Healthy Living: Tips to maintain a healthy smile amid a pandemic

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SEATTLE -- We are used to seeing our dentist twice a year, but amid the global pandemic, all non-essential dental exams and procedures are postponed until further notice.

So how can you make sure when this is all over, you haven’t neglected your or your family’s pearly whites, leaving you with big problems and big dentist bills?

Dr. Purva Merchant is a pediatric dentist with Seattle Kids Dentistry. She says while most problems can be prevented, they happen because of the perfect conditions for bacteria to grow on a tooth in your mouth. That means what we put in our mouths is vital to a healthy smile.

“When we choose foods that are sticky, that are hard, that are chewy, these foods are going to stay stuck on the tooth’s surface long after perhaps you are done brushing and flossing," Dr. Merchant says.

She says rinsing your mouth out with water after eating and avoiding food that can stick to your teeth can buy you a little time until you can get in to see your dentist. We should also be sure to look at what our dental options are in case of an emergency.

“What is a true emergency? A true emergency is this, is it a facial swelling, is this child unable to eat? Is there a situation where they can’t sleep at night? Those are conditions where pick up the phone and get help," she says.

Dr. Merchant says nine times out of 10, the problem is coming from food getting stuck in an area that is not being cleaned well enough.

“Invest in things like a water pick or an air water floss, or the ability to clean surfaces that you wouldn’t otherwise take the time to clean," she says.

So at the end of the day, a little extra time with our toothbrush each day can help all of us fend off a big bill later.

“You know your mouth the best. You know whether you have had crowns, bridges, high carries cavity risk, low carries cavities risk ... does your hygienist tell you there’s a certain area you are missing? This is the time to remember those things.”

Meanwhile, taking kids to the dentist is typically a chore for parents.

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Dr. Merchant says because we can't go in for regular cleanings, parents need to be very diligent right now.

“I am asking parents to just take a flashlight and just look in your child’s mouth. Do you see any big gaping holes? Do you see areas that are red that are infected? Pain is the last indicator of a problem.”

So how can parents get their kids to put down the gaming console and pick up a toothbrush?

Dr. Merchant says by making it as close to a game as possible.

“There are several apps out there. Some toothbrush companies have tied up their brushes to the apps so that kids can be fighting germs ... it shows you where you are missing and where you are not missing.... Even if you bought one of those spin brushes, I think they are $5, it’s just, it beeps and buzzes and blinks, and you know it makes you feel a little bit more excited than you would with something that doesn’t beep and buzz.”

If you're home with a toddler and at odds over how to get their mouths cleaned while dealing with some newfound independence, Dr. Merchant says there are specific areas to pay special attention to.

“The problem areas are underneath the upper lip, and the tongue side of the bottom teeth, if you can focus on that you will be good," she says.

With supervision and a little toothpaste strategy, Dr. Merchant says you are setting your kid up with lifelong skills.

“You want to use a tiny amount, and smush it into the bristles, don’t let it sit on the top. If it sits on the top, it’s too tasty, they’ve eaten it, it’s done. If you smush it into the bristles, it’s going to have more working time to cover more tooth surfaces," she says.

Dr. Merchant says no matter the cost, a toothbrush that is 50 cents or $50 will get the job done as long as it is being done right. She did say, though, that adults who invest in a toothbrush like a Sonicar  are more likely to use it regularly because money was spent on it.

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