I don’t care what “The Internet” says, don’t use a combination of baking soda and lemon juice to whiten your teeth. It’s the dental equivalent of using Brillo on your lacquerware. Sure, it will work the first few times, but only until the enamel is gone. Keep it up, and eventually your teeth will be porous, painful, and absorb all manner of stains.
How do we get beautiful teeth? Ideally, we start at the beginning. Good prenatal nutrition, followed by life-long healthful eating and dental habits are the best way to grow and safeguard a beautiful set of healthy teeth.
In utero, our jaws were being formed of soft cartilaginous tissue. By the time we were born, our “baby teeth” were waiting inside our gums for their time to appear. Behind their roots, the beginnings of our adult teeth were forming. Good nutrition for mom is the best way to give the best start to a great set of teeth!
When we are a few months old, the baby teeth start growing out through our gums. They help us in our transition from milk to soft, and then harder food. They also help guide the adult teeth into their correct places. When a baby tooth is lost to decay, the remaining teeth can migrate to fill the space, preventing the adult tooth from aligning properly when it comes in. Decay in baby teeth also can extend to the permanent teeth behind them.
How can we make sure baby teeth stay healthy and strong? Give milk (dairy or non-dairy) or any beverages other than plain water only at meal times. Between meals, pure, fresh water is the best! Soda pop is deadly to teeth, even the sugarless varieties, because of the acids they contain. Sugary bevarages, including juice, cause the teeth to be bathed in sugar. Bacteria eat the sugar and create acid which erodes the teeth. Besides, sipping on sugary drinks all day not only destroys our teeth, but sets us up for obesity and diabetes. Best is to keep plain water in the bottle or sippy cup between meals, which helps to wash the acids away, keeps the child hydrated, and does not encourage obesity and diabetes. After meals, wipe the teeth of young keiki (children) who cannot yet brush on their own with a soft cloth, and help children to brush with a soft toothbrush.
Continuing a healthful diet as the child gets older will help the baby teeth to stay strong as long as they are needed and help the adult teeth to form correctly. As the molars come in, encourage the child to eat nice crunchy fresh vegetables. Not only are they healthful to eat, they give the jaw exercise. Yes, it’s a thing! What my grandmother used to call “exercising the jaw” turns out to be very important!
When the jaw bone does not get sufficient stimulation, the bone does not get the proper signals to grow, or (in adults) to keep rebuilding itself. In fact, an unexercised adult jaw can actually start shrinking! Chewing ice and other hard things stresses teeth and can chip and crack them. When you crunch vegetables such as carrots, celery, broccoli, and such, they offer just the right texture, hardness and give, to provide the jaw lots of exercise and stimulate the bone for optimal growth.
As adults, we should follow these same basic healthy practices to help us maintain a beautiful set of teeth out entire lives. My grandmother, who lived to be 89, had her own teeth her entire life!
Do you want a bright white smile? The best way is not to let the teeth get stained. Cigarettes, coffee, tea, red wine, and many other things stain our teeth. We can combat the stains by rinsing immediately after consuming them, and flossing and brushing regularly. Regular dental exams also are important and can catch minor damage before it causes major harm.
Some great resources for teaching young people about their teeth can be found at the SciShow Kids channel on YouTube: “Why do we have Baby Teeth?” “Why do we Brush Our Teeth?” “Teeth: Not Just for Smiles.”
Interviews with various dentists
American Dental Association publications
Personal experience and experimentation
Contact writer Leilehua Yuen: firstname.lastname@example.org