According to the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Academy of Periodontology, there's a link between the buildup of plaque in the mouth and the buildup of plaque in the arteries and heart -- even though they're two totally different types of plaque. Both institutions also cite studies indicating that factors like missing teeth and gum disease are as strong an indicator of heart disease as high cholesterol levels [source: Griffin].
Perhaps that's why, in addition to brushing after every meal, the American Dental Association recommends flossing or using an interdental cleaner, such as a dental pick, every day [source: American Dental Association]. A dental pick is a small hand-held tool with a thin, pointed metal tip. Besides having seen them in the hands of dentists and hygienists, you may know these instruments through their association with archaeologists, who use them to carefully clean fossils, or as a tool of home remodelers, who use them to precisely scrape paint from a door hinge or window lock.
The thickness of the end of a dental pick's tip is similar to that of dental floss, because it's used for the same purpose -- to remove plaque and food particles from your teeth. You can use a dental pick at home, but before doing so, you should talk to your dentist about learning the proper way to use it, and if it's right for you.
In general, to use a dental pick, start at the base of the teeth near the gum line and carefully guide the tip of the dental pick between two teeth, just like you would with dental floss, to remove plaque. One arguable advantage of this method is that it's easier to manipulate the handle of the dental pick than it is to wrap dental floss around your fingers and try to reach the molars in the back of your mouth.
However, one risk of using a dental pick is that you can harm the enamel on your teeth by forcing the device into tight spaces between teeth where it doesn't fit, or using it while you're having tooth or gum issues, such as extreme sensitivity or bleeding of the gums.
So before you start picking away, make sure you have that conversation with your dentist, and mosey on over to the next page for lots more information on caring for your teeth.
- American Dental Association. "Floss & Other Interdental Cleaners." (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.ada.org/5624.aspx?currentTab=1
- Chicago Tribune. "Mini-dental tools get a cautioned nod." July 22, 2001. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2001-07-22/news/0107220518_1_plaque-gum-tartar
- Colgate. "Plaque: What is it and How do We Get Rid of It?" (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Common-Concerns/Plaque-and-Tartar/article/Plaque-What-is-it-and-How-do-we-get-rid-of-it.cvsp
- Colgate. "Taking Care of Your Teeth." (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-Basics/Oral-Hygiene/Oral-Hygiene-Basics/article/Taking-Care-of-Your-Teeth.cvsp
- Griffin, R. Morgan. "Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease." (Sept. 8, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/periodontal-disease-heart-health
- Grogan, Martha, M.D. "Can poor oral health cause heart disease? Will taking care of my teeth help prevent heart disease?" Mayo Clinic. Aug. 26, 2010. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease-prevention/AN02102
- Mayo Clinic. "Oral health: Brush up on dental care basics." Feb. 17, 2011. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dental/DE00003
- Oral-B. "Dental Floss Picks - Alternative for Dental Flossing." (Sept. 1, 2001) http://www.oralb.com/topics/dental-floss-picks.aspx
- Stoppard, Miriam. "Gadgets that are good for you - DenTek Scaler and Pick Dental Hygiene Pack." Feb. 15, 2011. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.mirror.co.uk/advice/miriam/2011/02/15/gadgets-that-are-good-for-you-dentek-scaler-and-pick-dental-hygiene-pack-115875-22923889/
- WebMD. "Dental Health and Bad Breath." Feb. 8, 2009. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/bad-breath