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Oral Hygiene Month: Part I

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 4/21/2012, 10:02 p.m.

October is National Oral Hygiene Month, and the Amsterdam News is focusing on the health of teeth and gums with a series of stories on how to get and keep that perfect smile. With the help of several dentists, including Dr. Catrise Austin, we're covering all of the bases when it comes to your pearly whites.

With the current economy, many people are foregoing even dentist visits. Austin said that regular visits should remain in the budget, as slacking off on seeing a dentist now can become a very costly issue later on.

"There's no denying that the last three years have been tough financially for many Americans across the nation, including New York residents," said Austin. "The current economic climate is causing many people to either postpone the dental treatment plans recommended by their dentists or to put off dental visits altogether. Unfortunately, there are long-term health risks associated with postponing oral care."

Several options are available for families and individuals to get low-cost dental care. Many of the city's universities, like New York University and Columbia, offer discounted dental visits as do hospitals, including Harlem Hospital.

This week, we're starting our series with the basics of brushing and flossing-two of the most important things when it comes to keeping a healthy smile. While it's been taught for decades to brush twice a day, Austin said having a toothbrush and toothpaste at work couldn't hurt.

"You should be brushing in the morning, after lunch and when you go to bed. Plaque is nothing but bacteria and it feeds off of sugar. It doesn't take long for it to eat away at your teeth. If you can't brush your teeth in the middle of the day, chew some sugarless gum," she advised.

Austin also recommends brushing for at least two minutes and brushing the tongue to help get rid of bacteria that causes bad breath. Toothbrushes should be changed every three months.

As far as flossing goes, Austin said that not enough people are doing it, and that not flossing can lead to oral health problems. She said brushing and flossing go hand in hand, and that flossing helps get to parts of teeth and the gum line that a toothbrush alone can't reach.

"Flossing is key because you are also cleaning the sides of your teeth and you have to wipe away the bacteria," Austin said. "Be sure to floss in an up-and-down vertical motion."

As hard as it is for many to admit, some people, when asked when they last went to see a dentist, might say years. Austin said that the average person with healthy gums should see a dentist at least twice a year-more for a person who has gum disease.

"One in every four people has gum disease," Austin said. "People with gum disease usually have bleeding, tender gums. The sooner we detect it, the sooner we can treat it."

ONLINE EXTRA: Go to amsterdamnews.com for facts on African-Americans in dentistry.