away any bits of food caught there. Do this for both upper and lower teeth.
Sweep away in the direction the tooth grows: sweep upper teeth down and lower teeth up.
Explain how important it is to use a brush with soft hairs. A brush that is stiff and hard will hurt the gums, not help them.
If your store has only hard brushes, tell the store keeper that hard toothbrushes do not help the people in the community. Ask him to order and sell only soft toothbrushes.
Cleaning between the teeth is very important
Here are three ways to clean between the teeth:
- Push the hairs of a toothbrush between the teeth, and sweep the bits of food away.
Remove the stem from a palm leaf. Use the thinner end and move it gently in and out between the teeth.
Rub the stem against
one tooth and then
the other. This way,
you clean the sides of
Use some thin but strong thread or string. String can be the best method of all--but you must be careful with it.
Get some thin cotton rope
used for fishing nets. Unwind
and use one strand of it.
OR Buy and use dental floss. This is a special kind of string for cleaning between the teeth.
Be careful! The string can hurt your gums if you do not use it correctly. This shows how to use the string, but the best way to learn how to 'floss' your teeth is to have someone show you. Ask a dental worker who has experience.
Wrap the ends of the string around the middle finger of each hand.
Use the thumb and finger to guide the string. Go back and forth to slide the string between two teeth. Be careful not to let it snap down and hurt the gums.
| Lower teeth
|With your fingers pull the string against the side of one tooth. Now move the string up and down. Do not pull the string back and forth or it will cut the gum.|
|Lift the string over the pointed gum and clean the other tooth.|
When you have cleaned both teeth, release the string from one finger and pull it out from between the teeth. Then wrap it around your two middle fingers once again, and clean between the next two teeth.
Remember: clean teeth and good food will prevent almost all dental problems.