Maybe you want to keep your beautiful smile and avoid needing implants.
Maybe you enjoy good food and want to escape dentures.
Or, maybe you just hate going to the dentist.
Whatever your feelings for your teeth and dentist, taking keeping good oral hygiene can help you lower dental visits, save money, and protect your overall health.
"Poor oral health can lead to gum disease and heart disease. Maintaining good oral hygiene is a powerful weapon against other diseases, which is important as you age. An unhealthy mouth can increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, and diabetes," says Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, SmileDirectClub’s Chief Clinical Officer.
It's simple, but true: You don't have to pay for fillings or extractions if you don't need them. You don't have ER bills to pay if you don't need to visit the ER.
Dentists explain five things you can do to maintain good oral health:
Dental health begins with what you eat and drink. Everything you eat and drink passes by your teeth.
"Humans are prone to tooth decay. Primarily because of the modern diet, people are finding themselves with pesky decay. A diet heavily based on starches, sugars, and carbohydrates makes your teeth susceptible to getting cavities. Making sure you have the right diet, coupled with the best oral hygiene tools for home care will save you a lot of money in the end," says Dr. Rhonda Kalasho, DDS.
Dentists recommend eating some foods in moderation. Dr. Ania Mohelicki advises, "Other at home tips to care for your teeth include limiting sugar, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding hard, crunchy foods that could cause problems to dental work that's already been done."
And Dr. Umang Patel, DDS recommends, "Limit your coffee consumption. Coffee can stain your teeth."
Enjoying these foods in moderation can help reduce your risk of decay and disease. But, your focus shouldn't just be on avoiding decay and disease. You should also choose foods that strengthen your teeth.
"Almost as important as what not to eat is what you should eat. It’s vital to eat healthy food that helps to strengthen your teeth, such as those high in calcium. Teeth are made up of different materials, so they require various vitamins and minerals to help ensure their strength," says Dr. Lawrence Lesperance, DDS.
Hydration is also important for oral hygiene.
"I also recommend staying hydrated to help keep your mouth moist and to avoid having a dry mouth. This will reduce your risk of tooth decay and other infections," says Dr. Shahrooz Yazdani.
Hydration's importance increases as you age. Patel adds:
"It’s important to be aware that as you age your salivary glands can change and won’t allow saliva to wash the bacteria away leading to the chance for more cavities. Certain medications can also affect salivary flow and increase your chances of getting a dry mouth which leads to decay."
In addition to being thoughtful with your eating habits and hydration, it's helpful to steer clear of tobacco.
"As we age, it is essential to avoid smoking or chewing tobacco as this can lead to mouth cancer and gum disease," advises Yazdani.
We've all heard it before: brush your teeth. As tired as we may be of hearing it, it's good advice.
"It's essential to implement a rigorous daily oral health routine to prevent any dental problems from developing. At the bare minimum, you need to brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes. You'll need to ensure you're cleaning all of the surfaces of your teeth and your tongue. Our tongue captures bacteria, which causes bad breath and can lead to gum disease," says Yazdani.
When it comes to choosing a toothbrush, a manual or electric one will do the job.
"I encourage my patients to purchase an electric toothbrush because they do a great job of cleaning your teeth. Some of the electric toothbrushes have a timer to ensure you brush your teeth for two minutes. Make sure to brush each tooth for at least 10 seconds.
If you prefer to use a regular toothbrush, use one with soft brushes and be sure to replace it every two to three months. Make sure not to press too hard on your toothbrush because that can cause damage to your gums," advises Patel.
Toothpaste also enhances your brushing efforts.
"Your toothpaste should contain fluoride to prevent tooth decay and cavities," adds Yazdani.
If you're tired of being reminded to brush your teeth, you're probably equally tired of being told to floss. Too bad:
"Flossing helps to remove the bits of food that your toothbrush missed or couldn’t reach. We’ve heard all of the excuses why people don’t floss, but I can assure you that once you start and it becomes a habit, you’ll start to appreciate the smooth feeling when you move your tongue over your teeth," says Lesperance.
