Keeping your teeth, gums and mouth healthy are important for your overall health. This guide will provide you with information you can use to take care of your oral health.
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Brush Your Teeth at least 2 times a Day
If you haven’t heard how important it is to brush your teeth, you haven’t been to see a dentist. Brushing twice a day is the single most important way to keep your teeth healthy. Why? There isn’t anything particularly magical in the two times a day idea. Dentists used to say after every meal (or three times a day) and so did toothpaste commercials. Two is a pretty good number and here is why.
Brushing removes the biofilm from the teeth. That is the sticky substances that stick to the enamel. Done regularly, the initial film that sticks to the teeth never collects enough of the harmful bacteria from the mouth to cause damage to the teeth. But left for too long, that early sticky film becomes home to bad bacteria that cause decay and gum disease.
We’re Not All Doing This
Even though it is probably the most often repeated advice, we’re not all following it. A 2014 study by Delta Dental found that only about 70% of Americans brush at least twice each day. The survey results also showed that those who brushed at least twice a day were more likely to be happy with their oral health than those who didn’t. So while two certainly isn’t a magic number, it is a pretty good guide to keeping your teeth healthy.
Don’t Just Floss the Week Before Your Dental Checkup
Think we didn’t know about that trick? People are more honest about their dental habits when their dentist isn’t around. In 2015, a Harris poll indicated that 27% of American adults lie to their dentist about how much they floss. But, whether you lie about it or not, you should still be flossing.
But Wasn’t Flossing Shown to be Ineffective?
You may have been among those feeling pretty good about not flossing when the news broke that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had removed flossing as a recommended activity. But removing the decades-old recommendation was more of a technicality in the law than because flossing isn’t beneficial. It turns out the government never really studied or even collected evidence about whether flossing was beneficial. And such evidence was legally required to include something in the official dietary guidelines.
However, the National Institutes of Health and other parts of the government still recommend flossing. A few months after the benefits of flossing were called into question, NIH published a story online called “Don’t toss the floss.” And they are not alone. The American Dental Association continues to recommend flossing. So do Consumer Reports. And pretty much every dentist out there will still tell you the same thing. It is one of the simplest and most effective ways to keep your teeth healthy.
So while 9% of you would rather do your taxes than floss daily, it is still one of the best ways to keep your teeth healthy. Of course, you might need some help remembering, so check out this 1 simple tip to floss more often.
Not just any mouthwash. Use one that does something useful for your teeth. Those fall into two categories.
- Mouthwashes that kill germs
- Mouthwashes that help strengthen and protect teeth using fluoride
You might want to alternate or use one in the morning and the other at night, depending on your teeth. We covered mouthwash in an article called “Should I use Mouthwash,” which is a good reference if you want more information about why and what type of mouthwash to use.
Have more questions about teeth cleaning? You’ll want to read our article that answers the top 5 questions about teeth cleaning.
Nutrition for Good Oral Health
Drink Water for Healthy Teeth
Sugary drinks feed the bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay. Less sugar is always better for your teeth and water contains no sugar.
However, it isn’t just sugar you need to watch out for. A study in the March/April 2013 issue of General Dentistry says the acid in carbonated diet soda can also cause significant damage to your teeth if you drink too much. So you have to watch out for acidic drinks. Anything carbonated (including sparkling water) is acidic because the carbon dioxide turns into carbonic acid in your mouth. Even drinks without carbonation can damage your teeth with acid. A study printed in the journal General Dentistry in 2012 suggests that the acid in sports drinks and energy drinks could damage your tooth enamel (the outer protective layer of the tooth).
Fluoride in Water is Good for Your Teeth
The benefits of drinking water can go beyond just protecting your teeth. They can actually help improve the health of your enamel. If you use tap water or bottled water with fluoride added, you’ll be actively fighting cavities. Fluoride has been shown to decrease cavity formation by 20-40%. So, the best choice is to fill a reusable water bottle in your sink. Not only will you and your kids benefit from the fluoride in the tap water, but you’ll also be keeping more plastic out of the landfill. If refilling your water bottle is going to be a problem and you’re going to need to carry extra in a cooler, take a hard look at the bottled water on the shelf in your local grocery store. You’ll usually be able to find some with fluoride added.
