Family and friends often influence the way we think and how we behave. These groups influence us from sports teams we like to the music we listen to, and even to the clothes we wear. Researchers have also found that family and friends even influence how we with think about and care for our teeth.
Boston University’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine determined through extensive research of families living in Boston’s public housing that individuals with good oral health were taught how to practice proper oral hygiene by their family or peers. Conversely, individuals with negative oral health conditions were not encouraged or instructed by their family and friends to practice good oral hygiene.
Researchers on the project determined that in order to improve the oral outcomes for study participants, they first needed to tap into the family and social units the participants were living in. They identified the trusted, influential people who lived in the community and armed them with health information to spread throughout the development, in hopes of influencing residents to pay attention to their dental health and begin practicing good oral hygiene. This was in contrast to previous efforts in which outside researchers would visit the housing complex to pass out material. In many cases, these outsiders were distrusted because they were not part of the community.
"When people start paying attention and buying into to their oral health, it changes a lot of things," Dr. James Erpenbach, D.D.S., said.
Erpenbach is a dentist in Knoxville, Tennessee, and although he’s almost a thousand miles away from Boston, he recognizes the importance of positive influences on oral health outcomes.
"I can- and do- tell patients to brush, floss, and take care of their teeth daily, but when they’re home the other 363 days a year- assuming they see me every six months- it is up to patients to put into practice what I preach," Erpenbach said.
This includes brushing at least twice per day and flossing at least once per day, according to Erpenbach.
"Brushing and flossing are two critical things patients need to do every day to protect themselves from tooth decay and gum disease," Erpenbach said.
He also urges parents to help their children brush and floss, and double-check their brushing techniques.
"Children may need a little help at times when brushing, so Mom and Dad should take the time to check they’re brushing properly," Erpenbach said.
Erpenbach suggests patients use a soft-bristled brush and hold it at a 90-degree angle. Then brush the outer surface of the upper and lower teeth, then the inner surfaces. Next, brush the top chewing surface. Erpenbach also is an advocate for brushing the tongue, which refreshes the breath and removes bacteria. Proper brushing should take approximately two minutes, according to Erpenbach, which is often surprising to many individuals.
"Parents can help their children to brush thoroughly by brushing alongside them and setting a timer for two minutes," he said.
Other excellent resources to encourage brushing are in books about taking care of the teeth and going to the dentist. There are also many quality resources on the internet and even how to brush your teeth videos for children on YouTube. Parents should also limit the number of sugary foods and drinks consumed by children, especially sodas.
"Sodas are a double whammy because of the sugar content and large amounts of phosphorus and acid," said Erpenbach.
Sugar feeds bacteria that cause tooth decay, and phosphorus and acid contribute to enamel erosion, leaving teeth weakened and vulnerable to cracks or breaks, as well as cavities.
When good oral hygiene practices begin in the home, it makes visits to the dentist less scary. When patients know they have been taking care of their teeth, they worry less about what the dentist might find, and if treatments are going to hurt.
"The goal of dentistry is prevention, and practicing good oral hygiene at home will help prevent the majority of dental problems," Erpenbach said.