Your smile is one of your most important assets. Since it is one of the first things people notice when they meet you, what does your smile say about you? Does it say you are healthy and outgoing, or does a lackluster smile make you appear less friendly and open, shy or reserved, or worse?
Maintaining a healthy smile isn’t just important to your self-image and your appearance to others, it also is an important reflection of a healthy lifestyle and good dental care that is crucial to your overall physical health. Even when you have the best intentions about good dental hygiene, there are a number of common culprits that can sabotage your smile without your realizing it.
Culprits that Can Spoil You Smile:
ONE bottled water
If you are conscientious about staying hydrated and like so many other busy people on the go, keep a bottle of water with you or drink bottled water at home, you could be unintentionally harming your dental health. Did you know that 60% of all tap water in the US contains fluoride? Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to decay, promotes remineralization, and supports better dental health. When you drink only bottled water, you are missing out on this important protection.
TWO improper brushing
The biggest tooth-brushing mistake is using the wrong brush. Bristles that are too stiff can aggravate the gums. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a soft-bristled brush. The ideal frequency for brushing is 3X a day. Don’t fall into the trap that more is better. Brushing too often or too hard can expose the root of the tooth and the gums to irritation and can erode tooth enamel. Brush gently for two to three minutes.
THREE not flossing
You brush 3X daily and see your dentist twice a year, so what’s the big deal if you aren’t so good about flossing? Flossing everyday is actually one of the single most important things you can do to prevent periodontal disease (which affects more than 50% of adults) and tooth loss. It is necessary to remove plaque and food particles missed by brushing that get stuck between your teeth and along the gum line, and also helps to control bad breath.
At-home teeth whitening products contain peroxides, typically carbamide peroxide, in various concentrations of 10% to 20%. Choose a product with a mid-range bleaching agent, not the lowest or the highest. If you tolerate it well but aren’t getting the lightening effect you want, you can choose a higher concentration. Also, follow instructions carefully. Leaving the strips or gels on longer or using more often than advised can increase the risk of gum inflammation and tooth sensitivity. If you are going to do it yourself, select teeth whitening products that have the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
FIVE clinching and grinding teeth
Chronic, regular teeth grinding can cause damage to the teeth and other oral health complications. In some extreme cases grinding can result in fracturing, loosening or loss of teeth. It can also wear down the teeth, cause tooth loss and affect the jaws, may cause hearing loss, and can cause or worsen TMD/TMJ. If you suspect you may be grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist.
More than 600 different medications can cause dry mouth, reducing saliva flow. Since saliva protects and helps repair teeth from acid-producing bacteria, having a dry mouth can mean you are at higher risk of tooth decay and tooth loss. Especially of concern are certain cancer treatments. Having radiation to the head or neck and some chemotherapy drugs can cause dry mouth. Talk to your dentist about products that can help to lessen or alleviate the problem of dry mouth.
SEVEN soft drinks
Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas, are loaded with sugar, putting you at risk for cavities, tooth decay and gum infection. And you are not off the hook if you drink diet soft drinks. Whether you drink regular or sugar-free, you are bathing your teeth in an acidic environment, and dark colored sodas can stain your teeth as well. Add to the mix the extra calories, and reducing consumption or giving up soft drinks altogether is one common sense way to avoid the pitfalls.
EIGHT acidic foods & drinks
While acidic foods such as lemons, grapefruits, citrus juices and wine may not directly cause cavities the way soft drinks can, the acid they contain can cause erosion of tooth enamel, weakening the teeth and making them more at risk of decay. Instead of brushing immediately after consuming acidic foods or drinks, rinsing the mouth with water or chewing gum and waiting an hour before brushing can help lessen the damage to tooth enamel.
NINE tobacco use
It goes without saying that tobacco use is just plain bad for your health, but it also not only turns your teeth yellow, it can also form a sticky film on teeth, which can harbor bacteria, cause gum inflammation, tooth decay and tooth loss. If all that’s not bad enough, smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco products can cause throat, lung and mouth cancers that can be fatal.
TEN sports drinks
Many sports beverages designed to replenish fluids, carbohydrates, salt and electrolytes during and after intense exercise, have high pH levels that can lead to the erosion of tooth enamel. These drinks also are often high in sugars that can result in cavities and tooth decay. And that’s not all, the neon coloring found in many sports drinks can cause significant staining of teeth after weakening enamel and making them more porous and susceptible to staining.
Your best resource for preventing tooth decay and tooth loss is your dentist or other dental professional. Talk to your dentist about other everyday habits or conditions that can damage or weaken your teeth.
For more information about dental health, visit the American Dental Association’s new dental health website for consumers, MouthHealthy.org.