Dental Dos and Don'ts

Dental Dos and Don'ts

A walk by the shelves of toothpaste at your local drugstore shows that having whiter, healthier teeth is a 21st-century obsession. And ironically, even though these days you can choose from thousands of products to polish, cleanse, and protect your teeth -- most of you are not all that great at avoiding decay and periodontal disease. Here are five statistics and tips you can use to improve your dental care.

Stat #1: The average American uses a toothbrush for 9 months before tossing it.
Dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every two months. But 91% of you wait far longer.  

Tooth tip: Spring for a new brush as soon as bristles start wearing out. New bristles remove at least three times more plaque than older toothbrushes with weak bristles that fail to sweep away plaque at the gumline. And if you use an electric toothbrush, opt for a solid-headed one; new research shows that hollow-headed brushes have up to 3,000 times more bacteria residue than solid ones.

Stat #2: 85% of men and 65% of women don’t floss daily. Don’t only use dental floss for quick touch-ups before a date, a job interview or your next dental appointment. Daily flossing helps break up colonies of below-the-gumline bacteria before they can cause periodontal disease, which is a gum infection that can lead to tooth and bone loss and is associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Tooth tip: Can’t get the hang of winding floss around your fingers and wiggling it down between your teeth? Try one of the floss-holding tools available in drugstores.

Stat #3: Risk of heart disease increases by 70% if you don’t brush twice a day and floss once.  Gum disease boosts levels of body-wide inflammation, which raises your risk for heart disease and diabetes. It’s also associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, thinking and memory problems, obesity, cancer and even depression. 

Tooth Tip: If you’re unsure about the best brushing style (back and forth, around in circles, up and down…), you’re not alone. A recent survey found that official advice about the best way to brush is all over the map. We say, just make sure you brush for two minutes each time, and reach all your teeth from all sides -- front, back and chewing surfaces. 

Stat #4: 36% of Americans didn’t see a dentist last year. We know more than 100 million Americans have no dental insurance. But did you know that keeping up with dentist visits could save you money by helping you avoid serious gum disease that may need extensive treatment and can contribute to a wide range of other health problems?  Regular visits to the dentist reduce risk for heart attack, stroke, chest pain and congestive heart failure.

Tooth tip: Dental schools often offer low-cost care; your local or county health department may have information about other affordable options, too.

Stat #5: It only takes soda, sports drinks or even juice 30 seconds to damage tooth enamel.  In a recent Australian study, dental experts found that high-acid drinks etch the surface of teeth almost immediately.

Tooth tip: For stronger teeth, sip water or herbal tea instead of soda or sports drinks. Instead of juice, munch on whole fruit. You can also ease gum inflammation with a healthy diet, regular exercise and a daily DHA omega-3 supplement.  Try taking 2,000mg a day for three months. Plus, if approved by your doctor, take a daily 81-162mg aspirin with ½ glass of warm water before and after.

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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