You may be able to get away without flossing depending on your age, but it becomes an important preventive measure the older you are.
"Children tend to have more spaces in between their teeth, so a child below the age of five can get away with brushing twice a day, not flossing, and having a low sugar diet as sufficient decay prevention.
However, as we get older, our enamel begins to thin, our teeth become more crowded, our gums become less resilient to disease, and tooth decay becomes more prominent. Flossing and water flossing is an absolute must for teens and adults if you want any shot at limiting gum disease and tooth decay," advises Kalasho.
Other aspects of aging can make using floss difficult, but there are good alternatives. Patel suggests a few options:
"Make sure as you get older to not drop flossing. Arthritis can cause many older adults to stop this routine and it’s not advised. I recommend using floss with handles to help keep this routine intact. If using a water pick is easier, this might be a better option to flossing."
If you've ever wondered whether you should floss or brush first, Lesperance has the answer to your question:
"Brush first, then floss. I like to floss right before I go to sleep so I can rest assured that I’ve rid my mouth of everything I’ve consumed that day and my mouth and teeth will be as clean as possible overnight."
"A third step is to rinse daily with Listerine or another oral antibacterial rinse. This lowers the amount of bacteria in your mouth that can cause tooth decay and gum disease," says Lesperance.
Mohelicki also recommends using a fluoride mouthwash.
"At home, be sure you're brushing twice daily, flossing once daily, and using a fluoride mouthwash to help beat bacteria, prevent tooth decay, and keep your smile healthy."
Some mouthwashes stain, so consult with your dentist when choosing a mouthwash.
As you practice good oral hygiene regularly, you'll be able to notice when there are changes in your mouth, ask questions, and raise concerns with your dentist.
"It is important to continuously be aware of any changes you notice in your mouth. Any differences should be addressed with your dentist or doctor!"Yazdani recommends.
Oral health isn't just about your teeth. You'll also want to pay attention to your gums.
"People should keep a look out for recession. If they notice that their teeth appear a little bigger or their gums a little smaller, then they should schedule a visit to the dentist or make a note to discuss their concerns at the next dental cleaning," advises Lesperance.
Gum recession is a symptom of periodontal disease, which can lead to other health problems.
"Keeping your gums healthy will also allow you to prevent periodontal disease. Periodontal disease increases inflammation in the body which leads to higher chance of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer," says Patel.
Visiting the dentist isn't nearly as cheap as brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash, but it can help you catch problems in their early stages. The earlier problems are caught, the easier (and usually less expensive) they are to treat.
Patel recommends visiting the dentist twice a year. "These check-ups can save you money in the long run to help quell potential cavities, gum disease, and even cancer," he says.
The older you get, the more important these visits are.
"As we grow older, however, we become more prone to conditions associated with aging. At this point, it's more critical than ever to make sure you're taking care of your teeth to prevent tooth loss. Certain medical conditions and medications could change the way you need to care for your mouth," says Mohelicki.
Regular dentist visits will help you get the professional guidance you need to care for your mouth, especially as your health changes.
While visiting the dentist becomes more and more important as we age, it's also beneficial for children and teens.
"Preventative dentistry is beneficial for all ages — even children. Having regular, thorough cleanings by a dentist can help children keep their plaque buildup at bay. Additionally, it can also make them more likely to not have major dental problems as they grow older.
Eventually, many children will need orthodontic care, and preventative dentistry works to make sure there’s a seamless transition into and out of braces for a lifetime of healthy smiles," says Mohelicki.
If you have kids, helping them practice good oral hygiene and helping them get used to seeing the dentist can help prevent needing more expensive dental care.
Taking care of your teeth by eating healthily, brushing, flossing, swishing, and visiting the dentist regularly will help your teeth last longer and help prevent future dental problems.