Good oral hygiene means much more than bright white teeth. The condition of your teeth and gums is associated with a growing list of diseases that affect your overall health. Here are 9 ways to keep a healthy smile for a lifetime.
1) Quit Smoking
Everyone has heard about the cardiovascular and cancer risks associated with tobacco use and smoking. Smokers are also two to three times more likely to get periodontal disease and do not heal as well after periodontal treatment for gum infections.
2) Eat for a Healthy Body and Healthy Teeth
Eat a balanced variety of healthy foods from the five major food groups. Recent dental research indicates that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help prevent oral cancer. A healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D will help you maintain strong teeth and bones. If you have osteoporosis or periodontal disease, you are at higher risk of losing teeth. If you do lose a tooth, get a dental implant to prevent resorption and shrinking of your jaw bone.
Limit sugary snacks and decrease soft drink consumption – even diet soda! Tooth decay and dental cavities are caused by bacteria that are normally present in your mouth. Every time you eat, bits of food become lodged in and around your teeth. This food provides fuel for the bacteria in plaque. Oral bacteria produce acid. Each time you consume food or beverages containing sugars your teeth are exposed to these acids for 20 minutes or more. Even diet-sodas are very acidic and increase risk of tooth decay and cavities. Brush your teeth after eating. Careful brushing and flossing help keep normal bacteria under control.
3) Brush and Floss Properly
Bleeding gums can be serious. Seventy five percent of Americans over the age of 35 have some form of gingivitis or gum disease. Gum disease and gingivitis are associated with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and pregnancy complications.
Brush your teeth at least twice daily and floss daily. Use a soft brush in gentle circular motions at a 45-degree angle to your gum line. You may also use an electric toothbrush to help with areas that are difficult to reach. Electric toothbrushes are automatically set for two minutes which is the recommended brushing time. Floss gently but firmly, hugging the side of each tooth and make sure to floss gently into the gum line along the tooth to remove any plaque or food that has lodged between your teeth or between a tooth and your gum. We recommend a professional dental hygiene visit at least twice a year.
4) Use Fluoride Products
Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay and strengthen tooth enamel in children and adults. In addition to the fluoride treatment that you receive after your teeth are cleaned by a dental hygienist during a routine dental exam, toothpastes and fluoride rinses are good sources of fluoride. Your dentist may recommend a stronger concentration of fluoride in a gel, toothpaste or rinse.
5) Know the Warning Signs of Oral Cancer
Have you ever noticed a small white or red patch in your mouth or a sore that takes longer than two weeks to heal? These symptoms could potentially be a sign of oral cancer. Other potential signs of oral cancer include: a sore that doesn’t heal or bleeds easily; a lump, thickening, ulceration, or color change of the gums and tissue in the mouth; chronic sore throats and a change in tonsil size. Dental journals are filled with articles about human papillomavirus (HPV) and an associated increase in oral cancer, with reports that 30 to 50 percent of head and neck cancer diagnoses are HPV related. Other risk factors include alcohol and tobacco use, sun exposure (lip cancer), and age.
6) Keep Your Dental Work Current
Old fillings can wear out or chip around the edges creating an opportunity for bacteria to enter the tooth and cause decay. Your dentist will evaluate the seal of all dental work during routine exams. You should visit your dentist if you are experiencing tooth sensitivity or discomfort. Also, don’t use your teeth as tools.
7) Reduce Stress
Grinding or clenching your teeth can cause excessive wear on the chewing surfaces of teeth and can even lead to cracked and chipped teeth. Our teeth normally wear down with age – clenching and grinding accelerates the process. Dental mouth guards, NTI appliances and stress-management techniques can also help reduce clenching.
8) Pregnant? See your OB … AND DDS
Pregnancy hormones can increase propensity toward swollen and bleeding gums that are more vulnerable to bacterial infection. Inflammation of the gums during pregnancy is called “pregnancy gingivitis.” Flossing is especially important because it reduces the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis, a serious gum infection that can travel from your mouth to your body. Periodontal disease has been associated with preterm and low-birth-weight babies.
You may have heard the old wives’ tale about pregnancy,” Gain a child, lose a tooth.” The origin of this phrase is that pregnancy interferes with calcium absorption and increases hormones that affect oral health. Studies have indeed found a link between pregnancy and dental problems. It is important to have excellent oral hygiene during pregnancy and continue with routine dental exams and hygiene visits for teeth cleaning.
9) Prevention is the best strategy for keeping our teeth and bodies healthy!