Teeth are a funny thing. One minute they’ve got no problem tearing apart a beefy burger, and the next they’re screaming bloody murder from a seemingly harmless piece of string (that is, if you’re disciplined enough to attempt flossing at all).
Sure, teeth have bite, but they require a heck of a lot of maintenance to stick around and look good for the long haul. So at the risk of adding fuel to that fiery sermon from your dentist, we’re going to help you brush up on the basics of oral hygiene (and hopefully squeeze in some finer points in the process).
1. Avoid sugary snacks and smoking
Surprise, surprise. Throwing back a full-calorie cola during your cigarette break isn’t part of a balanced diet. But in addition to cavity-causing sugar, the acidic nature of sodas -- even diet ones -- can erode a tooth’s enamel. Lighting up will turn that enamel a repulsive shade of yellow, possibly cause oral cancer, and shave about 14 years off your expected life span. No joke.
2. Eat teeth-strengthening foods
Not all foods spell trouble for your teeth. Dairy products, for example, are loaded with calcium, which strengthens a tooth’s outer coating of enamel. Onions, on the other hand, have sulfur compounds that fight bacteria. Your breath might take a beating after chomping down on a Vidalia, but a simple stick of gum can freshen your breath and help remove plaque.
3. Don’t brush right after eating
This one goes against better judgment, but it turns out that brushing after eating can remove more than just the remnants of your midday meal. Without waiting at least 30 minutes, layers of precious enamel can go bye-bye too.
4. Whiten your teeth twice a year
A daily dose of coffee can result in some serious staining. Fortunately at-home whitening systems have come a long way since the days of gunky pastes and plastic trays. They’re affordable, easy to use and totally effective.
5. Use a tongue scraper
Bad breath? Bacteria buildup on your tongue might be the reason. Rather than just moving that stench-ridden sludge around your mouth with a toothbrush, use a tongue scraper to completely remove it instead.
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6. Cover and store your toothbrush in a clean place
Keeping your toothbrush in the bathroom makes sense. But the warm, moist environment is ripe ground for germs. Add that to a few miscalculations at the toilet and, well, you get the point. Luckily the solution is simple: Rinse your toothbrush with warm water after each use and tuck it away in a cabinet or drawer in an upright position so it dries out completely.
7. Change your toothbrush or toothbrush head regularly
The quick rule of thumb: Break out a fresh one every three months. Even if the bristles aren’t totally broken and that blue indicator strip is somehow showing faint signs of life, you still need newness at least once a quarter. But if you get sick or let someone else take your toothbrush for a test drive, replace it immediately.
8. Go to the dentist at least twice a year
Almost everyone needs a deep-down professional cleaning two times a year. Indeed, a lucky few can get away with one visit, and those prone to periodontal disease need to go more frequently. But a biannual visit is the benchmark for most. You’ll be able to fix minor issues, prevent major problems, and best of all, leave with squeaky-clean teeth.
9. Floss at least 3-4 times a week
Flossing isn’t about removing food particles. It’s actually about removing plaque -- the substance responsible for cavities, gingivitis and eventually tooth loss. A decent job runs about three to five minutes, but even just 60 seconds of string work can have enormous benefits. Just be aware that if you happen to bleed in the process, your body is telling you it’s time to let a dentist do some digging.
10. Brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes
Brushing is by far the single most important thing you can do to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Upgrade your gear by investing in a high-powered mechanical toothbrush, and then make a habit of spending at least two minutes with it both in the morning and at night.
Follow a fraction of our advice, and chances are that painful lecture from your dentist this year will be shorter than ever.