To say that teeth are an integral part of our overall health would be an understatement. A set of well-cared-for choppers and healthy gums have been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, lack of inflammation, and a boost in self-esteem. While brushing and flossing remain no-brainers (we're adults, we floss our teeth daily), you might also benefit from a few extra tips for managing your molars.
1. PASS ON THE ALMONDS.
Of the several dentists and hygienists we’ve spoken to for insight into the dental profession, one key tip emerged to help ward off an after-hours visit to the dentist's office to deal with a chipped tooth: Avoid almonds. The resilient little tree nut is hard to chew and can potentially compromise crowns or teeth already susceptible to injury.
2. DON’T OVER-BRUSH.
If you scrub your teeth the way you scrub your bathroom tile—like you're sawing a log in half—then you’re really doing your oral health a disservice. The plaque that accumulates during the day is relatively easy to brush off using light, gentle motions. Scrubbing vigorously is not only a waste of energy, it can damage your gumline. Try holding your brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums [PDF] with just two fingers to reduce pressure; look up some proven techniques like the Bass or Stillman methods for more gentle cleaning guidelines. Better yet, ask your hygienist for a demonstration. He or she can correct any mistakes and make sure you’ve got a (gentle) handle on it.
3. DON’T OVERPAY FOR AN ELECTRIC BRUSH.
If you can’t quite break the habit of over-brushing, then an electric toothbrush is going to be your new best friend. Powered brushes vibrate or oscillate without the need for manual assistance, doing all the work for you; some even have sensors that detect if you’re mashing the bristles against your teeth with too much force. But don’t think you need the luxury model to get the benefits. According to hygienist Daniel Lopez, when you spend too much on a motorized brush you're just paying for features that won’t necessarily help your teeth. “Electric toothbrushes are without doubt superior to manual toothbrushes, but anything costing more than $50 is bunch of bells and whistles,” Lopez says.
4. DENTAL TOURISM IS RARELY A GREAT IDEA.
Haven’t heard of it? For some people who need extensive dental work, heading out of the country can seem to promise big savings. But the maxim about getting what you pay for holds true. If a foreign dentist has the proper training, then the cost for their services will probably be comparable to prices in the U.S. If they haven’t, they’re likely cutting corners on materials—in some cases, even reusing them. The resulting mess is left for domestic dentists to clean up. “I’ve seen crowns that don’t even look like they were [custom] made for the person,” says Eran Gutkin, DDS. “If they’re doing it correctly, there’s not going to be any savings by traveling.”
5. EMBRACE YOUR INNER GEEK: GET A NIGHT GUARD.
Grinding, or bruxism, is a condition in which individuals gnaw or clench their jaws while sleeping. The result can be teeth that are worn down, chipped, or even fractured. If your dentist has recommended you get fitted for a night guard, it’s not idle chatter: Wearing one can prevent major restorative work down the road. Be aware, however, that “do it yourself” services that promise to get you a custom guard for a fraction of a dentist’s price are a crap-shoot: Our experts say that a professional is needed to make sure it fits properly and offer adjustments when needed.
6. USE A STRAW.
Dentists cautioning against acidic drinks like coffee, tea, or soda know they might be better off getting into a debate with a brick—caffeine is a hard habit to break. If you insist on liquids that can harm your teeth’s enamel, opt for a straw whenever you can and try to rinse your mouth with water after drinking.
7. 20-SOMETHINGS: PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.
Think your teens and your post-retirement era are the most important period for your teeth? Not so fast. Dentists find that a lot of young adults from 21-25 are in danger of developing issues that can become chronic due to an increasingly busy lifestyle (work, school) and a belief that they’re too young to have to worry about it. By your late 20s, gum disease and decay have started to take root. (Literally.) Enjoy your youth, but don’t forget about your teeth. (And don't neglect your flossing!)
All images courtesy of iStock.