Prevention & Recovery

How to take better care of your teeth

How to take better care of your teeth

Photo courtesy of Blend Images/Masterfile Image by: Photo courtesy of Blend Images/Masterfile Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

How to take better care of your teeth

Experts say there's a symbiotic relationship between mouth and body. Poor oral health is linked to a higher risk of illness. Meanwhile, a healthy smile enhances confidence and self-esteem, both important markers of psychological wellness. You're not completely healthy until your mouth is healthy, so good oral care just makes sense.

Three essential oral health-care habits:

1. Brush twice a day—and don't forget to floss!
Why? Because bacterial buildup on teeth and gums can cause a mild—and reversible—gum disease called gingivitis; left unchecked, gingivitis can lead to the more severe periodontitis. "Research shows a strong correlation between [periodontal] disease and other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and respiratory illnesses," says Dr. Peter Doig, president of the Canadian Dental Association. Periodontal disease sufferers are more likely than nonsufferers to develop osteoporosis and possibly dementia.

Cut your risk by brushing for two minutes twice daily—and don't skip the flossing! (Seventy percent of us do.) Using floss is key for helping prevent and reverse gingivitis.

2. Monitor your oral health during pregnancy
Hormone changes during pregnancy can affect the gums, making them more sensitive to the bacteria in plaque. This can lead to red, swollen gums that bleed easily. "'Pregnancy gingivitis' can occur between the third and ninth months," explains Toronto-based dentist Dr. Janet Tamo. Like regular gingivitis, pregnancy gingivitis can turn into periodontitis—heightening the risk of pre-term delivery.

Protect your smile, and your bump, by brushing and flossing twice daily. If sensitive gums are bothering you, Dr. Tamo recommends an electric toothbrush that has technology to help you brush better. See your dentist to rule out—or treat—pregnancy gingivitis.

3. Smile a lot!
Smiling is a proven mood booster—for the smiler and for the recipient. It has a positive impact on social interactions and relationships, enhancing our "psychological, physiological and social well-being," and helping boost self-esteem, says Svetlana Farrell, PhD, a clinical researcher in oral care.

What would it take to make you smile more? If you're like other Canadians, whiter teeth would probably help. "Research shows that tooth appearance, specifically colour, is highly correlated with smile satisfaction," says Farrell, citing the 2014 Crest and Oral-B Great Canadian Smile Survey. Want to brighten up? Try an affordable, at-home whitening product.

Three essential habits that boost oral health:

1. Stay on top of morning sickness
Morning sickness affects up to 85 percent of expectant moms. Besides making you feel nauseous and tired, it affects dental health. "Morning sickness increases the exposure of the teeth to acid in the mouth, and if uncontrolled, leads to dental erosion," says Dr. Doig.

Treat your symptoms by resting up, avoiding spicy/fried/high-fat foods, and nibbling on snacks like crackers, pretzels and white toast. And take heart: Most women experience a let-up in symptoms by the third or fourth month of pregnancy. In the meantime, if you do lose your lunch (or breakfast or dinner), "take care to clean and rinse the mouth [afterward] to dilute the acid levels in the oral cavities," says Dr. Doig.

2. Stress less
Unmanaged stress contributes to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, among other ailments. Grinding can lead to temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJ), a spectrum of painful problems related to the muscles and joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull. Try stress-management techniques like relaxation exercises, meditation or yoga.

3. Eat a healthy diet
Good foods nourish your teeth and gums, too. "The Canada Food Guide is a good guideline for a healthy body and healthy mouth. The best food choices are those that meet the nutritional needs of the person in a balanced fashion," says Dr. Doig.

Think about timing, too. Nosh on vitamin-and antioxidant-rich citrus fruits and tomatoes during meals, not during snacktime, as the acid content weakens dental enamel. The best in-between-meal treats? Bone-boosting, calcium-rich cheese is perfect, as are heart-healthy nuts, veggies and nonacidic fruits.
Avoid overly processed foods and limit your consumption of sweetened drinks, including soda, sports drinks and fruit juice. Sugary drinks also feed the bacteria that produce tooth-attacking acid. Thirsty? Stay hydrated with good ol' H2O. "Water is the best drink to have between meals," says Dr. Tamo.

We have lots more oral health advice, including how oral hygiene affects your overall health.
This story was originally titled "Healthy Smile, Healthy Body" in the May 2014 issue.
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Prevention & Recovery

How to take better care of your teeth