9 Essential Products to Keep Your Teeth and Gums Healthy, According to a Dentist

Philips/Listerine/Crest/Sensodyne/Waterpik/Amazon
Philips/Listerine/Crest/Sensodyne/Waterpik/Amazon

When you went into quarantine this spring, you probably had to cancel quite a few obligations—and if your regular visit to the dentist was one of them, your oral hygiene could be suffering right now. Plenty of issues can crop up without regular cleanings and preventative care, especially if you don't have the right dental health setup at home. And with different states facing different restrictions, it might be a while before you get an appointment (or even feel comfortable enough to go to an office). That's why Mental Floss reached out to Dr. Kyle Bogan, DDS, to find out about the essential products you need in your bathroom to take care of your teeth and gums while you wait to get back in the dreaded dentist's chair.

1. Dental Floss

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Yes, you probably hate doing it, but flossing is such an important step in your dental hygiene routine for healthy gums, tartar reduction, and removing plaque from teeth.

“There's a lot of stuff on the market right now to try to make flossing more palatable for people,” Dr. Bogan says. But he cautions that, “[nothing] really replaces the good old-fashioned wrapping-around-your-fingers floss. Oral-B’s Glide is pretty much the best on the market, in my opinion.” You can find a two-pack for around $5 on Amazon.

As for floss picks, they're all the same, he says. “They don't do as good a job as manual floss, but they are perfectly fine and can be good for kids to use.” Plackers Twin-Line Dental Floss Picks ($9 for a four-pack) has two lines of floss to help prevent breakage, and they come in packs of 150.

2. Water Flosser

Amazon/Waterpik

“If you’re going to use a water flosser, I recommend the Waterpik brand for people with braces to clear debris and for those people that are very reluctant to floss,” Dr. Bogan says. “They're better than not flossing, but despite the advertising, they're not as good as flossing.” Waterpik's water flosser ($70) is touted as the only model on the market to have the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.

For those who have gum disease, gum recession, or bridge work, Dr. Bogan suggests using a water flosser pre- or post-brushing to remove debris and get things out of hard-to-reach areas. Looking to save time? Waterpik has an electric toothbrush and water flosser combo ($151) that does it all.

3. and 4. Electric Toothbrushes and Manual Toothbrushes

Philips/Amazon

“I always recommend people use an electric brush,” Dr. Bogan says. “It does so much of the work for you. It delivers [a] superior level of clean." He recommends Oral-B ($40) or Philips Sonicare ($70) brands, but says Oral-B uses smaller heads, which tend to be easier on smaller mouths.

“The surprising thing is no one should really ever be using a hard- or medium-bristle brush,” Dr. Bogan says. “The problem is those bristles often cause more damage than good. It should either be soft or extra soft, so people [who] are sensitive should use extra soft.”

If you plan on doing the work yourself with a manual brush, like these soft brushes from Colgate ($4 for six), take a look at your toothbrush's head to evaluate its condition. “You definitely want to look at bristles on your manual toothbrush, and if they're bent or warped or worn, it's time to replace the toothbrush or the head on the electric brush,” he says. For electric toothbrushes, he suggests swapping in a new head every three to four months.

5. Toothpaste

Sensodyne/Amazon

“There's a lot of controversy out there about fluoride, but as far as preventing decay and keeping your teeth healthy, that's the main ingredient that matters,” Dr. Bogan says. Some fluoride toothpaste options to consider are Colgate Cavity Protection with Fluoride ($8 for a six-pack) or Crest Toothpaste Gum Detoxify Deep Clean ($14 for three).

Just be wary of charcoal toothpaste, he warns. “It can be abrasive and damage teeth. I had a few patients where I actually had to dig charcoal out of their gums.” If you have sensitive teeth, using toothpaste like Sensodyne Pronamel Fresh Breath ($10 for two) can help reduce sensitivity and pain.

6. Whitening Kits

Crest/Amazon

“The most effective way to whiten your teeth at home with an over-the-counter product is with Crest Whitening Strips," Dr. Bogan says. You just have to use the strips ($45 for 44 strips) once a day for 30 minutes to help remove years of teeth stains—and Crest claims you’ll start seeing results in three days and full results in 20. Teeth may become more sensitive after using white strips, so consider switching to a toothpaste for sensitive teeth if this happens to you.

7. Orthodontic Wax

Orthomechanic/Amazon

Whether your kids have braces or you do, rubbing wires is one of the biggest irritations you’ll face. Use orthodontic wax like Genuine Orthowax ($11 for a nine-pack) for a clear solution that can relieve irritation from brackets, springs, and wires in between orthodontist visits.

8. Temporary Dental Filling Materials

PRS/Amazon

“The best advice I can give to people that know they have either a broken filling or a broken tooth is to look for an over-the-counter filling material,” Dr. Bogan says. “You kind of roll it up and push it down to where the crack is and wipe away the excess or just chew it away and it’s generally pretty good for a temporary fix.” This Zinc Oxide Eugenol Cement Dental Care Kit ($25) can help seal a cavity so no food or bacteria gets in, and it can also help with bridgework and other dental issues. If you simply have a cracked or broken filling, consider Refilit Maximum Strength Filling Material ($11) for a quick fix.

9. Mouthwash

Listerine/Amazon

Dr. Bogan advises using mouthwash in the morning and fluoride rinse at night to keep teeth and gums healthy. A complete mouthwash should be able to reduce bad breath, fight cavities, and strengthen teeth in 30 seconds of daily swishing, and for this he recommends Listerine Total Care Anticavity Fluoride Mouthwash ($7).

“Especially for kids and people in braces, I recommend a nighttime fluoride rinse,” Dr. Bogan says. ACT Restoring Anticavity Fluoride Mouthwash ($6) is a popular dentist-recommended brand to help fight cavities.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
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If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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