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The Truth About Healthy Teeth: Your Guide to Oral Care by Priyanka ,  Aug 10, 2013

You have so many good reasons to keep your family’s teeth and gums healthy. Their sparkling smiles. Being able to chew for good nutrition. Avoiding toothaches and discomfort. And new research suggests that gum disease can lead to other problems in the body, including increased risk of heart disease.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to keep teeth strong and healthy from childhood to old age. Here’s how:

1. Start children early. Despite great strides in decay prevention, one in four young children develops signs of tooth decay before they start school. Half of all children between the ages of 12 and 15 have cavities. “Dental care should begin as soon as a child’s first tooth appears, usually around six months,” Caryn Solie, RDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, tells WebMD. “Teeth can be wiped with a clean, damp cloth or a very soft brush. At about age 2, you can let kids try brushing for themselves -- although it’s important to supervise.”

2. Seal off trouble. Permanent molars come in around age 6. Thin protective coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth can prevent decay in the pits and fissures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sealants can significantly reduce caries. Yet only one in three U.S. kids receives dental sealants. Talk to your dental professional.

3. Use enough -- but not too much -- fluoride. The single biggest advance in oral health has been fluoride, which strengthens enamel, making it less likely to decay. Three out of four Americans drink water that is fluoridated. If your water isn’t fluoridated, talk to your dental professional, who may suggest putting a fluoride application on your teeth. Many toothpastes and mouth rinses also contain fluoride. Fluoride should be used sparingly in young children -- no more than a pea-sized dab on the toothbrush. Too much can cause white spots on teeth.

4. Brush twice a day and floss daily. Gum disease and tooth decay remain big problems -- and not just for older people. Three-fourths of teenagers have gums that bleed, according to the ADHA. Along with the basic advice, remember:

  • Toothbrushes should be changed 3 to 4 times a year.
  • Teenagers with braces may need to use special toothbrushes and other oral hygiene tools to brush their teeth. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist.
  • Older people with arthritis or other problems may have trouble holding a toothbrush or using floss. Some people find it easier to use an electric toothbrush. Others simply put a bicycle grip or foam tube over the handle of a regular toothbrush to make it easier to hold.

5. Rinse or chew gum after meals. In addition to brushing and flossing, rinsing your mouth with an antibacterial rinse can help prevent decay and gum problems. Chewing sugar-free gum after a meal can also protect by increasing saliva flow, which naturally washes bacteria away and neutralizes acid.

our smile depends on simple dental care habits, such as brushing and flossing. But are you using the right techniques? Follow these steps to protect your oral health.

Brushing for oral health

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Photo collage: Brushing and flossing for oral health 
Brushing and flossing for oral health

Oral health begins with clean teeth. Keeping the area where your teeth meet your gums clean can prevent gum disease, while keeping your tooth surfaces clean can help you stave off cavities. Consider these brushing basics from the American Dental Association:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. When you brush, don't rush. Take enough time to do a thorough job.
  • Use the proper equipment. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush that fits your mouth comfortably. Consider using an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, which can reduce plaque and a mild form of gum disease (gingivitis) more than does manual brushing. These devices are also helpful if you have arthritis or other problems that make it difficult to brush effectively.
  • Practice good technique. Hold your toothbrush at a slight angle — aiming the bristles toward the area where your tooth meets your gum. Gently brush with short back-and-forth motions. Remember to brush the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of your teeth, as well as your tongue.
  • Keep your equipment clean. Always rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing. Store your toothbrush in an upright position, if possible, and allow it to air-dry until using it again. Don't routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers, which can encourage the growth of bacteria.
  • Know when to replace your toothbrush. Invest in a new toothbrush or a replacement head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months — or sooner if the bristles become frayed.

Flossing for oral health

You can't reach the tight spaces between your teeth and under the gumline with a toothbrush. That's why daily flossing is important. When you floss:

  • Don't skimp. Break off about 18 inches (46 centimeters) of dental floss. Wind most of the floss around the middle finger on one hand, and the rest around the middle finger on the other hand. Grip the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
  • Be gentle. Guide the floss between your teeth using a rubbing motion. Don't snap the floss into your gums. When the floss reaches your gumline, curve it against one tooth.
  • Take it one tooth at a time. Slide the floss into the space between your gum and tooth. Use the floss to gently rub the side of the tooth in an up-and-down motion. Unwind fresh floss as you progress to the rest of your teeth.
  • Keep it up. If you find it hard to handle floss, use an interdental cleaner — such as a special wooden or plastic pick, stick or brush designed to clean between the teeth.

