As we mark October as “National Dental Hygiene Month,” we might ask: What should the words “dental hygiene” make us think about? The Will County Health Department’s Dr. Sangita Garg, Chief Dental Officer for the Community Health Center, says the first thing we need to do is be aware of a very basic fact.
“The mouth,” Dr. Garg reminds us, “is the gateway that bacteria can use to reach the rest of your body. For example, if you develop gum disease, that bacteria can get into your bloodstream. Then it can contribute to health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, or even premature births for pregnant women.”
With that in mind, Dr. Garg says concentrating on your entire routine when it comes to keeping your mouth clean is your best bet. “It really only takes five minutes a day for solid, basic brushing and cleaning habits. That would be two minutes of brushing in the morning, and three minutes of complete care in the evening. Nighttime, before bed, is the most important.”
Dr. Garg says what she recommends at night is 30 seconds for flossing, followed by two minutes for brushing, and then 30 seconds to clean the tongue. First of all, she mentioned that flossing before brushing really is the ideal way. “You have a lot of food between your teeth, and the debris just stays on your teeth if you floss after brushing. You’ll feel fresher if you brush after flossing and get everything.”
But what about brushing the tongue? Dr. Garg says, yes, that is extremely important to dental hygiene. “You have lots of bacteria that builds up. This is what can lead to halitosis as well as bacteria that sticks to your teeth and gums.” Dr. Garg says you can purchase a tongue scraper, which is essentially a thin strip of plastic; or there are also some toothbrushes that come with plastic tongue scrapers on the back. You can just rinse with water when you’re done.
Dr. Garg mentioned that an anti-cavity rinse is also a good idea at night as the final step. “You can use regular mouthwash at other times, but the anti-cavity rinse at night is a great idea.”
But what about the morning? Dr. Garg says one of her greatest frustrations is people who wake up, brush their teeth right away, and then eat breakfast without brushing again. “Brushing before breakfast does not substitute for brushing after breakfast,” Dr. Garg stated, “because now you have new food sticking to your teeth. If you feel you need to rinse with mouthwash in the morning, that’s better than brushing at the wrong time. And if you did the full routine before going to bed, your mouth shouldn’t feel that bad in the morning.”
As always, smoking remains a problem for maintaining oral hygiene. But Dr. Garg says there’s one particular problem that is getting worse. “It seems that there’s more marijuana smoking out there,” Dr. Garg stated. “And even if it’s being used legally, it does leave stains on your teeth that you have to be aware of. If you are smoking or using chewing tobacco, I would just say, ‘stop.’ Because brushing certainly doesn’t remove other risks of tobacco, such as oral cancer.”
Following the MAPP collaborative’s “Rethink Your Drink” initiative that encourages drinking more water and less soda, Dr. Garg says the mindset of staying away from sugary drinks is very important. “I’m in favor of that,” Dr. Garg explained. “Soda is a major culprit in dental hygiene problems.”
And yes, the old slogan of “you are what you eat” applied to dental hygiene too. “As they say, healthy mouth, healthy body,” Dr. Garg reminds us. “Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for your teeth. And eating an apple after, a candy bar for example, really does clean up your teeth. And if you can’t brush your teeth after a meal, sugar free gum does indeed help with increasing salivation and removing bacteria.”
Dr. Garg also wanted to remind Will County residents that a major passion of hers as Chief Dental Officer at the CHC is her involvement with the Mobile Dental Van program. Dr. Garg became the main dentist on the van earlier this year, and is out and about on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays with dental assistant Lendita Istogu. “It’s a challenging program,” Dr Garg says, “and I just decided, ‘let me take that challenge.’”
Both Dr. Garg and Istogu say their partnership has gone very well. “We are scheduled for various shelters, re-hab centers, and school and daycare centers. I give a lot of credit to Lendita for her handling of the contacts and scheduling.”
In fact, Istogu says they would love to bring the Mobile Dental Van to more patients, especially children. “When we come to a school or daycare setting, it’s very important for parents to realize that public aid pays for that school setting checkup. You don’t lose one of your two insured checkups per year with your insurance. We do everything from regular checkups to deep cleanings to simple extractions. And we would love to hear from more schools and daycares.”
It is also important to note that wherever the Mobile Dental Van is parked, such as at Stepping Stones or Frankfort Terrace, any resident can come in for service, and will be seen if time permits. “Sometimes we see 12 to 16 patients in one sitting,” says Istogu, who also drives the Mobile Van. “You just do whatever it takes, and you want to succeed.”
If you would like to schedule a stop from the Community Health Center Mobile Dental Van at your school or daycare center, just call 815-546-4090. Adults who would like to schedule an appointment at the CHC Dental Department can call 815-774-7300.