Good oral hygiene is more than simply having a pretty smile and clean, fresh breath, it’s about making sure your mouth, teeth and gums are healthy. But did you also know that oral health is closely linked to overall health? Problems in your mouth are often a first sign that things are going wrong in other parts of your body.
A link between periodontal disease and diabetes has been observed for some time, but new studies suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation from severe gum disease might play a role in heart and lung diseases, stroke, and low-birth-weight, premature births. In fact, a recent Surgeon General’s report stated that “oral health is a critical component of health and must be included in the provision of health care and the design of community programs.”
Although cavities and bad breath may indicate a problem with your teeth or gums, good oral health goes beyond a pretty smile and fresh, clean breath. It means caring for and protecting our teeth, tongue, gums and mouth. Here are six steps you can take to promote great oral health.
- Brush your teeth twice a day. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day to remove the buildup of bacteria commonly known as plaque. The longer it builds up the more likely it is to cause gum inflammation or cavities. Brush your teeth for two minutes and cover all surfaces of your teeth, not just what you can see, paying special attention to where the gums and the teeth overlap – bacteria tends to build up there quickly. Be sure to use a good fluoride based toothpaste and a soft bristled toothbrush.
- Floss every evening before bed. Although most people recognize the important of brushing their teeth, fewer follow through on the important activity of flossing. Brushing removes bacteria and plaque from the surfaces of the teeth, but it can’t get down between the teeth, where bacteria likes to grow. Flossing helps remove the bacteria between teeth that brushing alone misses, which helps keep your teeth and gums healthy.
- Use an oral rinse. Rinsing your mouth with a zinc ion based mouthwash can kill the bacteria that causes bad breath and plaque in your mouth. Activated zinc ions not only kill the bacteria, but keep it from coming back for up to 12 hours per rinse, which can go a long way toward keeping your gums in good shape.
- See your dentist every six months. Don’t wait to see your dentist until you have dental pain or discomfort. Visiting your dentist is a great tool for keeping your mouth healthy because he or she can usually spot trouble in advance and help you prevent future cavities and gum disease.
- Avoid tobacco. The link between tobacco and lung cancer has received a lot of attention, but smoking and chewing tobacco can also cause bad breath, discolored teeth, a buildup of plaque and tartar, and increase your risk of developing oral cancer. Avoiding all forms of tobacco is a very important step toward preserving your oral health.
- Eat healthy foods. A well-balanced diet contributes to good overall health and too much sugar is bad for your teeth as well as for your weight because sugar is used as energy by the bacteria in plaque and releases acid as a waste product, which gradually dissolves the enamel in the teeth. It’s also very sticky and can be hard to remove from your teeth, allowing it to stick around and cause a lot of damage to your teeth. Some easy ways to decrease sugar intake are to limit consumption of regular soft drinks and candy, and cut back on snacking between meals.
So there you have it, six steps you can take to keep your mouth in tip-top shape and improve both your oral and overall health.