We often tend to think of the beautiful, white smile that we see so often in Hollywood and in magazines as the epitome of both healthy and beautiful smiles. While this can certainly be true, a white smile does not always mean that a smile is healthy. Teeth that have been whitened to perfection are just as vulnerable to gum disease and cavities as teeth that haven’t. 

As a result, if you’re looking for a smile that is both beautiful and healthy, you’ll have to take care of your oral health much like you take care of your skin: using a mixture of gentle preventative care, prompt treatment for small issues when they pop up, and beauty treatments when necessary. Here are some easy things you can do to maintain your smile’s beauty and health.

Keeping Your Smile Healthy and Bright 

1. Schedule whitening treatments.

If you want a white smile but find yourself unable to get rid of your yellow-tinged grin through whitening toothpastes alone, it might be a good idea to invest in a professional whitening treatment. These treatments are safe and effective, so much so that they can lighten your teeth by multiple shades in just a single visit! 

The treatments are designed to remove the stains that are present, however, and can’t prevent future staining, so how long your teeth stay white depends heavily upon you. In general, the treatments can last anywhere from a few months to three years. You can help your white teeth last longer by following many of the guidelines on this list, as well as by asking Dr. Harrison about getting maintenance treatments once or twice a year.

2. Take care of your oral hygiene.

Creating a great oral hygiene routine is the most crucial step towards keeping your mouth healthy. You should be brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and using mouthwash daily. This protects your mouth from the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Brushing your teeth does a great job of removing plaque from the surface of your teeth, but it can’t reach every area. This is why flossing and mouthwash are such important parts of maintaining a healthy mouth. 

Flossing removes plaque from between your teeth, protecting you from gum disease, which is the leading cause of tooth loss in America. Mouthwash also reaches areas that brushing and flossing can’t alone, and you can get mouthwashes that protect against any issue you struggle with, such as cavities or gingivitis. Doing this daily will also play a huge part in helping to keep your teeth whiter for longer; if you want, you can get whitening toothpastes to give your routine a little more of a whitening boost.

3. Buy a soft-bristled toothbrush.

When you’re cleaning a stubborn stain on your kitchen counter, scrubbing hard helps you to remove it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold true for teeth! Scrubbing hard or using abrasive materials on your teeth can actually do more harm than good, so when you’re looking for a toothbrush, be sure to purchase one with soft bristles. If the bristles are too hard, they can irritate your gums and contribute to enamel erosion; over time, this can contribute to receding gums and sensitive teeth. Even with a soft-bristled toothbrush, you should brush your teeth gently rather than putting too much strength into it. 

Another great toothbrush option is to get an electric toothbrush. These brushes often have soft bristles and come with modes that prevent you from pressing down too hard on your teeth. The brush will simply slow or stop if you’re pressing too hard, letting you know that you should ease up on the pressure.

4. Replace your toothbrush often.

The ADA recommends that you replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if you notice that it is beginning to look frayed. As the toothbrush ages, the bristles begin to wear away, making them less effective at removing plaque from your teeth. The frayed bristles are also more prone to growing bacteria or fungus, making them unsanitary for you to use. A fresh toothbrush every once and a while does a better job at keeping your mouth cleaner and your breath fresher. 

5. Eat healthy snacks.

It’s no secret that sugary foods can cause cavities, but they aren’t the only culprits. Carbohydrates, foods such as bread or pasta, are prone to sticking to your teeth. This exposes the surface of your teeth to the food for longer, and the carbohydrates quickly break down into sugars. One way you can fight this is by limiting the number of sugar- or carb-based snacks that you eat throughout the day. 

Instead, try eating fruits and vegetables. In addition to being better for your body as a whole, many of them are great for your teeth! Although they’re sweet, apples are a great source of natural fluoride and they’re high in fiber and water, stimulating your gums and saliva production as you eat. Greens such as spinach are full of vitamins and high in calcium, which is good for your enamel. Other teeth-healthy foods that make great snacks include almonds and yogurt.

