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Dental Health Tips

Eight Steps to Dental Health

1. It takes more than just brushing
Okay, so you know about brushing and flossing. But there are other steps you should take if you want to keep your teeth for a lifetime. Some people assume they will lose their teeth as they age, but that doesn't have to happen. Joan Gluch, Ph.D., director of community health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, suggests these steps to keep your teeth and your mouth healthy.

2. Understand your own oral-health needs
"Everyone's mouth is different," Gluch says. "Talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about special conditions in your mouth and the ways your general health affects your mouth."
Changes in your health status should lead you to your dental office. "For example, pregnant women will have special oral health needs," she explains. "Or, if you start taking a new medication that can dry your mouth [as more than 300 common drugs do], you should ask your dentist or dental hygienist about how that will affect your mouth."

3. Commit to a daily oral-health routine
Based on discussions with your dentist or dental hygienist, come up with an effective oral-health routine that's easy to follow and takes your situation into account. For example, if you are taking medication that dries your mouth, you may want to use fluoride every day. Pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, and people in orthodontic treatment also may want or need special daily care.

4. Use fluoride
Everyone can benefit from fluoride, not just children. Fluoride strengthens developing teeth in children and helps prevent decay in adults and children. Toothpastes and mouthwashes are good sources of fluoride. Your dentist can prescribe stronger concentrations of fluoride through gels or rinses if you need it.

5. Brush and floss to remove plaque
Everyone should brush and floss at least once a day, preferably twice or after every meal. These activities remove plaque, which is a complex mass of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth. If plaque isn't removed every day, it can combine with sugars to form acids that lead to decay. Bacterial plaque also causes gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. It's important to brush and floss correctly and thoroughly. Otherwise, some plaque may remain.
Limit snacks, particularly those high in simple sugars, and eat a balanced diet
Every time you eat, particles of food become lodged in and around your teeth, providing fuel for bacteria. The more often you eat and the longer food stays in your mouth, the more time bacteria have to break down sugars and produce acids that begin the decay process. Each time you eat food containing sugars or starches (complex sugars), your teeth are exposed to bacterial acids for 20 minutes or more. If you must snack, brush your teeth or chew sugarless gum afterward.
A balanced diet is also important. Deficiencies in minerals and vitamins can also affect your oral health, as well as your general health.

6. If you use tobacco in any form, quit
Smoking or using smokeless tobacco increases your risk for oral cancer, gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth decay. It also contributes to bad breath and stains on your teeth."

7. Examine your mouth regularly
Even if you visit your dentist regularly, you are in the best position to notice changes in your mouth. Your dentist sees you only a few times a year, but you can examine your mouth weekly to look for changes that might be of concern. These changes could include swollen gums, chipped teeth, discolored teeth or sores or lesions on your gums, cheeks or tongue. A regular examination is particularly important for tobacco users, who are at increased risk of developing oral cancer. If you smoke or use smokeless tobacco, your dentist or dental hygienist can show you where lesions are most likely to appear.

8. Visit the dental office regularly
You and your dentist should talk about the frequency of your visits. Some people need to visit their dentist more frequently than others.

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