For the brightest smile and the freshest breath, take a look at the tips below.

How to improve your oral health

Many people ring in a new year by making health-related resolutions to improve their lives, but how many of those lifestyle changes are kept past January? The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), a professional association of more than 35,000 general dentists dedicated to staying up to date in the profession through continuing education, has compiled some easy-to-keep oral health tips that consumers can work into their everyday routines and continue to perform throughout the year.

"Oral health means more than just an attractive smile," says AGD spokesperson Raymond Martin, DDS, MAGD. "Poor oral health and untreated oral diseases and conditions can have a significant impact on quality of life. And, in many cases, the condition of the mouth mirrors the condition of the body as a whole."

Tips:
  • Floss every day. It's the single most important factor in preventing gum disease, which affects more than 50 percent of adults. Spend two to three minutes flossing at least once a day. Not flossing because it irritates your gums? The more often you floss, the tougher your gums will become.
  • Brush your teeth for at least two to three minutes twice daily. If you're not sure whether you're brushing long enough, simply brush for the length of an entire song on the radio.
  • Change your toothbrush or toothbrush head (if you're using an electric toothbrush) before the bristles become splayed and frayed, or every three to four months. Not only are old toothbrushes ineffective, they may harbor harmful bacteria that can cause infections, such as gingivitis and gum disease.
  • Drink sugary beverages through a straw. This will minimize the amount of time that the sugars are in contact with your teeth, which can minimize the risk of developing cavities.
  • Replace carbonated beverages, which cause enamel erosion and cavities, with water, milk, tea, or coffee.
  • Chew sugarless gum that contains xylitol after meals and snacks. This will help cleanse your mouth and prevent the bacteria associated with cavities from attaching to your teeth. Even better, gum will increase your saliva production and reduce bad breath!

Wait one hour to brush your teeth after consuming highly acidic food or drinks, like wine, coffee, citrus fruits, and soft drinks. Otherwise, you run the risk of wearing away the enamel on your teeth.

"One last reminder to patients is that they should make an appointment to see their general dentist every six months," adds Dr. Martin. "More than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations, meaning that your dentist could be the first health care provider to diagnose a health problem."

Daily tips for good oral hygiene

Bacteria can live in your mouth in the form of plaque, causing cavities and gingivitis, which can lead to periodontal (gum) disease. In order to keep your mouth clean, you must practice good oral hygiene every day.

What is plaque?

Plaque is a sticky layer of material containing bacteria that accumulates on teeth, including where toothbrushes can't reach. Many of the foods you eat cause the bacteria in your mouth to produce acids. Sugary foods are obvious sources of plaque, but there are others that you might not realize can cause harm. Starches—such as bread, crackers, and cereal—also cause acids to form. Plaque also produces substances that irritate the gums, making them red, sensitive, and susceptible to bleeding. This can lead to gum disease, in which gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that fill with bacteria and pus. If the gums are not treated, the bone around the teeth can be destroyed and teeth may become loose or have to be removed.

How can you get rid of plaque?

The best way to remove plaque is by brushing and cleaning between your teeth every day. Brushing removes plaque from the tooth surfaces. Brush your teeth twice per day with a soft-bristled brush. The size and shape of your toothbrush should fit your mouth and allow you to reach all areas easily. Use an antimicrobial toothpaste containing fluoride, which helps protect your teeth from decay. Clean between the teeth once a day with floss or interdental cleaners to remove plaque from between the teeth, where the toothbrush can't reach. Flossing is essential to prevent gum disease.

What is the best way to brush your teeth?

  • Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums.
  • Move the brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes.
  • Brush the outer tooth surfaces, the inner tooth surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
  • Use the tip of the brush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
  • Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.

What can I use to clean my mouth?

A mouth rinse, in addition to daily brushing and flossing, can increase the cleanliness of your mouth. Antimicrobial mouth rinses reduce bacteria and plaque activity, which cause gingivitis and gum disease. Fluoride mouth rinses also help reduce and prevent tooth decay. Always talk to your dentist about any new products you are interested in trying. Not everyone should use a fluoride mouth rinse. For instance, fluoride rinses are not recommended for children ages 6 or younger because they may swallow them. Always check the manufacturer's label for precautions and age recommendations and talk with your dentist about the use of fluoride mouth rinse.

Hygiene tips for a stellar smile

  • Brush with the radio on - dentists recommend brushing for the entire length of a song.
  • Use fluoridated, antimicrobial toothpastes and mouth rinses. They help to make the tooth structure resistant to decay.
  • Keep oral hygiene products at work. Studies show that the chance of a person using them during the day will increase 65 percent.
  • Talk to your dentist about new products you're using, as all products are not suited for all people.
  • Skip the caffeine. Avoiding caffeine before a dental appointment can make you less anxious.
  • Communicate. Use hand signals to inform the dentist that you are uncomfortable, and talk to your dentist about your specific fears.
Printed with permission from the Academy of General Dentistry's site, knowyourteeth.com. Information contained is for information and educational purposes only, and should be used in consultation with a dentist, especially in emergency situations.

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