A walk down the toothpaste aisle at your local drugstore clearly shows that having whiter, healthier teeth is a 21st-century obsession. But it turns out that it's always been a challenge: Otzi — a 5,300-year-old mummy retrieved in 1991 from a glacier in the Alps — had cavities and severe gum disease, researchers reported recently. And archeologists have discovered that more than 1.5 million years ago, our very early ancestors (Homo erectus) pried bits of dinner from their teeth with the world's first toothpicks.
Ironically, even though these days you can choose from thousands of products to polish, cleanse and protect your teeth, most of you are not all that much better than Otzi at avoiding decay and periodontal disease. Here's a look at how often you brush off taking care of your teeth, and how you can improve your dental care.
Nine Months: How long the average American uses a toothbrush before tossing it. Dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every two months. But 91 percent of you wait far longer.
Tooth tip: Spring for a new brush as soon as bristles start wearing out. New bristles remove at least three times more plaque than older toothbrushes with weak bristles that fail to sweep away plaque at the gumline. And if you use an electric toothbrush, opt for a solid-headed one; new research shows that brushes with hollow heads have up to 3,000 times more bacteria residue than solid ones.
85 percent of men; 65 percent of women: The number of Americans who don't floss daily. Don't only use dental floss for quick touch-ups before a date, a job interview or your next dental appointment. Daily flossing helps break up colonies of below-the-gumline bacteria before they can cause periodontal disease (gum infection that can lead to tooth and bone loss and is associated with heart disease and Type 2 diabetes).
Tooth tip: Can't get the hang of winding floss around your fingers and wiggling it down between your teeth? Try one of the floss-holding tools available in the drugstore.
70 percent: Your increased risk for heart disease if you don't brush twice a day and floss once. Gum disease boosts levels of body-wide inflammation, which raises your risk for heart disease and diabetes. It's also associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, thinking and memory problems, obesity, cancer and even depression.
Tooth tip: If you're unsure about the best brushing style (back and forth, around in circles, up and down), you're not alone. A recent survey found that official advice about the best way to brush is all over the map. We say, just make sure you brush for two minutes each time, and reach all your teeth from all sides — front, back and chewing surfaces.
36 percent: Number of Americans who didn't see a dentist last year. We know that more than 100 million Americans have no dental insurance. But did you know that keeping up with dentist visits could save you money by helping you avoid serious gum disease that may need extensive treatment and can contribute to a wide range of other health problems? Regular visits to the dentist reduce risk for heart attack, stroke, chest pain and congestive heart failure.
Tooth tip: Dental schools often offer low-cost care. Your local or county health department may have information about other affordable options, too.
30 seconds: Time it takes soda, sports drinks or even juice to damage tooth enamel. In a recent Australian study, dental experts found that high-acid drinks etch the surface of teeth almost immediately.
Tooth tip: For stronger teeth, sip water or herbal tea instead of soda or sports drinks. Instead of juice, munch whole fruit. You can cool gum inflammation with a healthy diet, regular exercise and a daily DHA omega-3 supplement (2,000 milligrams a day for three months). Plus, if approved by your doctor, take a daily 81- to 162-milligram aspirin with half a glass of warm water before and after.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.