You know the drill — it’s what you hope to avoid with regular brushing and flossing. Brushing and flossing every day will help get rid of plaque, the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque is a sticky, naturally occurring film that is deposited on your teeth. It is made up of bacteria, mucus, and particles in the saliva. Bacteria break down the sugars and starches from foods into acids, which attack the enamel on your teeth, causing tooth decay and other problems. Roots exposed by gum recession are vulnerable to decay as well.
Clean white teeth, healthy gums, and fresh breath are usually an indication of overall good oral health. If your dental health is poor, it can affect your overall health and nutrition. Proper dental care is important for adults and children.
Keep the gleam in your grin with the following dental health basics.
Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid foods high in sugar or starch — they tend to stick to your teeth. Drink plenty of water every day.
Brush gently at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Brushing the tongue cleans and refreshes your mouth and removes bacteria.
Floss at least once a day. You can also use an interdental cleaner—a special pick or brush you use between your teeth. Be gentle with your gums and don’t force the floss or cleaner between your teeth.
Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or earlier if it’s worn out. When you buy a new toothbrush (or any other dental product), look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance on the label.
Visit your dentist or dental hygienist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams. Don’t ignore tender gums, sensitive teeth, or other mouth problems. They can become serious if left untreated.
Simple, chronic halitosis, also called bad breath, is a problem for many people. Despite what the commercials say, mouthwash doesn’t really get rid of bad breath. A common cause of bad breath is strong-smelling food, such as onions or garlic. As long as the offending food remains in your system, your breath will tell the tale. Other causes of bad breath include tooth decay, plaque, food trapped between teeth, certain medications, dry mouth, respiratory tract infections or post-nasal drip, liver or kidney diseases, some stomach problems, and diabetes.
Bad breath that is not remedied by good flossing, brushing your teeth and tongue, and routine professional cleanings could be a sign of a medical problem and should be evaluated by a physician.
A more serious cause of bad breath is gum disease. If you don’t brush and floss every day, plaque can build up below the gum line and cause your gums to become infected and sore. Severe gum disease, called periodontitis, can cause teeth to become loose, fall out, or need to be removed. You can have gum disease and not know it. If you have chronic bad breath, red and swollen gums, bleeding gums, gums that have pulled away from your teeth, loose teeth, or other changes in your mouth, see your dentist right away.
The advice you got when you were young remains just as important today. Practice good oral health and your teeth can last a lifetime.
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“Flossing.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/flossing. Accessed 2013.
“ADA Offers Tips for Enjoying Holiday Sweets and Keeping that ‘Sweet Tooth’ Intact.” American Dental Association, November 17, 2006. www.newswise.com/articles/tips-for-enjoying-holiday-sweets-and-keeping-that-sweet-tooth-intact. Accessed 2013.
“Finding Your Way to a Healthier You: Based on the  Dietary Guidelines for Americans .”U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , U.S. Department of Agriculture. www.cnpp.usda.gov/publications/dietaryguidelines/2005/2005dgconsumerbrochure.pdf. Accessed 2013.
“Diet and Dental Health.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diet-and-dental-health. Accessed 2013.
“Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, August 2012. www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/topics/gumdiseases/periodontalgumdisease.htm. Accessed 2013.
“Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body" American Dental Association. www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_61.pdf. Accessed 2013.