Adult teeth are some of the strongest parts of the human body, but they’re clearly not indestructible. A lifetime of bottle cap removal, stubborn package opening, hard candy crunching, and other dental stunts can lead to significant tooth loss, periodontal disease, and tooth decay. Dentists and oral hygienists can repair some of the damage, but it’s always best (and much less expensive) to establish good oral health habits early and avoid a close encounter of the upper and lower plate kind.
There are a number of tips and tricks that will help keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible throughout your lifetime, but the key to success is turning these tidbits of wisdom into a sustainable plan of action. An unchecked cavity today can become a painful abscess tomorrow. A buildup of plaque can become periodontal disease, and a mild case of gingivitis can lead to serious gum and teeth issues later.
Here are some proven ways you can improve the overall health of your teeth and gums without breaking the bank or sacrificing the occasional soft drink, birthday cake, or Halloween haul.
Many of us learned the fine art of toothbrushing during childhood, when the toothbrushes looked like Saturday morning cartoon characters and the toothpaste tasted like bubblegum. However, the decay started to set in during our formative teen years. We put away those toothbrushes, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and floss and simply lost our way, dental hygiene-wise.
To help stave off the effects of gingivitis, yellowing, and tooth decay in our later years, it’s important to reestablish those habits as young adults. Good oral hygiene practices in your 20s and 30s should go a long way toward preventing potential tooth loss during your 50s, 60s, and retirement years.
Experts strongly urge people to schedule a regular dental appointment at least every six months. Unfortunately, our wallets (and lack of dental insurance) compel us to postpone that project until we can afford it. This is the dilemma many people face, but the cumulative effects of not getting regular cleanings or treatment for gingivitis or having a small cavity filled can be even more expensive.
Even a yearly examination and professional cleaning can go a long way toward healthier teeth and gums. If financing is an issue, there might be some affordable alternatives to a standard dental practice. Most schools of dentistry offer free or reduced cost services if the client is willing to have the work performed by a student. Many community-based free clinics also offer basic dental services (cleanings, fillings, simple extractions, and so on) at little to no cost to qualified patients. Supplemental dental policies can defray some of the expenses, and a number of dental groups offer affordable third-party financing for more expensive procedures.
When it comes to overall oral health, plain old water is definitely your friend. Water washes away food particles from the lips, gums, teeth and tongue, along with the sugary remains of other beverages. One of the best things you can do for your teeth is swish a generous amount of water whenever possible throughout the day. If sugar is allowed to linger on the teeth without rinsing, it creates the ideal environment for the sort of bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. When in doubt, swig it out.
One of the benefits of being an adult is that you can eat an entire can of cake frosting and no one can legally stop you. Wash it down with high-octane soda, if you want. Of course, you’ll eventually pay the price for these sugary indulgences in the form of tooth loss, gum disease, and cavities. The key to improved dental health is to avoid these sorts of foods and beverages altogether. Hard candies, soft drinks, chocolate bars, and frozen treats all contain enough sugar to throw your blood sugar level into overdrive. Diabetics are even more susceptible to the effects of gum disease and tooth decay, so adopting a lower-carb, lower-sugar diet is an especially good idea.
There’s always a temptation to cut corners when it comes to oral health practices. Replacing a perfectly good toothbrush every three months as recommended might seem like a waste of money. The least expensive toothpaste brand on the shelf does the same job as the professional-level brand. Medicated mouthwashes have all the appeal of floor cleaner, so an affordable store brand mouth rinse might be more appealing.
The truth is, the additional investment in higher-quality dental hygiene products is worth it. Replacing an inexpensive toothbrush every three months reduces the chances of the bristles harboring unhealthy bacteria. An electric toothbrush pays for itself in terms of improved cleaning and debris removal. Medicated mouthwashes are formulated to address such issues as gingivitis and tooth decay, while basic mouth rinses only mask odors. Specialized toothpastes work much better to whiten teeth, treat gum disease, or reduce plaque buildup than any basic brand on the shelf.
More people lose teeth as a result of gum disease rather than tooth decay. This is why maintaining healthy gums is just as important as maintaining healthy teeth.
Good oral health does not begin and end in the mouth. We are what we eat and drink, and following a healthier diet leads to healthier teeth and gums. Teeth require a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in order to remain strong. When a person’s diet doesn’t include foods high in calcium and vitamin D, teeth can become soft and more likely to break. Gum health is also linked to a well-balanced diet, especially one with an emphasis on whole grains and less sugar. Apples and other abrasive fruits can gently stimulate gums and scrub away debris from teeth.
Along with a healthy, balanced diet, consider adding certain supplements to your daily regimen. The most obvious candidate is calcium because it’s the primary component of teeth. For those who cringe at the thought of taking large tablets every day, chewable calcium supplements are available. Other teeth-friendly vitamins and minerals include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, the vitamin B-complex, magnesium, potassium, iodine, and vitamin E. Many of these important nutrients should already be present in foods, but it never hurts to supplement with multivitamins and minerals.
During the average day, there are many opportunities to brush away food particles, swish away sugary residue, and freshen your breath. At bedtime, however, the playing field changes. Bacteria now have the chance to feed on any remains of the day, which leads to the formation of plaque and gingivitis. This is precisely the best time to practice a healthy oral health routine. Always brush your teeth before retiring for the evening. Rinsing with a medicated mouthwash will also level the playing field by killing off millions of harmful bacteria.
If any piece of advice from a dental hygienist is destined to be completely ignored, it will most likely be the plea to floss regularly. Many of us skip this important step because it’s inherently labor intensive, tricky to perform, and can even be a little painful. However, flossing does indeed get into the places a toothbrush can’t reach, especially the soft tissue at the base of the teeth known as “gum pockets.” Food can easily become trapped in these spaces, and the result is a greater chance of plaque formation. If the traditional flossing method seems intimidating, consider buying pre-strung flossers at the pharmacy or an oral irrigator.
One alternative oral health practice is an Ayurvedic medical tradition known as “oil pulling.” Developed in India over 3,000 years ago, it involves placing a small amount of coconut or sesame oil in the mouth and gently swishing it between teeth for up to 20 minutes before expelling it. This helps to create an environment where single-celled organisms, such as the bacteria responsible for tooth decay, are forced to bond together in the presence of a fatty oil.
Another oral health practice popular in Eastern medicine is tongue scraping. Special curved instruments are gently scraped across the user’s tongue, removing a number of potentially hazardous bacteria, yeast cultures, and food residues. Many people add tongue scraping to their daily brushing routines just before the final rinse.
Toothbrush owners may not even be aware of another great tool in the oral health arsenal. The soft, nubby flip side of a toothbrush head is no accident. It’s actually a gum massager. To improve the circulation in your gums, gently rub this handy tool against the base of the gums. The same effect can be achieved with a clean index finger if desired. Gum massage is a good way to improve overall oral health, especially when it comes to preventing periodontal disease.
For many of us, losing teeth as children was nothing more than a passive source of income from the Tooth Fairy. However, tooth loss as an adult often means paying it all back to the all-too-real Acme Dental Group, LLC. There are simple steps you can take to help make sure that the 32 teeth in your 20-year-old mouth are the same 32 in your 70-year-old self.