Dentists Reveal the Best Ways to Save Your Teeth
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Health

6 Tips That Could Save Your Teeth

It's an area of concern that we often neglect.

gif of sparkling teeth, saving teeth, teeth hygiene
Matt Chase

As much as we talk about weight gain and wrinkles as we age, our teeth are a larger area of concern that we often neglect. There’s a natural, evolving thinning of the protective enamel surfaces of teeth, which can lead to decay. The tissue also loses elasticity, and the bones become less dense due to a slowing of the cell renewal rate.

Whether you have a history of older fillings cracking or gingivitis, or you’ve simply gotten lax about your dental care routine, it is more important than ever to be proactive, especially when there is a scientific link between gum disease and heart health.

Colleen Spitzig, a dentist with Hambrook and Spitzig Dentistry in Pompano Beach, Florida, explains why older adults begin having dental problems — even if they take meticulous care of their teeth.

“As we age, we become more susceptible to gum recession,” Spitzig says. “A new area — the tooth root — is exposed to an oral cavity that wasn’t there during our younger years. This creates a direct gateway into the nerve endings of the tooth, which no longer has the protective enamel layer on the root and can cause sensitivity.”

Prescription medications taken by many people over age 50 can cause a dry mouth. Saliva plays a big part in our immune system that fights oral decay, but if the mouth is dry, the patient is more susceptible to decay — especially at the root, where it can become a big problem fast.

Another issue that occurs with age is shifting teeth and changes in the bite, which may create food traps that are a breeding ground for bacteria.

“Crowded or rotated teeth are harder to keep clean and bacteria-free, which leads to a higher incidence of periodontal disease [an advanced form of gum disease)],” says Jeremy Goodman, a dentist with Goodman Dental Care in Annapolis, Maryland, who specializes in cosmetic and comprehensive dentistry. “Orthodontics such as Invisalign are a wonderful tool for aligning the teeth to decrease the risk of periodontal problems and the chipping or wearing down of the teeth. Before starting Invisalign, it’s important to get a healthy baseline. The mouth needs to be free of cavities and infections. Once the bite is aligned, the forces are distributed properly on the correct teeth, limiting a vulnerability to fractures. This helps the longevity of dental work.”

Gingivitis may also be an issue when it comes to difficulties in keeping the mouth bacteria-free. If left untreated, it can turn into periodontitis, which can ruin the jawbone, gums and ligaments that support the teeth. Symptoms of the disease include receding and bleeding gums, a bad taste in the mouth and bad breath.

Research conducted by the American Dental Association also indicates that gum disease can lead to a higher risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Although many boomers do their best to keep up with fillings, crowns and root canals, their teeth are still susceptible to erosion and deep fractures. As a last resort, extractions may be necessary.

“Once a filling or crown cracks below the gumline, there usually isn't enough tooth structure left to save, so it needs to be pulled,” according to Christopher Hambrook, a dentist with Gainesville Oral & Implant Surgery in Florida, “But thankfully, we have implants to replace the missing teeth. The best way to avoid extractions is to stay up to date on dental checkups and cleanings. Don’t wait until something hurts.”

Here are six ways you can save your teeth, compiled from interviews with top dentists, research from the American Dental Association and from the years I spent working as a dental assistant.

1. Brush twice daily for two minutes each time using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Follow up with flossing. To whiten teeth, the best treatments require in-office bleaching procedures. Although this process does not erode the tooth's enamel, a common side effect of home whitening kits is tooth sensitivity and gum irritation caused by contact with peroxide-based gels in poor-fitting trays or improper application of the gel.

2. Schedule regular six-month checkups with your dentist and hygienist to have the natural tartar buildup removed from around the teeth and to check for signs of any oral cancer.

3. Drink more water but hold the lemon. The acidity from lemon juice slowly erodes the tooth surface and can also cause sensitivity.

4. Quit smoking and avoid heavy alcohol consumption. Smoking reduces the body’s immunity, and alcohol is known to leave the mouth more susceptible to oral cancer.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle with a proper diet and regular exercise to boost your immune system.

6. Avoid sugary and starchy foods. Beverages such as fruit juice and soda are significant culprits in tooth decay.

“Sugar and carbohydrates create an acidic environment in the mouth,” Goodman says. “The worst thing you can do is snack on sugary foods or sip on soda for long periods at a time — or too frequently. When this happens, the mouth doesn’t have time to recover to a normal pH level. This allows Streptococcus mutans [bacteria] to stay around longer and break down the teeth.”

If you remain attentive to your dental care and follow your doctor's advice, you'll keep your beautiful smile for years to come.

“Many people don’t realize how important it is to be vigilant,” Spitzig concludes. “Dental work needs regular maintenance, just like your house or car.”

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