Are you doing all you can to keep your mouth as healthy as it can be? Making major lifestyle changes is great, but even small changes can help lead to noticeable improvements. Here are nine ways you can give your mouth its best chance for great health.
1. Quit Smoking and Using Tobacco
Numerous studies show that smoking (cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe) raises your risk of losing teeth, and developing gum disease and mouth cancer, in addition to many other illnesses. Quitting smoking can be challenging, but the benefits begin quickly: your body begins a steady recovery process almost immediately after you stop smoking for good. Within the first 24 hours, your body’s carbon monoxide levels will have returned to normal, and after 48 hours, your nerve endings will have started to heal, making your senses of taste and smell sharper. When you’re ready to quit, talking to your doctor about smoking cessation is a good first step, and helpful resources are also available widely online, including the US government’s Smokefree website.
2. Stop Vaping
Evidence is growing that the health risks of vaping are just as serious as those from regular cigarettes. A groundbreaking study at University of Rochester Medical Center has revealed that burning vapors from electronic cigarettes trigger inflammation in human oral cells, putting a user’s entire mouth at risk of disease. Using flavored e-cigarettes may do even more harm to your gums and palate; certain flavoring chemicals can also promote inflammation and/or ulcers.
Vaping may also contribute to xerostomia (dry mouth), which can lead to an increased rate of tooth decay. Research also shows that the nicotine in e-cigarettes can damage gum tissue, heightening your risk of periodontal issues.
Because of these health risks, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends alternative methods of smoking cessation that do not include vaping or electronic cigarettes. Consult your doctor about which one is right for you.
3. Stop Drinking Alcohol
In recent years, alcohol consumption—even at moderate levels—has been linked to oral health issues such as tooth loss, xerostomia (dry mouth), increased dental plaque, and gum disease. Left untreated, gum disease can act as a gateway to more serious illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. While drinking alcohol may be tempting, understanding its effects on your oral health is important to your ability to make informed decisions about doing so.
4. Avoid Sugar and Acid-Forming Foods
You may be surprised to learn that sugar itself doesn’t cause cavities (dental caries). Instead, cavities can occur due to the process that takes place after you consume a sugary or carbohydrate-rich food. How does this work? Our mouths contain both good and harmful bacteria. The harmful bacteria in your mouth thrive on carbohydrates, which ferment easily. Right after you consume a high-sugar food or drink, this fermentation process forms acids that destroy tooth enamel (the protective outer layer of your teeth). By reducing your intake of foods high in carbs and sugars, you can reduce your risk of cavities.
How can you tell which packaged foods are high in sugar? The ingredients on food labels are listed in order from most to least, based on their weight. Terms that end in -ose (such as fructose, glucose, maltose, and sucrose) typically indicate a form of sugar. This means, for example, that a regular soft drink listing high fructose corn syrup as its first ingredient (or even its second or third) can easily cause damage to your teeth.
The American Dental Association website has more details on sugar and your dental health.
5. Drink Enough Water
When you drink water, you hydrate yourself in the healthiest way possible, since water has no sugar and no calories. In addition, you reduce your risk of dry mouth (xerostomia), and help to wash away any sugars or acid-forming substances that could wear away your tooth enamel and cause cavities. Aim for a total of two liters each day. Keeping your mouth clean and well-hydrated by drinking enough water also helps to keep your breath fresh!
6. Stop Grinding Your Teeth
Many people who clench or grind their teeth (a condition known as bruxism) don’t realize it, but dentists can recognize signs in your mouth, such as teeth with worn surfaces. If you have recessed gums, headaches, and/or sore facial muscles, these may also be signs. Left untreated, bruxism sometimes leads to a painful jaw joint disorder known as a TMD. Clenching, grinding, and gum recession are all related to airway issues.
At Winchester Dental, we offer the latest in non-invasive, pain-free treatment for bruxism and its related issues. If you know or suspect that you have this condition, contact us for an appointment. We’ll be glad to evaluate you and discuss next steps!
7. Remember to Floss
If you’re not already flossing, now is a great time to start. According to a statement on the American Dental Association website, “interdental cleaners such as floss are an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.” Additionally, American Academy of Periodontology clearly states that patients should continue to include flossing as a part of their daily oral hygiene habit.
The providers at Winchester Dental recommend daily flossing (along with twice-daily toothbrushing) as a key component of oral health and overall health. Among our patients, we have seen clear evidence that daily flossing reduces bleeding gums—one of the first indicators of gingivitis (early-stage gum disease). When gum disease progresses to the periodontitis stage, permanent bone and tissue loss around the teeth can occur. Medical research consistently reveals a high correlation of periodontitis (later-stage gum disease) to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and cancers. By flossing daily, you take an active role in maintaining your oral and overall health.
Want to start flossing, but not sure what to do? Here’s a video to help.
8. Visit Your Dental Hygienist
Your dental hygienist wants to see you! When you schedule regular teeth cleaning visits—twice a year for most patients—your hygienist does more than just thoroughly clean your teeth. He or she will check your blood pressure to ensure that your cleaning can proceed safely, monitor the health of your gums, and perform an oral cancer screening. Your hygienist will also alert your dentist to any new developments requiring further attention. Who’d want to miss a chance for so much good care?
9. Practice Nasal Breathing
Keeping your mouth closed and breathing through your nose, especially while you sleep, reduces your risk of a jaw joint disorder due to misaligned jaws. This can occur as you snooze with an open mouth.
Your nose also has superpowers that your mouth doesn’t have: when you breathe nasally, your nose functions as a filter to protect your teeth from exposure to harmful bacteria and particles in the air. It keeps these same substances from reaching your lungs, and also humidifies the air you take in so that it reaches your lungs at the proper temperature. This promotes better oxygen exchange.
If you aren’t able to keep your mouth closed and to breathe only through your nose, especially while you sleep, we may be able to help.