A couple weeks ago, we left off by noting that while there are excellent, safe alternatives to mercury amalgam, even better is to avoid needing to repair teeth at all.
Indeed, smart dentistry begins with prevention.
But prevention is much more than just brushing for two minutes twice daily and flossing once a day. It’s not just trying to minimize damage with interventions such as fluoride and sealants. It’s a whole slate of habits that support naturally healthy smiles for a lifetime. Some of them may surprise you – but probably not #1 on the list:
- Eat real food. For oral and systemic health alike, good nutrition is critical. Your teeth – and gums and the bony structure supporting them – need an array of vitamins and minerals to stay strong. The key nutrients are vitamins D and K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc and other trace minerals. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E are likewise important for periodontal health.
Good mineral intake is especially important to help replace the minerals your teeth lose every day – to remineralize them on an ongoing basis.
Eating a varied diet based on whole – rather than processed – foods generally assures you’ll get all the nutrients you need without the things you don’t need, such as synthetic additives, preservatives, flavors and colors, as well as a lot of added sugar. Local, organic and sustainable is best. (Here’s one resource for finding such foods in your area.) If going completely organic puts too much of a strain on your budget, resources such as EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list can help you prioritize your purchases. (For some great tips on eating healthy on a budget, see this post over at The Art of Simple.)
- Drink water. Water is essential to everything your body does. From breathing, to transferring minerals throughout your body, to helping your kidneys filter blood, to helping your muscles move, water is involved all of your body’s metabolic actions.
That means we lose water every day, too, and must replace it. We get some water through food, but most of it, we have to drink. As for how much, the general rule is half your body weight in ounces daily (e.g., 75 ounces for someone who weighs 150 pounds).
One thing that’s not essential – in fact, not wanted at all – is added fluoride. If your water supply is fluoridated and you can’t afford a reverse osmosis filtering system to remove the fluoride, look to buy non-fluoridated bottled drinking water.
- Exercise. Scientific research has shown that exercise helps reduce risk of periodontal disease, among other conditions. It also lowers your risk of early death. So get up and get moving! After all, your body was designed to move.
And let it be fun! Nowhere does it say you have to pay a gym membership or use fancy machines in order to be fit. The only “machine” you need is your body. (Motivation and commitment help a lot, too.) Go for a brisk walk with a friend and catch up on the news. Go for a run and see all the flowers in bloom. Kick a soccer ball around with your kids. Go hiking with your spouse. Play tennis with a co-worker. Attend yoga or tai chi classes.
The possibilities are limitless!
Still strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, plus two days of muscle-strengthening activity. A combination of cardio and weight training may give you the best results in helping to lose weight, build muscle, and be healthier.
- If you clench or grind your teeth, seek help. Bruxism can place a lot of stress on your teeth, causing headaches and other pain, as well as damage your teeth. Eventually, it can lead to TMJ damage or dysfunction. Fortunately, treatments are available, including use of fitted night guards and other oral appliances.
- Reduce stress. Chronic stress is a common trigger for bruxism and a major contributor to a host of health problems, including inflammatory conditions such as gum disease, heart disease and stroke. No matter if you’re a parent, a working professional, or college student, stress will find you, and how you deal with that stress makes all the difference. Taking time for yourself to do what you love or spend time with loved ones, to get some exercise, meditate or pray, or simply relax – such things can help keep stress levels in check. There are also numerous stress management techniques you can learn and use on a daily basis to face challenges and remain resilient.
- If you snore loudly and often, seek help. Snoring is a sign that you’re not getting enough air during sleep. Often, this is due to the tongue or excess tissues around the top of the throat falling back as you relax, partially blocking the airway. In such cases, a simple oral appliance may be able to offer relief – and a better night’s sleep.
But snoring can also be a sign of a greater problem: sleep apnea. People with this condition actually stop breathing for brief periods repeatedly through the night. It can be deadly. A sleep study – either in a lab or with a take-home device – is needed to properly diagnose this condition. Once we know what the problem is, we can choose the best solution among the number of options available. In cases of mild to moderate apnea, an oral sleep appliance may be enough to correct the problem.
- Clean dental appliances regularly. If you wear a partial, retainer, removable dental work or use any kind of oral appliance, be sure to clean it regularly to avoid bacterial build up. There are cleaning products available, but often baking soda and peroxide will do just fine.
- Live tobacco-free. Smoking might make you look like a rebel – but only until you start losing teeth, as most smokers will over time. Simply, the gum disease and bone loss that smoking aggravates means less support for the teeth. In fact, smokers are 4.5 times more likely to lose teeth than non-smokers – but that risk drops significantly after quitting. (More.)
Chew is scarcely better. Most are aware of the threat of oral cancer, but those who use smokeless tobacco also have a higher risk of caries and gum recession, not to mention stained teeth, bad breath and a dulled sense of taste and smell.
- Visit your dentist regularly. The dentist isn’t just someone to go to when you’ve got a toothache or other oral problem. Regular exams and cleanings are key to maintaining good oral health. If your teeth and gums are in good shape, twice yearly visits are fine. If you have periodontal problems, more frequent visits are recommended – as often as every three months, depending on the severity of your condition.
Image by Ana_J