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Are you wracked with guilt if you forget to brush your teeth after a meal?

Do you brush your teeth while showering?Have you ever borrowed someone else's toothbrush?

These are some of the curiosities of oral hygiene disclosed in a first-ever study of America's brushing habits.

James A. Saddoris, former president of the American Dental Association, is touring the United States to spread the good word about improved toothbrushing habits among Americans.

Before the introduction of fluoride toothpaste, tooth decay was the most common medical problem in the United States, with Americans averaging 700 million cavities a year. That's a lot of drilling. But the nationwide study of 1,240 shows that 85 percent of Americans now rate their overall dental health as excellent or pretty good.

"Seventy percent of American schoolchildren today do not have tooth decay. That's a miracle," Saddoris said.

In a Deseret News interview, Saddoris said toothbrushing habits reveal more than a person's hygiene. The study expose a person's psychological profile.

For example, did you know there is a term for people who faithfully follow their dentist's instructions, carrying a toothbrush in their purse at all times? Thirty percent of those interviewed say they brush their teeth at work.

Next time you notice a person brushing at executive bathroom sink, you can call him or her a "dentelligentsia." That's the official dental term for those compulsive types, says Saddoris. They don't believe their dentist is telling the truth when a soft-bristle brush is recommended. Instead, these compulsive types insist on scrubbing their gums raw and creating grooves in their teeth with hard-bristle brushes.

Another personality type called "dental dropouts" can go for days without brushing. Not surprisingly, these folk have major problems when they go for a checkup. "Generally, if they have problems brushing their teeth on a regular basis, they are having significant problems organizing many aspects of their lives, said Saddoris.

While most people in the United States today retain their natural teeth longer without needing dentures, those who neglect their teeth will face the expense and bother of replacing their teeth before they are 65.

"Personalities are hard to change," said Saddoris. "It's a matter of trying to convince a patient it's to their benefit to use the right brush and brush regularly. Bacteria plague builds in a 12-hour period, creating cavities."

Swapping toothbrushes with a friend isn't the hygiene problem it used to be, the dentist said. In the past, toothbrushes were made of hog's hair bristles. The hollow bristle tended to trap bacteria. Since these brushes have been replace by nylon,"you can get away with using your husband's toothbrush."

Fifty percent of those interviewed say the actually enjoy visiting the dentist. "That's a real turn around," said Saddoris. "It indicates we're doing a better job of teaching preventive dental care so those who visit us don't have as many serious problems. We're leading the way in the health-care field in teaching patients to help themselves."


(Additional information)

Teeth brushing

National Survey

50% of Americans LIKE to visit the dentist.

61% admit to strong feelings of guilt when they forget to brush.

29% have brushed their teeth in the office bathroom.

17% brush their teeth while in the shower or bathtub.

17% have used someone else's toothbrush.

80% brush their teeth several times daily.

30% brush their teeth after every meal.

WOMEN are more likely than men to brush their teeth.