The benefits of maintaining good oral health go far beyond a beautiful smile and fresh breath. Scientific research shows that taking care of your teeth and gums can have positive effects throughout the body. For example, periodontal (gum) disease has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and, in the case of pregnant women, pre-term delivery. Missing teeth can affect a person’s ability to maintain a healthy diet. There are many reasons to make sure you are doing all you can to keep your mouth healthy—and yes, a beautiful smile is certainly one of them!
The most important thing you can do to maintain good oral health is to establish—and stick with—an effective daily oral hygiene routine at home. This will keep your mouth free of dental plaque, the sticky bacterial film that collects on your teeth and can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Your daily oral hygiene routine should include brushing your teeth twice each day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride, and flossing at least once per day, preferably at bedtime. Some people also like to use a mouthrinse for extra tooth-strengthening fluoride or protection against gum disease.
This may be stating the obvious, but everything you eat passes first through your mouth. What effect will it have on your teeth while it’s there? If we’re talking about something sugary, it can feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. If it’s acidic, it can attack the protective enamel coating of your teeth. If it’s both—think soda—it’s a double whammy. Not only that, sugary foods don’t give your body the nutrition it needs to function well and stay healthy. So if you need a snack, don’t reach for a donut, candy bar or bag of chips. Instead, try fresh fruit, yogurt or cheese. If you have a craving for a sweet taste, try chewing a stick of sugarless gum.
A great way to boost your oral health while reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease is to give up smoking. Free help quitting is available at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848). Reducing your intake of alcohol can also lower your risks for oral cancer and other diseases. And speaking of diseases, unsafe oral sex can put you at risk of contracting the human papilloma virus—a particular strain of which has been linked to oral cancer. Oral piercings should also be avoided. These trendy bits of jewelry that decorate the lips or tongue can chip teeth and cause gum recession. If you have a nighttime teeth-grinding or clenching habit, talk to your dentist about a nightguard to protect your teeth from excessive wear and reduce pressure on your jaw joints.
When it comes to maintaining oral health, you and your dentist are a team. It’s important to go in to the dental office for regular exams and professional teeth cleanings. Your dentist will screen you for oral cancer, tooth decay and gum disease. Your hygienist will clean any hardened dental plaque that can’t be removed by a toothbrush or even floss, and give your teeth an attractive polishing. Both can answer any questions you have about oral hygiene techniques and your own unique health concerns. So don’t wait for an oral-health problem to arise before you make a dental appointment!
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