The Road to a Healthy Mouth

Dental care is easy to overlook when you’re on the road and low on time. But forgetting to floss or ignoring a nagging toothache can trigger major complications. Here are some basic hygiene tips to keep teeth healthy, treat small conditions and prevent future problems.

Save Your Smile
Good dental care may seem as simple as brushing your teeth, but it takes more than a quick swipe with a ragged toothbrush to prevent cavities and gum disease. Without adequate hygiene, tooth decay leads to extensive problems and expensive dental bills.

Tooth decay occurs when plaque and tartar build up on teeth and around the gumline. Plaque results from bacteria in the mouth. It is sticky, colorless film that clings to teeth and feeds off food sugar. If you provide that bacteria with a steady stream of sugar, you’re setting the stage for tooth decay.

That’s why sipping sugary soft drinks throughout the day puts you at greater risk than drinking one cola with lunch. If you crave a sweet snack or cola to give you added energy over a long haul, make sure you drink water afterward to rinse your teeth. And, if you regularly chew gum or keep hard candies or even peppermints on hand, switch to sugar-free types.

Curbing the constant stream of sugar is a sure-fire bet to avoid tooth decay. Watch out for dry mouth, which can increase the risk for tooth decay and gum disease. Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications, particularly high blood pressure pills and allergy medicines. The reduced flow of saliva in the mouth means bacteria aren’t washed away. Combat this condition by drinking ample amounts of water and cutting back on alcoholic and caffeinated beverages and tobacco.

Plaque can also attack the gumline, causing gums to recede. That can lead to painful sensitivity, and, ultimately, bone damage or tooth loss.

Brush Up on the Basics
If you forgo regular flossing, you’re putting your teeth at risk. Flossing swipes away bacteria and food along the gumline and between teeth that simple brushing can’t reach. Although it seems time-consuming, flossing daily takes just a couple of minutes, and it is a good step toward preventing costly dental bills. Ask your dentist for tips on correct flossing and cleaning techniques, particularly if you have bridge work or have had other dental procedures. If your gums bleed or are painful or inflamed after you floss, call your dentist. Those symptoms may signal a larger problem.

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Brushing seems simple, and it is, if you follow this easy how-to: Brush in small circles, starting systematically at one side of the mouth and moving around to the opposite side, covering both the top and bottom sets of teeth and the gumline. Finish by brushing the tongue, which can harbor bacteria that cause bad breath. If your toothbrush looks frayed, it’s time to replace it. Typically, a general rule-of-thumb is to buy a new brush every one to two months.

After you brush, rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash for added protection. If you are particularly prone to dental problems, ask your dentist if a fluoride solution will strengthen your teeth.

Problem Solving
If you have a constant toothache, notice swelling around your jaw or gumline, or have a tooth that feels “tight,” as if it’s under pressure, check with a dentist. Those symptoms could indicate a serious problem, such as an abscessed tooth, which demands immediate attention.

Some people believe tobacco is only harmful if it’s smoked in cigarette form. Think again. Smokeless tobacco can cause oral cancer. If you chew tobacco, or have in the past, visit your dentist regularly. Watch out for the following warning signs of oral cancer: a persistent sore throat, mouth sores that don’t heal, the feeling of a lump in the throat or mouth, or difficulty chewing.

Paying for a Million-Dollar Smile
If you avoid dental work for financial reasons, talk to your dentist about options. Ask about the cost of various procedures you may require and the priority in which the work should be done. Check with a dental society or dental school in your area. They may be able to refer you to an assistance program. For more information on dental health, contact the American Dental Association at (800) 621-8099.