As long as you do a thorough job, it doesn't matter if you brush or floss first. However, flossing before brushing might allow more fluoride from your toothpaste to reach between your teeth.

10 Tips for Healthy, White Teeth

Not only do your teeth help you talk and chew, they can make or break your appearance. Here are 10 secrets for keeping your pearly whites in tip-top shape.

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1. Go on a white-teeth diet.

If you're quaffing red wine and black tea, or smoking cigarettes or cigars, expect the results to show up as not-so-pearly whites. Other culprits to blame for dingy teeth include colas, gravies, and dark juices. Bottom line: If it's dark before you put it in your mouth, it will probably stain your teeth. Brush immediately after eating or drinking foods that stain teeth and use a good bleaching agent, either over-the-counter or in the dentist's office. For convenient teeth-cleaning action, eat an apple.

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2. Chuck your toothbrush...

...or change the head of your electric toothbrush at least every two to three months. Otherwise, you're just transferring bacteria to your mouth. According to Beverly Hills dentist Harold Katz, D.D.S., the best way to brush is by placing your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against your gums and gently moving it in a circular motion, rather than a back-and-forth motion. Grip the toothbrush like a pencil so you won't scrub too hard.

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3. Clean your tongue.

Use a tongue scraper every morning to remove tongue plaque and freshen your breath. One major cause of bad breath is the buildup of bacteria on the tongue, which a daily tongue scraping will help banish. Plus, using a tongue scraper is more effective than brushing your tongue with a toothbrush, says Dr. Katz.

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4. Eat 'detergent' foods.

Foods that are firm or crisp help clean teeth as they're eaten. We already mentioned apples (otherwise known as nature's toothbrush); other choices include raw carrots, celery, and popcorn. For best results, make 'detergent' foods the final food you eat in your meal if you know you won't be able to brush your teeth right after eating.

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5. Gargle with apple cider vinegar.

Do this in the morning and then brush as usual. The vinegar helps help remove stains, whiten teeth, and kill bacteria in your mouth and gums.

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6. Brush your teeth with baking soda once a week

This will remove stains and whiten your teeth. Use it just as you would toothpaste. You can also use salt as an alternative toothpaste. Just be sure to spit it out so it doesn't count as sodium intake! Also, if your gums start to feel raw, switch to brushing with salt every other day.

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7. Stay fresh.

To check the freshness of your breath, lick your palm and smell it while it's still wet. If you smell something, it’s time for a sugar-free breath mint. Shopping for mouthwash? Make sure it is alcohol-free. Most over-the-counter mouthwashes have too much alcohol, which can dry out the tissues in your mouth, making them more susceptible to bacteria.

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8. Practice flossing with your eyes shut.

If you can floss without having to guide your work with a mirror, you can floss in your car, at your desk, while in bed, and before important meetings. In which case, buy several packages of floss and scatter them in your car, your desk, your purse, your briefcase, your nightstand.

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9. Brush your teeth when you first get out of bed and before you get back in at night.

They're the two most crucial times, says Kathleen W. Wilson, M.D., an internist at the Ochsner Health Center in New Orleans and author of When You Think You Are Falling Apart. That’s because saliva (which keeps cavity-causing plaque off teeth) dries up at night, so it’s best to have all plaque cleaned off the teeth before sleep. It’s also important to brush first thing in the morning to brush off plaque and bacteria (morning breath!) that may have built up as you slept.

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10. Conceal with color.

Ladies: Choose a medium coral or light red lipstick. These colors make your teeth look whiter, whereas lighter-colored lipsticks tend to bring out the yellow in teeth.

Other oral health care tips

In addition to daily brushing and flossing, consider using an antimicrobial mouth rinse or a mouth rinse containing fluoride to promote oral health.

To remove food particles from your teeth that aren't dislodged by flossing or brushing, you might try an oral irrigator — a device that aims a stream of water at your teeth. Resist the temptation to use toothpicks or other objects that could injure your gums. Keep in mind, however, that an oral irrigator doesn't replace daily brushing and flossing, since it doesn't remove plaque.

When to see the dentist

To prevent gum disease and other oral health problems, schedule regular dental cleanings and exams. In the meantime, contact your dentist if you notice any signs or symptoms that could suggest oral health problems, such as:

  • Red, tender or swollen gums
  • Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
  • Gums that begin pulling away from your teeth
  • Loose permanent teeth
  • Changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align with each other
  • Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Persistent bad breath or an unusual taste in your mouth

Remember, early detection and treatment of problems with your gums, teeth and mouth can help ensure a lifetime of good oral health.

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