- Brush right. Position the head of the toothbrush toward your gums at a 45-degree angle and move it back and forth gently in short strokes, changing hands occasionally so you clean every tooth. Do this for at least three minutes–about the length of a song on the radio.
- Go easy on teeth-damaging foods. Popcorn kernels, frozen candy bars and ice cubes can all crack your teeth. Also, limit your intake of carbonated drinks, which contain carbonic acid (a subtance that may erode tooth enamel), and coffee and tea, which stain.
- Floss, floss, floss. If you do this sporadically or not at all, you miss 30 percent of each tooth’s surface area, leaving behind sticky plaque that eventually turns into rock-hard tar-tar. Floss twice daily, but do it gently.
- Use your teeth only for chewing food. Tearing off clothing tags, cracking nut shells and chewing pen caps can all crack enamel, dislodge fillings or loosen crowns.
- Don’t smoke. “Smokers are four times more likely than nonsmokers to have gum disease,”says Michael K. McGuire, D.D.S., past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. The smoke associated with cigarettes may cause oral cancer.
- Stop clenching and grinding. Nocturnal gnashing (known as bruxism) puts pressure of up to 250 pounds per square inch on your teeth. This can cause gums to recede and accelerate periodontal disease, says Dr. McGuire. If you wake up with a sore neck or jaw or have frequent headaches, talk to your dentist. The condition can be alleviated by wearing a plastic mouth guard while you sleep.
- Know the side effects of medications. Up to 400 drugs can indirectly affect your dental health. For example, medications used to treat depression, allergies and anxiety can slow saliva production, hindering the mouth’s ability to flush away harmful bacteria. Tell your dentist about your prescriptions–she may recommend a high-fluoride rinse or gel to strengthen your teeth.
- Don’t ignore stomach problems. If left untreated, they can have negative impact on teeth and gums, leading to periodontal disease or even tooth loss. For example, gastrointestinal reflux syndrome can cause stomach acid to travel back into the mouth and erode tooth enamel as well as introduce infection-causing bacteria into the gums.
- Exercise cautiously. If you play sports or pursue rigorous activities such as kickboxing, get a mouth guard–especially if you’re doing it for the first time or have dental work such as braces or bridges.
- See the dentist twice a year. It’s easy to forget when nothing hurts, but often oral problems cause no pain, go undetected and get worse, says Phillip Allison, D.D.S. Get a cleaning and exam every six months.