Hesperian Health Guides

Taking Care of All Your Teeth

In this chapter:

This book often repeats an important message: eat healthy 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.

Eat healthyfood

An easy-to-remember rule is The same foods that are good for the body are good for the teeth. A healthy body is the best protection against infection.

main food as the seat of a stool with 3 legs labeled grow, glow, and go.
The MAIN FOOD is at the center of every meal.

Good nutrition (eating well) means 2 things:

  1. 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.
  2. DENT Ch5 Page 67-2.png
    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.
    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 small child showing illustrations of the 4 kinds of food.
Be sure always to eat grow foods and glow foods to get the vitamins and protein you need.
Your energy foods give you the most important part of your diet — calories. Half or more of our calories come from the main food, and most of the other calories come from go foods.
The main foods and go foods give us the energy to run, work and play.
WARNING ABOUT GO FOODS: Although go foods give us the energy we need, some go foods are worse than others. Honey, molasses, and especially white sugar can be very bad for the teeth, even though they have the calories we need. Fruits, nuts, and oils all give us energy (calories) without attacking the teeth.

Clean Your Teeth

Cleaning teeth requires time and care. If you hurry, you will leave food and germs behind, and they continue to make cavities and sore gums.

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.

scrubbing back and forth on the outside of the back teeth.
scrubbing back and forth on the inside of the back teeth.
scrubbing up and down on the inside of the front teeth.
4.   scrubbing back and forth on the top of the front teeth. 5.scrubbing back and forth on the top of the back teeth.

When you finish, feel the tooth with your tongue to make sure it is smooth and clean.

using the brush to clean beween teeth.

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.

YES 2 soft brushes, one homemade and one from the store. NO a hard brush from the store.

DENT Ch5 Page 70-3.png
You can make a hard brush softer by putting the hairs into hot water for a few minutes.
Do not put the plastic handle into the hot water, or it will melt.

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:

  1. Push the hairs of a toothbrush between the teeth, and sweep the bits of food away.
  2. Remove the stem from a palm leaf. Use the thinner end and move it gently in and out between the teeth.
    DENT Ch5 Page 71-1.png DENT Ch5 Page 71-2.png DENT Ch5 Page 71-3.png
    DENT Ch5 Page 71-4.png Rub the stem against
    one tooth and then
    the other. This way,
    you clean the sides of
    both teeth.
    DENT Ch5 Page 71-5.png

  3. Use some thin but strong thread or string. String can be the best method of all--but you must be careful with it.

    DENT Ch5 Page 71-6.png
    DENT Ch5 Page 71-7.png
    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.

DENT Ch5 Page 72-1.png

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.

DENT Ch5 Page 72-2.png Upper teeth
DENT Ch5 Page 72-3.png
DENT Ch5 Page 72-4.png
DENT Ch5 Page 72-5.png
  Lower teeth
DENT Ch5 Page 72-6.png
DENT Ch5 Page 72-7.png

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.
DENT Ch5 Page 72-8.png
DENT Ch5 Page 72-9.png
Lift the string over the pointed gum and clean the other tooth.
DENT Ch5 Page 72-10.png
DENT Ch5 Page 72-11.png

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.

This page was updated:17 May 2024