Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Proper Dental Care

I was struck this morning by how complicated technology has made our society in recent years, even in the simplest things like dental care. When still but a boy, I was instructed to brush my teeth diligently with an up and down motion (even though my dentist seemed to brush from every direction when I went in for a cleaning), and I did. As I grew older, improvements were made in the toothbrush, and I was handed “special brushes" with different kinds of bristles in order to reach different parts of my teeth and gums. I didn't really understand any of it, but they told me it was better for my teeth (which I had grown rather fond of by that time) and I chose to believe them. Besides, I had been shown the pictures of what happened if you didn't take care of your teeth and realized that I had to seek an alternative. The look was not a good one, and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life hanging around at Merle Haggard concerts.

Technology refused to stand still, and soon I was handed my first powered brush and told that this, much like the one that my dentist used, was the real answer to perfect dental care. (The fact that the bristles rotated, preventing the up and down motion that I was originally trained in, seem not to matter to the manufacturers, the stores selling these devices, or health care professionals who pushed them on me.) What soon followed were a non-stop string of powered units that improved on this perfection, some with other bristles that vibrated back and forth, some with dual rotating heads, some with special sonic wave producing units; and I have to admit that I bought into a good bit of the hype. Now the latest generation in the space race of modern dental technology is out, and I hear that cavities don't have a chance. This unit not only does all of the things we have come to know and love from these motorized marvels, but also has a wireless display to inform us as to whether we are brushing too hard or whether we are brushing our teeth long enough. That's enough for me.

Now I have had teeth for almost my entire life, and in my own amateurish way, have attempted to take proper care of them (usually with little assistance from the latest technology). With the exception of my wisdom teeth, all but one of them is still with me, and that one was misplaced when someone had the notion that it would be a good idea to rearrange my features by breaking a hockey stick across my face. (Yeah I know, this admission explains a lot about my current appearance. I’ve gotten used to it over the years however, so you probably need to as well.) I have to wonder therefore, whether I would be a sucker to purchase one of these new-fangled dental devices. Likewise, I can't help but wonder if I have been duped by all of the claims of all the other manufacturers of such devices in my past. I must further question whether such technology is the answer, or whether it’s only real purpose is to part me from a fair amount of my hard-earned money in a vain attempt to gain a marginal result (or only one for the manufacturer's bottom line). Finally, I have to begin to question the sanity of putting electrical devices in my mouth in the first place.

While I am at it, I would like to question whether I really need to be brushing my teeth with a specific type of toothbrush for a specific period of time (like the two minutes in the new timer) using a fluoridated toothpaste (don't get me started on this subject, whose double-talking BS probably requires a posting of its own). Are a a pre-rinse, and a post rinse really required in the process? Do I really need to floss twice a day (and more it appears, if I choose to eat solid foods)? When did this process become so complicated? Most importantly, when did the time that we are being told to spend in caring for things like our teeth reach a point where they take up all of the time that we have?

Now you can call me a an old fool, or simply a cynic (you certainly wouldn't be the first), but I suspect all of this effort does not have that great an impact on my oral health. I suspect that with any kind of reasonable attention to good dental care, that the condition of our teeth has a great deal more to do with our genetics than the type of toothbrush we use. I suspect that all toothbrushes and all toothpastes are pretty much created equal. I further suspect that the most impressive thing about all of this technology is the advertising campaigns used to attempt to convince us to purchase it in the first place. Don't get me wrong, this is not to dissuade you from buying a light saber in the battle against tooth decay if you think it will do any good, but if your looking for me on the front lines, look again. I will be somewhere in the back, pushing my old tried-and-true manual brush up and down, and smiling with most of my teeth and a good bit more of my money.



Hooda Thunkit said...

You bring up some interesting Points Tim.

However, I feel that the new fangled, battery powered, hi-tech brushes are mostly clever marketing hype aimed directly at the lazy American consumers.

All that one really needs, IMNHO, is to diligently brush, gum to tip, followed by a thorough flossing, followed by another gum to tip brushing and you have done what all of these devices/gimmicks were designed to do (besides lightening your wallet).

These technical gimmicks are (feebly) attempting to make up for our short attention span mentality by brushing our teeth for us, and they (IMNHO) don't measure up to the task.

I'll stick with my old buddy Manuel; he takes a little bit of time and has never let me down ;-)

Tim Higgins said...


I am shocked to hear that you employ a Hispanic worker to brush your teeth :-). My concern is that I don't know which aggravates me more, the time that I am expected to spend on dental care, or the money. Both seem to be more precious and in shorter supply to me than in the old days.

That being said, I agree with the whole concept of poor attention span. My suspicion is that it is a chemically generated condition caused by ingredients in toothpaste and mouthwash.

Chad Quigley said...

I use both...a powered brush and a manual. I've always been kind of a fanatic about my teeth too. I've had good luck in the cavity department.

In my early 20's I lost the top 2 front teeth in a car accident, nice fakes. But other than that, I've retained my teeth.

Considering what I do and say, this is amazing for a lot of