Fall is a magical time of year for many. The leaves begin to change, shifting from greens to soft golds, weather begins to cool, and, of course, many start getting wistful for scary movies and Halloween. For our mouths, however, fall can be a horror story. Coffee shops begin to release their pumpkin flavored lattes, some with close to 42g of sugar each, and Pinterest and other social media comes alive with different types of candies and pastries. Let’s also not forgot about apple cider! With all that sugar comes feisty mouth bacteria, tooth decay, and maybe even gum disease. If you’re one of those fall nuts that hopes to get the most out of the season without an emergency trip to the dentist, then this guide is for you.
Try to Limit the Sugar
Tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease are all caused by the same thing: mouth bacteria. Without even trying, you have a lot of it. By some estimates, nearly 20 billion microbes, more than the entire human species. Most of these bacteria play nice and keep each other in check by making sure one species doesn’t overpopulate the place. Streptococcus mutans and a few other bad actors, however, can easily over step their bounds when given enough food, and what they eat just so happens to be simple carbs and sugar. These bacteria cling to teeth and the gum line and produce an acidic byproduct which wears down enamel and damages gums. So by not eating an abundance of sugar—the American Heart Association suggests less than 35g to lessen the risk of heart disease—you can stop those bacteria in their tracks.
If you can't just quit sugar, consider sugar substitutes, especially xylitol, which some studies suggest could suppress the growth of oral bacteria.
Flex Those Oral Hygiene Skills
Good oral hygiene is one of the most important things you can do for your mouth to avoid cavities. Regularly brushing and flossing keeps dental plaque from forming and eliminates the food source of bacteria strains like streptococcus mutans. The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day and flossing once, but timing can also be important. Because plaque forms within 24 to 48 hours, brushing before you go to bed and when you wake up can cover your bases while you’re asleep. This is especially important because production of saliva--the body's natural antibiotic--drops off at night, making it easier for bacteria to multiply.
For those who are adverse to floss, that’s something you’ll have to get over. Unfortunately, a toothbrush can’t reach all the places tends to hide. Using floss can help you to clean those hard to reach places, like under the gumline. But there are alternatives, too, like water flossers and interdental brushes, that might work better for some people.
Stay Up to Date With Cleanings
Even though it can sometimes be a pain, going to the dentist every six months for a cleaning and checkup can be immensely important for your oral health. Not only can a dental hygienist help to clean plaque that has become too hard to brush away, but they can check up on your mouth. Serious complications like periodontal disease, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, don’t happen overnight. They develop slowly. Regularly visiting your dentist can ensure that oral complications don’t develop into big problems, ones that could even ruin your fall.