Eight Steps to
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.
David A. Albert, D.D.S., M.P.H., assistant
professor of clinical dentistry at the
Columbia University School of Dental and
Oral Surgery, suggests these steps to keep
your teeth and your mouth healthy.
Understand your own oral health needs.
a daily oral health routine.
floss to remove plaque.
snacks, particularly those high in simple
and eat a balanced diet.
use tobacco in any form, quit.
your mouth regularly.
dental office regularly.
1. Understand your own oral health needs.
"Your oral health depends on many factors,
including your diet [what you eat], the type
and amount of saliva in your mouth, habits,
your overall health and your oral hygiene
Changes in your overall health status often
result in changes in your oral health. "For
example, many medications, including more
than 300 common drugs, can reduce the amount
of saliva in your mouth, resulting in dry
mouth. They also can make your saliva ropy
or thicker in consistency. Women who are
pregnant experience oral changes. This often
includes inflammation of the gums, which is
called pregnancy gingivitis. Patients with
asthma often breathe through their mouths,
particularly when sleeping, which can result
in dry mouth and increased plaque formation
2. 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
3. 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.
Brush and floss to remove plaque.
Everyone should brush at least twice a
day, preferably three times or after every
meal. In addition, you should floss at least
twice a day. 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 process
sugars found in most foods and drinks 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,
removing plaque from all tooth surfaces and
where the tooth meets the gums. If plaque is
not removed, it can lead to gum problems and
5. 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 bacteria in
the plaque produce acid every time you eat.
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.
These repeated acid attacks can break down
the enamel surface of your teeth, leading to
a cavity. 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 of oral cancer, gingivitis,
periodontitis and tooth decay. It also
contributes to bad breath and stains on your
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
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