3 Steps to Healthier Teeth and Gums
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3 Steps to Healthier Teeth and Gums

Your mouth is full of germs. Many belong there, but some, like plaque, can be harmful. This sticky bacteria forms on your teeth shortly after you eat, producing acids that can cause decay and toxins that can lead to gum disease, which you definitely want to avoid. A recent study found that men with advanced gum disease had four times greater risk for heart troubles and stroke than men with healthy teeth and gums.

The good news is that you can take steps to stop plaque and other oral invaders. Start with these three.

1. Take two
How long does it take you to brush your teeth? Try timing yourself. For most people, it takes about half a minute, which just isn't long enough. In fact, how much time you spend cleaning your teeth is just as important as how often you do it. Dentists generally recommend brushing for 3 to 4 minutes, but 2 minutes will do the trick. Break it into four 30-second sections: top fronts; top backs; bottom fronts; and bottom backs. Hint: Electric toothbrushes can help extend brushing sessions because they run for a set amount of time.

2. Get stuck in a rut
Brushing your teeth every day is automatic for most people. Flossing should be, too. When you do floss, it's best to stick with a regular pattern, always starting and ending at the same point. That way, you'll know you've hit all your teeth. Gently guide the floss between your teeth, moving it up and down against each tooth, removing any plaque and debris. Hint: If you're all thumbs and have trouble manipulating floss, consider using a floss holder.

3. Obey your thirst
Your body's best defense against cavities is saliva. It dilutes a variety of substances that could harm your teeth, so keep the salivary juices flowing by drinking plenty of water. Try adding a little lemon juice for extra protection. And skip the soda and sugary beverages. These are doubly destructive for your teeth because the acidity destroys the protective enamel -- even sugar-free sodas -- and the sugar promotes decay. Hint: Chewing gum also helps stimulate salivation. Opting for brands that contain the artificial sweetener xylitol will curb bacteria growth even more.

What does your smile say about your health?