10 Ways to Keep Your Teeth Healthy (the third one is my favorite)
“There are dental implants to be sure, but you’re not going to get a chance at another set of teeth,” says Richard H. Price, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “This is it.”
Over time, our dental education tends to fade from memory (what’s fluoride again?) so it’s important to remind yourself how critical caring for your mouth is and how painful oral issues can be.
Don't Skimp on Flossing
Research indicates that anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of Americans don’t floss. Whatever the number is, it’s too high. “It’s like the bumper sticker used to say: You don’t have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to save,” says Price. That doesn’t mean flossing is more important than brushing, though. Both are strongly encouraged because they achieve different things. But try not to go nuts: Brushing too often—we’re talking six or seven times a day—can actually hurt your teeth. Stick to morning, noon, and night.
Experiment with Different Toothpastes
There are an overwhelming amount of toothpastes to choose from, so what you want out of a toothpaste matters. In fact, it’s about the only thing that matters because, technically, you don’t need toothpaste to brush your teeth. Toothpaste’s main job is to get plaque off your teeth, Price says, but your brush would do that anyway. Of course, toothpastes do have added benefits: some whiten, some decrease sensitivity, and some aid in remineralization. It’s tough to go wrong, but Price specifically advises choosing one with added fluoride and the ADA seal of acceptance.
Make the Most of Mouthwash
Most of us grab mouthwash to tame bad breath, but it can do so much more. According to the American Dental Association, mouthrinses can help control and event prevent tooth decay, reduce plaque, and prevent gingivitis, which is an early stage of gum disease. They can also help to slow the rate at which tatar, or hardened plaque, collects on the teeth. Here’s a quick rundown of which ingredients to look for:
- Antimicrobial agentstarget bacteria to reduce plaque, decrease gingivitis, and freshen breath.
- Fluoridehelps make teeth more resistant to decay.
- Astringentsalts are deodorizers that mask bad breath. It’s a temporary cover-up, so don’t rely on these too heavily.
- Odor neutralizers“chemically inactivate odor-causing compounds,” says the ADA.
The first step to understanding fluoride is to grasp that teeth are dynamic, and constantly lose and regain the minerals that make them strong. When we eat sugars or refined carbs, bacteria in our mouths produce acid which removes minerals from the surfaces of our teeth and eventually causes decay. Fluoride is a mineral that can stop, and even reverse, tooth decay.
“Fluoride slows down the bacteria, it makes the surface [of teeth] more resistant,” Price says. “And it heals microscopic cavities before they become real cavities.” Price advocates the use of fluoride, as does the ADA, but some health professionals have expressed concerns about overexposure to fluoride, arguing that it can cause pitted..
Talk to your dentist about getting a fluoride treatment.
Don't Blame Your Brush
Try not to be wooed by the whirring, purring vibrations of the electric toothbrush. These bells and whistles are no more effective than a good old fashioned manual scrub. “It’s not so much the brush as the brusher,” says Price. “I use both.” If you’re worried that you’re missing some of the hard to reach spots, ask your dentist if they notice any difference when you switch up brush types.
Target Your Gums
“Down on the uppers and up on the lowers,” or so the old saying went. Then came the itty-bitty circles method that had us awkwardly pushing big brushes across our small teeth in fast loops. Now, Price says the best way to brush is whatever gets at your gum line because that’s where plaque lingers. (So technically, it’s more like up on the uppers and down on the lowers for anyone keeping track.) Make extra sure you’re getting the tongue-side of your bottom teeth, too. Price says it’s a key spot people often neglect.
You may draw stares when you slap in a mouth guard for beach volleyball or a day at the slopes, but if it saves your teeth, it’ll be worth it. After all, dental procedures are expensive and many injuries can be prevented with a cheap piece of rubber. There are several options to choose from: a standardized, run-of-the-mill guard from the store, one you boil in the microwave to fit, or a custom mouthguard from the dentist. Those who grind their teeth in their sleep—usually an indicator of stress—should consider wearing a mouthguard while they doze to keep their teeth sharp and prevent soreness in the gums and jaw.
Prevent Oral Cancer
The rate of occurrence of oral cancer has risen each year for the last five years, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation, and kills one person every hour. It’s something many people associate with tobacco use, but that’s an incomplete picture. “Seventy-five percent of people with oral cancer usually have some association with alcohol or tobacco, but that leaves 25 percent that don’t,” says Price. Other possible causes include the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is transmitted to a person’s mouth through oral sex, excessive sun exposure, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables.
Bleach with Caution
White teeth are so desirable that we bleach these tiny, living bones in our mouth to get a few shades closer to blinding. But Price warns that brightness doesn’t equate to healthfulness. “Unfortunately, as we get older, hair gets whiter and teeth get darker,” he says. “That’s just the course of life.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting youthful, white teeth but be careful not to go overboard. Excessive bleaching can wear down the enamel. If possible, stick to whitening toothpastes instead of peroxide-containing bleaching agents which can irritate the tissue around your gums and cause tooth sensitivity.
See Your Dentist
This may disappoint those with dental phobia, but unless you’ve got a dental degree and a really fancy mirror, you should go to a dentist at least once a year. They’re the only ones who tell you what’s really going on inside the dark corners of your mouth. Getting your teeth checked and cleaned once or twice each year cuts down on stubborn plaque and gives your dentist a better chance of catching trouble spots early on.