Don't believe those Listerine ads that say you don't need to floss. They're bull and they've been pulled. A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Pfizer must stop misleading us. So floss away.
The little white thread is one important way to head off gum disease, which is disgusting, causes bad breath, tooth loss and has probable links to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, premature birth and low birth weight.
Caused by plaque build-up, early-stage gum disease, or gingivitis, may be painful, but it can also be asymptomatic. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to pyorrhea or periodontitis, which is where you run into all those serious health problems.
But beware. When you get beyond the all-critical flossing, the holistic and allopathic gum gurus don't occupy the same planet.
In the case of fluoride, for example, one camp deems it toxic, the other a treasure. And while we're at it, have you ever wondered how many times they can revolutionize the toothbrush and whether all those far-reaching rubber bits and colourful bristle clumps actually make any difference?
What the experts say
"Eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates is primary, as are fresh fruits and vegetables , especially apples and carrots . I would suggest using natural toothpaste , because some of the commercial ones are very harsh. I don't think fluoride is essential for gum health. Some natural mouthwashes have herbs like myrrh , which is an astringent and acts as an anti-microbial. Calendula is another herb I would recommend as a mouthwash, in tincture form or in a natural toothpaste. I also sometimes suggest a folic acid mouthwash or a supplement of co-enzyme Q10 . If oral hygeine is already under control, oil of oregano is a good approach. Unsweetened cranberry juice can help keep bacteria from sticking. Goldenseal is combined with echinacea for gum health. Bloodroot as well. Tea tree products in mouthwashes and toothpaste stimulate gum tissue."
MARY GALIC , naturopath, Toronto
"I noticed taking medical histories that people who have bowel problems also have gum disease. People suffering from gum disease also suffer from constipation. I noticed by accident that by giving these people things like fibre and natural tea to clean out the bowels, the gum disease has very often improved. I also prescribe all kinds of vitamins like vitamin C , zinc , chromium , co-enzyme Q10 and antioxidants that are good for dental health, collagen and soft tissue."
LEON TREGER , holistic dentist, BSc, DDS, Toronto
"With periodontal disease, the immune system has a little war with the bacteria and it kills a lot of it, but it also destroys the bone ligament that supports the teeth. I don't want to discount the benefits of all naturopathic treatments, but I have seen no evidence to support the use of coenzyme Q-10, goldenseal, vitamin E or oil of myrrh in the treatment of periodontal disease. We'll see patients who suddenly stop using a fluoridated toothpaste, people who have not had any decay for 20 or 30 years, and they can just get completely ravaged by decay. If you want to brush with goldenseal, that's fine, but it is imperative that you use a fluoridated toothpaste afterwards.
MICHAEL GLOGAUER , D.D.S. PhD, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto
"Myrrh is one of my top choices. It should be combined with other things, because it requires a high alcoholic extract, 95 per cent. I would mix it with something like sage . Cinnamon is another excellent anti-microbial astringent. Oakberry is also very astringent but not as easy to come by. Rinsing with salt water is good. Echinacea is excellent for a mouth rinse and should be taken internally as well. Usually there are underlying immune system and circulation issues in the mouth, so something for the circulation like prickly ash can be used as a rinse and taken internally as well. Another anti-infective is wild indigo . Choosing an herbal toothpaste is often useful because some of those anti-tartar toothpastes are harsh. Choose something that is fluoride- and sugar-free.
MARCIA DIXON , registered herbalist, Toronto
"With gingivitis you get a little bit of bleeding. It is usually very easy to treat. The patient has his or her teeth cleaned, starts brushing properly and flossing and things will settle down. The most important thing is home care and seeing your dental professional on a regular basis to get the plaque and calculus off. Fluoride is one of the most important things in a toothpaste, though we don't recommend it for kids under three. The natural toothpastes don't have fluoride and a lot of them are abrasive. High abrasivity can cause sensitivity in the teeth. Make sure your toothbrush is soft and not too big for your mouth. Electric toothbrushes when used properly are very effective."
DARLENE BODDY , dental hygienist, Toronto