Eight Steps To Dental Health
OK, so you know about brushing and flossing. But there are other steps you should take if you want to keep your teeth for a lifetime. Some people assume they will lose their teeth as they age, but that doesn’t have to happen. David A. Albert, D.D.S., M.P.H., assistant professor of clinical dentistry at the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, suggests these steps to keep your teeth and your mouth healthy.
Understand your own oral health needs.
“Your oral health depends on many factors, including your diet [what you eat], the type and amount of saliva in your mouth, habits, your overall health and your oral hygiene routine.”
Changes in your overall health status often result in changes in your oral health. “For example, many medications, including more than 300 common drugs, can reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth, resulting in dry mouth. They also can make your saliva ropy or thicker in consistency. Women who are pregnant experience oral changes. This often includes inflammation of the gums, which is called pregnancy gingivitis. Patients with asthma often breathe through their mouths, particularly when sleeping, which can result in dry mouth and increased plaque formation and gingivitis.”
Commit to a daily oral health routine.
Based on discussions with your dentist or dental hygienist, come up with an effective oral health routine that’s easy to follow and takes your situation into account. For example, if you are taking medication that dries your mouth, you may want to use fluoride every day. Pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, and people in orthodontic treatment also may want or need special daily care.
Everyone can benefit from fluoride, not just children. Fluoride strengthens developing teeth in children and helps prevent decay in adults and children. Toothpastes and mouthwashes are good sources of fluoride. Your dentist can prescribe stronger concentrations of fluoride through gels or rinses if you need it.
Brush and floss to remove plaque.
Everyone should brush at least twice a day, preferably three times or after every meal. In addition, you should floss at least twice a day. These activities remove plaque, which is a complex mass of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth. If plaque isn’t removed every day, it can process sugars found in most foods and drinks to form acids that lead to decay. Bacterial plaque also causes gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. It’s important to brush and floss correctly and thoroughly, removing plaque from all tooth surfaces and where the tooth meets the gums. If plaque is not removed, it can lead to gum problems and cavities.
Limit snacks, particularly those high in simple sugars, and eat a balanced diet.
Every time you eat, particles of food become lodged in and around your teeth, providing fuel for bacteria. The bacteria in the plaque produce acid every time you eat. The more often you eat and the longer food stays in your mouth, the more time bacteria have to break down sugars and produce acids that begin the decay process. Each time you eat food containing sugars or starches (complex sugars), your teeth are exposed to bacterial acids for 20 minutes or more. These repeated acid attacks can break down the enamel surface of your teeth, leading to a cavity. If you must snack, brush your teeth or chew sugarless gum afterward.
A balanced diet is also important. Deficiencies in minerals and vitamins can also affect your oral health, as well as your general health.
If you use tobacco in any form, quit.
Smoking or using smokeless tobacco increases your risk of oral cancer, gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth decay. It also contributes to bad breath and stains on your teeth.
Examine your mouth regularly.
Even if you visit your dentist regularly, you are in the best position to notice changes in your mouth. Your dentist sees you only a few times a year, but you can examine your mouth weekly to look for changes that might be of concern. These changes could include swollen gums, chipped teeth, discolored teeth or sores or lesions on your gums, cheeks or tongue. A regular examination is particularly important for tobacco users, who are at increased risk of developing oral cancer. If you smoke or use smokeless tobacco, your dentist or dental hygienist can show you where lesions are most likely to appear.
Visit the dental office regularly.
You and your dentist should talk about the frequency of your visits. Some people need to visit their dentist more frequently than others.