6. Limit staining foods, drinks, and habits.

There are many foods, drinks, and habits that are proven to stain your teeth, so if white teeth are high up on your priority list, you’ll save yourself some money on whitening treatments by limiting how much you eat or do these things. Smoking, which increases your likelihood of getting many different kinds of cancer and is bad for your body in a multitude of ways, is known to stain teeth yellow incredibly quickly. If you smoke, your teeth will likely be yellow just a few months after you undergo a professional whitening treatment, so it’s probably best to kick the habit to the curb. 

Additionally, certain foods and drinks are well-known for staining teeth. Tea, sodas, coffee, and wine are all culprits, as are foods like tomato sauces, curry sauce, blackberries, and blueberries. You certainly don’t have to eliminate these foods and drinks—some of which have proven health benefits—from your diet, but you should probably limit your daily intake. If you’re an avid coffee, tea, or wine drinker, however, you can invest in a whitening toothpaste; using it daily can potentially lessen the staining these drinks cause.

7. Use straws.

When you’re drinking staining, sweet, or acidic drinks, it’s a good idea to drink from a straw. The straw can be paper, plastic, glass, or a straw from a reusable bottle, but they all do the same job: they limit the amount of contact that these drinks have with your teeth. This reduces staining and potentially helps to protect your teeth from cavities.

8. Drink water often.

Water is incredibly good for your body, but it’s also great for your mouth. It works to help prevent cavities by dislodging food particles from between your teeth and reducing the acidity level in your mouth. Water from the tap is often fluoridated, which helps strengthen your enamel and further protects your teeth from cavities. While this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever drink other drinks, it’s important to keep in mind that while other drinks may stain your teeth or put them at increased risk for decay, water is a calorie-free, cavity-fighting machine.

9. Keep your body as healthy as possible.

Everything in our body is connected, and although it’s tempting to think of our mouths as completely separate, they’re not. Just like the bacteria in our mouth can impact the health of our bodies as a whole, the health of our bodies impacts our mouth. While some health conditions are outside of your control, there are other risk factors to your health that you can try to do your best to limit. Eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising, and doing your best to keep your blood pressure and blood sugar in the normal range actually go a long way towards keeping your teeth and gums healthy. 

This is because healthy foods are often better for your teeth, and limiting how much you snack will also limit how often your mouth is exposed to bacteria-feeding sugars. High blood sugar has been linked to increased risk of periodontitis, or severe gum disease. This isn’t controllable for everyone, but if your blood sugar tends to be borderline, it is a good idea to start cutting out the necessary foods as soon as possible.

10. Take regular trips to the dentist.

No matter how careful you are with your dental health, it’s always a good idea to go to Dr. Harrison for a professional cleaning every six months. This is a great preventative measure, similar to how you visit your primary care physician for regular checkups. During these cleanings, your dental hygienist and dentist are able to clean hard-to-reach areas in your mouth, remove hardened deposits of plaque called tartar, and detect cavities or problem spots that may develop into cavities early. 

This allows you to pay special attention to problem spots or get treatment for cavities that you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, as cavities are often present without causing any discomfort. Catching these cavities early, before you start experiencing pain, helps you avoid expensive procedures like root canals. If you have an increased risk for tooth decay or gum disease due to a pre-existing condition, your dentist can alert you to this and recommend special toothpastes or mouthwashes to help you fight against cavities or gum disease better—this will help you to keep your smile healthy long-term. 

While it’s important for you to love your smile, it’s also important for your smile to be healthy. Luckily, many of the tricks that help to keep your teeth and gums healthy will also help you to maintain a white smile. You’ll save money not only on repeated whitening treatments, but hopefully also on dental bills from having cavities filled. With just a few changes to your daily routine and diet, most of which will benefit your entire body as well as your oral health, you can maintain a smile that is both beautiful and healthy.