We depend on teeth for so much: eating, talking, smiling. Yet the majority of us likely take short-cuts when it comes to dental care. We’re human. We get busy. We aren’t entirely sure how best to care for our teeth. If nothing seems to be wrong, we take chances.
By the time you feel pain in your mouth, a problem may have been developing for some time. Enamel, the outer layer of each tooth, is the hardest material in your body. Nevertheless, enamel can erode with wear and become pitted with acids. Plaque is the white, sticky substance that coats your teeth after eating and drinking. Plaque left on your teeth can develop into tartar, building up both above and below the gum line. At least one-third of each tooth lies below the gum line.
We have 300 different kinds of bacteria in our mouths. Some bacteria are useful to digest our food, but too much left on our teeth and gums can cause a lot of damage. Take care of your toothbrush. Let the bristles air-dry after brushing rather than putting a cap on them to keep them “clean.” Damp bristles will grow more bacteria from what the brush took from your mouth, and put it right back into your mouth when you next brush. Saliva is part of the digestive process but breaks things down using acids. Some experts suggest not brushing immediately after meals to avoid stimulating excess saliva.
Next best move in caring for your teeth? Stop abusing them. Everyone knows sugar is bad for teeth. So are acids and starches. Soda is acidic whether or not it is sugar-free. Wine is acidic. Bread, cereal and other starches leave a sticky residue on your teeth. Citrus fruits are acidic. You don’t have to give up these things, but be mindful of what you have exposed your teeth to. If you drink soda, don’t sip it all day, leaving the sugars and acids lingering in your mouth all that time. If you may not be able to brush your teeth for some time after a meal, drink water to rinse off your teeth. Chewing gum with xylitol cannot replace brushing, but it can retard bacteria growth.
Be aware that yellowing teeth does not indicate unhealthy teeth. There are a host of other causes for yellowing teeth: genetics; medications as harmless-seeming as the antihistamine Benadryl; stains from coffee, red wine, or tea; and simple aging. Whitening teeth is not a health measure. It is cosmetic, and may not be for everyone. In some cases, the hydrogen peroxide used to bleach teeth may penetrate the enamel to the layer underneath, called dentin, causing sensitivity and pain. It can also cause blistering and irritation of the gums and sensitive tissues inside the mouth.
Expand your regular tooth care routine. Do something 30 times and it becomes a habit. Brush after you have eaten something, and just before you go to bed. If that is too much, brush at least twice daily. Floss as often as you brush. Use a rinse afterward that provides fluoride or is antibacterial.
Dental visits aren’t just simple cleanings. So go every six months. Fillings need to be checked because they leave vulnerable openings to the inside of your tooth. If fillings crack, bacteria can sneak in and turn your tooth into an empty shell. Dentists exam your teeth and gums carefully to identify potential problems early. The idea is to take preventive measures that keep damage to a minimum or stop a problem from developing at all.
Stop lying to your dentist about your oral vices. You aren’t fooling anyone. Brushing and flossing thoroughly right before a dental appointment won’t hide the signs left by the bad habits in which you’ve indulged since your last dental exam. Dentists know that people with a tough buildup of tartar and plaque are not brushing and flossing regularly. They know if you drink soda or alcohol regularly from the damage to your enamel. They can see whether you grind your teeth from patterns of wear on your teeth and chewing marks on the lining of your cheeks. Be honest. Don’t put obstacles in the way of good dental care.