Your smile is one of your best assets. Here's how to keep it sparkling.
January 26, 2015
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Healthy teeth, healthy smile?
Your smile is one of your best assets, so, of course, you want to keep it sparkling.
But even if you brush, use white strips, and visit your dentist twice a year, it may not be enough.
Here are some factors that can wreak havoc on your teeth and gums, and put a serious damper on your smile.
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In the last decade, sports beverages have become increasingly popular, but they aren't great for your teeth.
"Scientific research has found that the pH levels in many sports drinks could lead to tooth erosion due to their high concentration of acidic components, which could wear away at the tooth's enamel," says David F. Halpern, DMD, FAGD, president of the Academy of General Dentistry.
Additionally, these drinks are often high in sugars that act as "food" for acid-producing bacteria, which then sneak into the cracks and crevices in your teeth, causing cavities and tooth decay.
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Tap water often contains fluorideabout 60% of people in the U.S. have fluoride in their water supply.
However, most bottled waters contain less fluoride than recommended for good oral health (it will be listed as an ingredient on the label if it is an additive).
"Fluoride makes the entire tooth structure more resistant to decay and promotes remineralization, which aids in repairing early decay before damage is even visible," explains Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson, Charles H. Perle, DMD, FAGD. "Studies have confirmed [that] the most effective source of fluoride is water fluoridation."
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Diabetes reduces the body's resistance to infection, so you're at a risk for gum disease. Brushing, flossing, and monitoring your blood sugar can help.
"Diabetes is directly related to periodontal disease, so seeing the dentist and having your triglycerides and cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis is also crucial," stresses Perle.
Perle also points out that research has shown that diabetics can reduce the amount of insulin they need to take by maintaining good gum health.
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Smoking turns your teeth yellow, but it can be much more damaging than that.
"Using any form of tobacco can harm your teeth and gums in a number of ways," says Halpern.
"It can cause throat, lung, and mouth cancer, and even death. Additionally, the tar from tobacco forms a sticky film on teeth, which harbors bacteria that promote acid production and create irritating toxins, both of which cause gum inflammation, tooth decay, and loss."
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Wine drinkers beware: Regular wine consumption can harm tooth enamel.
According to Halpern, wine's acidity can dissolve the tooth structure, and both red and white wine can increase dental staining. Still, you don't have to give up your regular glass of vino to save your smile.
"Enamel erosion develops when wine drinkers swish the wine, keeping it in constant contact with the enamel, so instead, take small sips and rinse with water when you're done drinking," advises Perle.
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It's especially important to take care of your teeth and gums when you're expecting, since studies show a link between untreated gum disease and pre-term and low-birth-weight babies.
"Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy, particularly surges in estrogen and progesterone, can cause inflammation of the gums, which can lead to gingivitis (red, swollen, tender gums that are more likely to bleed) and put you at risk for infection," says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson, Gigi Meinecke, DDS, FAGD.
If you have morning sickness, rinse your mouth with water or rub your teeth with a paste of baking soda and water to neutralize the acid caused by vomiting, since it can lead to tooth decay.
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Even though they may seem like a quick way to trim your waist, diet pills can also be a fast track to gum disease and tooth decay.
"Like many over-the-counter and prescription medications, diet pills decrease salivary flow, which causes dry mouth and puts you at risk for gum disease, tooth decay, cavities, and discomfort," says Halpern.
Bottom line: A balanced diet and exercise are the safest way to lose weight and protect your smile.
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Teeth grinding, or bruxism, can affect your jaw, cause pain, and even change the appearance of your face.
"People who have otherwise healthy teeth and gums can clench so often and so hard that over time, they wear away their tooth's enamel, causing chipping and sensitivity," says Halpern.
Stress and anger can increase nighttime teeth grinding. "Finding ways to alleviate these feelings can help, but it's also important to see your dentist, who can recommend solutions like a custom night guard," advises Perle.
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Contrary to what mom said, sugar won't directly rot your teethbut the acid produced when you eat sugar and carbohydrates can.
"Naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth devour sugar, creating acids that attack tooth enamel, which can lead to decay and a host of other problems, including gingivitis and cavities," says Halpern.
The worst thing you can do is leave sugar lingering on your teeth and gums. Eating any amount of candy and brushing and flossing immediately is actually less damaging than not brushing after eating one piece before bedtime, says Halpern.
If you can't brush after a snack attack, eat cheese or yogurt, or chew sugarless gum to boost saliva flow and neutralize acids.
