Most Americans agree that getting the proper dental care is vital to good health, a survey by the American Dental Association found. But only one in three said that they did an “excellent” job of taking care of their mouth, teeth, and gums. Do you protect your teeth as carefully as the rest of your body? October is National Dental Hygiene Month, so this is a good time to brush up on the benefits of good dental care.
The benefits of good dental care
Taking care of your teeth can help you live a longer and healthier life. Research has linked poor oral hygiene to serious health conditions such as diabetes, pneumonia, and pregnancy complications. And tooth or other infections in your mouth, if untreated, can spread to your heart and cause heart disease. People with some gum diseases had a death rate of up 46 percent higher than others in an Emory University study. Your teeth are a vital part of your overall well-being.
Americans lose more than 164 million hours of work each year because of dental diseases or visits, according to the Surgeon General. Even if you don’t miss work, dental pain can impair your performance. And bad breath, often caused by poor oral hygiene, can affect your relationships and self-esteem.
Tips on taking care of your teeth
Taking a few simple steps regularly can help you avoid many common dental concerns.
- Brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day. Brushing helps to remove food and plaque, a thin layer of bacteria that builds up on teeth and at the gumline and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Consider using an electric toothbrush that will time your brushing. Use a toothpaste containing fluoride for best results.
- Floss your teeth every day. Floss with waxed or unwaxed dental floss to remove food and plaque between your teeth that a toothbrush can’t remove. Ask your dentist about other types of interdental cleaners if you find floss hard to use.
- Use mouthwash after you brush and floss. Look for an antiseptic mouthwash with the American Dental Association seal of approval, which can kill germs left behind by brushing and flossing.
- See your dentist regularly. Most adults need to see a dentist at least one a year and more often if they have gum disease or other problems. Regular visits allow the dentist to detect problems early and remove plaque that a toothbrush can’t eliminate. Talk with your dentist about how often you need checkups.
- Take care of your overall health. Eat a balanced diet, and avoid sugar-filled sodas, sweetened fruit drinks, chewy or hard candies, and snacks that have little or no nutritional value. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for tips on what to eat. Drink a lot of water, making sure that the water you choose has fluoride to strengthen your teeth. Most water filters do not remove fluoride from municipal water, but not all bottled water has fluoride.
- Use a mouthguard during sports. Use a mouth protector during any activity that could involve a blow to the mouth, the ADA advises. A mouthguard will cushion the impact if you fall or are struck by another player or by a ball or equipment. You can buy mouth protectors at drug and sporting-goods stores and online.
Good dental routines and regular checkups can help you limit or avoid many common problems. If you take good care of your teeth, you’ll have more than one reason to smile.