How to Keep Your Smile Pretty and Healthy
These days, it seems like everyone's obsessed with getting a blindingly white grill. But there's more to taking good care of your mouth than having a soap-star smile.
The condition of your teeth and gums is associated with a host of other health issues that involve your hormones and your heart, and your dental needs can change from decade to decade. Here's how to keep smiling strong at any age.
Your 30s: Heed your hormones
If you're pregnant, you might not feel like dragging yourself to the dentist, but you should do it. Higher levels of estrogen and particularly progesterone can result in puffy, tender gums that are vulnerable to minor infection.
Flossing is especially important, experts say, because it helps cut the risk of periodontitis, a more serious gum infection that can endanger more than your teeth: some studies have linked untreated periodontal disease to preterm and low-birth-weight babies.
Perfect your stroke
If flossing hurts or makes your gums bleed, keep working at it. "The more you floss, the tougher your gums become," explains Paula Jones, DDS, immediate past president of the Academy of General Dentistry.
Kick those butts
Smokers also don't heal as well after getting treatment for these gum infections. Need help quitting? Go to Health.com/smoking for tips and motivation.
Ditch the diet cola
Your 40s: Book your appointment
Plus, oral cancer is more common after 40; your dentist will look for symptoms, such as unusual swelling or sores, as well as painless lesions.
Get off the daily grind
If your teeth show these signs, your dentist can give you a mouth guard. Stress-management techniques can also help you keep from clenching.
Consider a renovation
Beware of overbleaching
Your 50s+: Bone up
Bone loss is one of the main reasons people lose teeth, Dr. Smigel says. A healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D can help you maintain strong bones. And if you have a family history of osteoporosis or periodontal disease, dental checkups are a must.
"Dental X-rays can show the progression of osteoporosis," Dr. Jones says. If you do lose a tooth, try to get an implant, Dr. Smigel advises. "It stabilizes the jaw so the bone doesn't shrink and make your face look older."
Wet your whistle
Many medications (including antidepressants and heart or pain meds) can dry out your mouth, which ups the risk of tooth decay. If you have dry mouth, Dr. Jones recommends using a fluoride rinse at night, which can help protect the enamel. Drinking lots of water or chewing sugarless gum can also help.
Studies show that people with periodontal disease may have higher risks of heart attack and stroke, possibly because the infection increases inflammation throughout the body.
"I can't say that you're going to have a heart attack if you don't take care of your teeth," Dr. Cram says. "But if you have a family history of heart disease or other heart disease risk factors, it's a good idea to pay extra attention to your oral health."