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The hormonal surge that occurs during puberty can cause more than acneit can also result in swollen gums that are more sensitive to plaque. This can lead to gum infections, gingivitis, and mouth sores, say Halpern.
"But typically the gums only respond in such a manner if hygiene care is poor," he adds. Make sure your teen brushes and flosses daily, and sees a dentist regularly.
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A dry mouth isn't just unpleasant, it's bad for your teeth. Saliva washes away cavity-causing bacteria and neutralizes harmful acids.
"Without saliva, you would lose your teeth much fasterit helps prevent tooth decay and other oral health problems," says Meinecke.
Drink lots of water, chew sugarless gum, use a fluoride toothpaste or rinse, and consider over-the-counter artificial saliva substitutes. See your doctor if it's a frequent problem.
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Restrictive diets and poor eating habits can deprive you of the vitamins and nutrients necessary for a beautiful smile.
It's especially important to get enough folate, B vitamins, protein, calcium, and vitamin Call of which are considered essential for healthy teeth and gums.
"Poor nutrition can affect your entire immune system, increasing your susceptibility to many disorders and infections, including periodontal disease," says Halpern.
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Your hot-drink habit may be one reason your teeth look a little dingy.
"Black tea and coffee contain stain-promoting tannins that lodge into the pits and grooves of the tooth enamel, producing a rough, stained surface, which is sticky and can retain decay-producing bacteria," says Halpern.
Consume such beverages in moderation, drink more water every day, and add milk to your coffee or tea to help neutralize the acids, says Perle.
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As you age, you're more susceptible to decay near old fillings or root surfaces unprotected by receding gums. But there's no reason you can't keep your teeth. Oral diseasenot aging per seis the danger.
Bumping up your fluoride protection is key. And if you have arthritis, there are dental products that can make brushing and flossing less painful.
"Seniors who brush regularly with fluoride toothpaste or use fluoride rinses or gels regularly have fewer cavities," adds Meinecke.
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Birth control pills
Because oral contraceptives mimic pregnancy, they can also lead to gum inflammation and infections, including gingivitis.
Additionally, some studies have shown that women who use birth control pills may have more trouble healing after tooth extractions and are twice as likely to develop painful dry sockets where the tooth used to be.
If you use birth control pills, it's not a bad idea to discuss their effect with your dentist before major procedures.
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Although many of us are much more diligent about brushing than flossing, they are equally important.
"Flossing every day is one of the best things you can do to take care of your teeth. It's the single most important factor in preventing periodontal disease, which affects more than 50% of adults," says Meinecke.
Flossing helps remove plaque and debris that sticks to teeth and gums, and gives you a brighter smile by polishing the tooth's surface; it even helps control bad breath.
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Brushing at the wrong time
Although we've been taught to brush after every meal, depending on what you eat or drink, that's not always the best advice.
"After consuming high-acid food or drinks, like wine, coffee, citrus fruits, and soft drinks, rinse with water to neutralize the acids, but wait an hour before reaching for the toothpaste," says Meinecke.
"Brushing teeth immediately after drinking carbonated drinks and acidic foods can cause erosion."
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It is not clear whether bleaching erodes tooth enamel, but it can increase sensitivity, especially when done too often.
Even at-home whitening treatments should be used with moderation, as some whitening toothpastes and gels contain abrasive ingredients that can increase tooth sensitivity, which can be painful.
Plus, as you get older, whitening products can only do so much, so after a certain point, using more won't necessarily do anything for your smile.
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Soft drinks are chock-full of sugar, which puts you at a risk for cavities, tooth decay, and gum infections, and dark colas can also stain your teeth, leaving you with a lackluster smile.
Meinecke recommends drinking soda through a straw and rinsing with water or chewing sugar-free gum after consumption to neutralize the acids.
She also recommends waiting at least an hour before brushing.
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Citrus and acidic food
"Although lemons, grapefruits, and citrus juices don’t directly cause cavities, like soft drinks, they contain acids, which cause erosion of the tooth enamel, weakening the tooth and making it prone to decay," says Meinecke.
Waiting to brush, rinsing your mouth with water, or chewing sugar-free gum can help. In particular, consider xylitol, a natural sweetener found in plants and fruits that was FDA approved as a food additive in 1986.
Found in sugar-free gum, mints, and toothpastes, xylitol can inhibit the cavity-causing oral bacteria. "Dentists will often recommend patients chew at least two pieces per day if they are at high risk for developing cavities," explains Meinecke.
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