What does it really take to keep your smile beautiful and healthy?

Amazing oral health is your smile’s crowning glory. Alongside ensuring you’re able to enjoy your favorite foods and feel confident when smiling, healthy teeth and gums contribute to your physical, mental, and social well-being.

Like any other aspect of human health, knowing what’s healthy and what’s harmful is not always clear. Health advice can be conflicting or counterintuitive, making it hard to know if you’re truly making the right decisions. And, truth be told, sometimes we’re simply unaware that a seemingly harmless habit, avoidable oral health mistakes bring us more trouble than good.

Maintaining and improving the health and beauty of your smile is largely dependent on the small, conscious actions you make daily. With a bit more awareness and a few small tweaks, you can prevent the most common dental issues, elevate your overall health, and enjoy a radiant smile throughout your entire lifetime.

1. You brush at the wrong time.

Did you know that acidic foods and drinks can weaken your tooth enamel for up to 30 minutes? Add the abrasive action of a toothbrush, and you have the perfect combination to accelerate the erosion of your tooth enamel and dentin, the  hard, living tissue layer underneath it.

Enamel is your protector from tooth decay, while dentin is the communicator between the nerves of your teeth and outside sensations. The more you brush your teeth after eating or drinking something acidic, the more vulnerable your teeth may be to cavities, tooth sensitivity, and unsightly signs of enamel damage.

What to Do Instead:

You can spare your enamel and dentin from an acid attack by getting in the habit of rinsing your mouth with plain water after eating or drinking. You can also floss immediately after eating to remove food debris and chew sugar-free gum to refresh your breath and increase salivation. In addition, you can use a fluoride toothpaste and talk to your dentist about boosting your enamel strength with a professional fluoride treatment.

2. You sip on acidic or sugary drinks.

How fast you drink certain beverages can actually make a difference in the health and appearance of your teeth. Sipping prolongs the amount of time that acids or sugars sit on your teeth. Overexposure to acidic drinks can cause enamel erosion, tooth sensitivity, and unsightly yellowing, while overexposure to sugar makes your teeth more vulnerable to cavities.

Sugar is essentially food for the type of oral bacteria that cause cavities. As this oral bacteria digest sugars, it creates an acid byproduct that combines with saliva to form dental plaque. The acid and bacteria in plaque can build up and wear tiny holes in your tooth enamel. These tiny holes can eventually become full-fledged cavities, which only your dentist can treat with a filling.

What To Do Instead:

To help protect your pearly whites from an acid or sugar attack, you can drink fewer acidic and sugary beverages, sip from a reusable straw, or rinse your teeth with plain water during and after drinking. And for the ultimate removal of plaque buildup from your teeth, be diligent about seeing your dentist for twice-annual exams and cleanings.

3. You bite or chew on things that aren’t food.

As they all increase the risk of tooth damage, biting your nails, chewing on pen caps, or eating ice are all habits worth breaking. Biting or chewing on things that aren’t food can cause your teeth to crack or chip, which can only be repaired with cosmetic dental bonding, a crown, or porcelain veneers. Chewing or biting on non-food items can also cause damage to the soft tissues of your mouth and increase your risk of bacterial and viral infections.

Research has also demonstrated that patients who bite their fingernails or chew on objects may be at an increased risk of bruxism. Bruxism, or unintentionally grinding or clenching one’s teeth, can result in tooth damage and sensitivity, facial pain, headaches, gum recession, and even tooth loss.

What to Do Instead:

To help you break the habit of gnawing on non-food objects when you’re stressed or nervous, try stashing sugar-free gum in your car, purse, or office. And if stress is the driver behind your nervous biting or chewing habits, look for other ways to manage your stress, like prioritizing self-care. Last but not least, if you think that you may also grind or clench your teeth, talk with your dentist about getting a custom night guard to help relieve your symptoms and protect your teeth from damage.

4. You don’t drink enough water.

Have you ever felt your mouth go dry and brain go fuzzy when you haven’t had enough water to drink? That’s because even mild dehydration can inhibit your mouth’s saliva production and make you feel physically fatigued and mentally foggy.

Your oral health depends on saliva for preventing cavities and damage from acid erosion. In addition to washing away food debris, saliva helps neutralize acids, protect against acid erosion and tooth decay, promote remineralization, and keep bad breath at bay.

What to Do Instead:

To help boost your hydration, try sipping water throughout the day and keeping track of the color of your urine. You’ll know you’re well hydrated when your urine is pale yellow (versus dark yellow) and you have to go at least every few hours.

5. You put off regular dental visits when you’re issue-free.

If you have great oral hygiene habits and are symptom-free, it’s easy to believe that visiting the dentist is more of an inconvenience than a need. Though your proactive at-home habits are praiseworthy and worth continuing, even your best oral hygiene efforts can’t remove tartar or replicate the tools and techniques of your dental team.

Tartar, also known as dental calculus, is a rough, crusty deposit that forms when plaque isn’t properly removed from your teeth. Tartar increases your risk for cavities, gum recession, and gum disease, and is generally unattractive and prone to staining.

What to Do Instead:

Stick to your schedule of twice-annual cleanings. Regular cleanings give your dental team the opportunity to tackle tartar and detect and treat oral health issues in their earliest stages. If tartar buildup has already led to gum inflammation or infection, your dentist can help you reclaim your oral health with scaling and root planing and periodontal therapy.

You’ll never regret that you took a few small conscious steps to maintain the health and beauty of your mouth, gums, and teeth. If the step your smile needs is a visit to your dentist, Dr. Harrison and the Millennium Dental team are here to help you achieve it. To schedule your next appointment, contact our office today.