Keep Teeth and Gums Healthy

  • Follow MyPyramid advice (see chapter 10) for healthful eating. An adequate supply of nutrients from all five food groups promotes healthy teeth and gums.
  • Go easy on between-meal snacks. When you do snack, try to eat the snack at one time rather than over a longer period.
  • Brush twice a day. Floss or use an interdental cleaner between your teeth daily. Use a fluoride mouth rinse. Before age six a fluoride rinse, which should not be swallowed, isn't advised; after that, use it only with your dentist's advice. For some people, an interdental cleaner, made of soft rubber, can help clean the food particles and plaque between teeth; ask your dentist if it's right for you.
  • Be aware that brushing too often may be abrasive to your tooth enamel.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. The optimal amount of fluoride from toothpaste comes from brushing twice a day, not any more often.
  • Teach children over age two years to brush with just a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste and to spit out, not swallow, toothpaste to reduce the chances of mottled teeth (dark spots) from too much fluoride. For kids under age two, talk to your doctor about fluoride toothpaste.
  • Have regular dental checkups, which include a thorough cleaning.
  • Talk to your dentist about sealants, which protect against decay in the pits and fissures of your teeth. (They're not just for kids.)
  • For infants, avoid the urge to pacify your baby with a bottle of juice, formula, or milk. If you choose to use a bottle as a pacifier, fill it with water only.
  • For children, talk to your dentist, doctor, or pediatric nurse about what amount of fluoride your child should have. If you live in a community that doesn't have an optimal amount of fluoride in the water, supplements may be recommended.

your mouth. The faster food dissolves and leaves your mouth, the less chance it has to produce plaque acid. For example, sticky dried fruit, granola bars, and raisins may stay on your teeth longer than a soft drink or a hot fudge sundae does.

Will a box of raisins or a bunch of grapes be more cavity-promoting than a single raisin or single grape? Eaten at one time, portion size makes no difference. Any amount of carbohydrate gets the decay process going. It's the frequency of snacking that seems to have a bigger impact on cavity formation than snack size.

Brushing and flossing after eating removes the "decay duo": plaque and food particles. Swishing water around your mouth after meals and snacks may help rinse away food particles and sugars but won't remove plaque bacteria.

"Carbs"—Not the Only Link to Oral Health

Carbohydrates aren't the only nutrition factor linked to oral health. Some nutrients make teeth stronger. And some are even described as "anti-cavity" foods.

For children, an overall nutritious diet promotes healthy teeth, making them stronger and more resistant to cavities. Several nutrients are especially important, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. These nutrients also build the jawbone, which helps keep teeth in place. For adults, calcium intake has little effect on keeping teeth healthy. But these same nutrients help keep your jawbone strong.

Tooth loss, common among the elderly, may be linked to periodontal, or gum, disease. Constant infection causes the bone structure of the jaw to gradually deteriorate. Refer to "Keep Smiling: Prevent Gum Disease" in chapter 22.

Before fluoridation of water was common, tooth decay was much more prevalent. Now, adding fluoride—to drinking water, toothpaste, and mouth rinses—is one of the most effective ways to prevent cavities. Fluoride makes the structure of teeth stronger by helping to add minerals back to microscopic cavities on the surface of tooth enamel. With the popularity of bottled water, which generally isn't fluoridated, many Americans may not get enough fluoride for oral health. Refer to chapter 8, "The Fluoride Connection."

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