Drinking Water Keeps You Hydrated
Hydration helps your body function well in a lot of ways. One of those is keeping the saliva flowing in your mouth. Saliva is 95% water, so if you become dehydrated, you probably won’t be producing as much as you need. Saliva doesn’t just start breaking down food when you eat it, it also helps to protect your teeth from decay-causing bacteria.
Avoid Acidic Drinks
What qualifies as an acidic drink? Soda, sports drinks, fruit and vegetable juices, sweet tea, beer, wine, lemonade, fruit punch, and many kids’ drinks. All these drinks have a pH below 5.5, the level at which the tooth enamel starts to dissolve. Coffee (black or with cream) and some brewed teas are acidic but have pH levels above 5.5. Milk may be a little acidic, but not to the level where it starts to harm the enamel of your teeth.
Don’t want to stick with water? There are some other options that you can drink to avoid too much damage to your teeth.
Chew Sugar Free Gum
Avoiding sugar is good. The saliva production that chewing gum creates is even better. It helps to wash away acids and protect tooth enamel. If you don’t enjoy gum much, here are some other things you can eat to help kill the bacteria in your mouth and keep your teeth healthy.
Eat Nutritious Food
Your body needs general nutrition and so do your teeth and gums. Your oral health is related to the quality of nutrition you get, especially certain vitamins and minerals that go into your teeth. Eating a well-balanced diet is the most important, but there are also 12 specific foods that really help your teeth.
Other Oral Care Concerns
Proper Toothbrush Care
You may have seen the headlines or heard about the number of germs on your toothbrush from news reports. Or you may have seen the MythBusters toothbrush test on TV, where they checked on whether your toilet is contaminating your toothbrush. Researchers in England and the United States have confirmed that your toothbrush is likely home to a number of germs. These can include some really nasty bugs like E. coli and Staph bacteria. But, guess what? Most of those germs are coming directly from you using the toothbrush!
Best Ways to Keep Your Toothbrush Clean
The best ways to keep your toothbrush clean are pretty simple and you are probably already doing most or all of them already. These are the toothbrush care recommendations of the American Dental Association:
- Never share a toothbrush with somebody else. The germs their body is used to fighting may not be the one’s your body is used to fighting.
- Rinse your toothbrush with water after using it, then let it air dry. Most people use an upright toothbrush holder (just be sure to clean this regularly).
- Don’t store your toothbrush in a closed container where it doesn’t dry out, as this leads to more rapid growth of microorganisms.
- Replace your toothbrush at least 3-4 times each year. This recommendation is more about making sure your toothbrush continues to do an effective job at cleaning your teeth, but it will also help to reset the amount of germs living on the brush.
What you shouldn’t do is microwave or drop your toothbrush in boiling water. These methods might be great at killing germs, but they also ruin the toothbrush.
Additional Toothbrush Care Tips from Some Health Experts
The University of Arkansas Medical Center adds a few additional recommendations:
- Wash your hands before and after brushing/flossing to prevent spreading germs.
- Replace your toothbrush after a cold or other illness
- Use two toothbrushes and alternate so that each brush has a chance to dry completely before it is used again.
- Don’t share a toothpaste tube with someone who is sick.
Oral Cancer Screenings
Oral cancer is a serious health concern that should not be overlooked. This is especially true if you have ever used tobacco products regularly. However, HPV is also a factor in a growing number of oral cancer cases.
We perform a basic screening for oral cancer during regular check-ups. However, if you are at higher risk for oral cancer or notice something that might need investigating, it is best to have a more comprehensive oral cancer screening done. We wrote an article about why dentists provide this service and why it is important