Think you know what it takes to have clean teeth and a healthy mouth? You'd be surprised which of your habits, from what you eat to when you eat it, are harming your oral hygiene.
Habit to break: Brushing too hard
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Using a firm-bristled toothbrush and too much pressure to clean teeth can permanently wear away protective enamel (triggering tooth sensitivity and cavities) and cause receding gums. Instead, use a soft brush and gentle, circular scrubbing motions for two minutes at least twice a day. When buying a toothbrush, consider that compact heads move most easily around small mouths and long, flexible handles are best for reaching back molars.
Habit to break: Using the wrong toothpaste
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Some toothpastes, especially those designated "tartar control," are too abrasive. Anything that feels gritty does a lot more than clean teeth; it can erode enamel and cause receding gums. Fluoride is the only ingredient you need. Dentist-recommended toothpastes include: Mentadent ($3.29), Tom's of Maine Natural Toothpaste ($4) and Sensodyne Fresh Mint ($4.39) for sensitive teeth.
Habit to break: Forgoing floss
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Bacteria on your teeth can develop into plaque, the leading cause of cavities and gum disease, in 24 hours. Flossing once a day is essential for maintaining healthy clean teeth by removing plaque.
Habit to break: Drinking lots of soda
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Carbonated sodas—both diet and regular—contain phosphoric acid, which can erode teeth over a period of time. If you drink soda, use a straw to minimize contact with your teeth—and clean teeth afterward by brushing.
Habit to break: Eating foods that stain
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Tooth enamel is like a sponge. Anything that leaves a stain in a cup or on a plate (for example, coffee, tea, colas, marinara sauce, soy sauce, red wine) will give teeth a dull, yellowish color over time. Ask your dentist about laser whitening or bleaching.
Habit to break: Frequent snacking
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Every time you eat something, especially if it's a sugary or starchy food, the bacteria that normally live in your mouth create acids to break down the food. But these acids can also attack teeth, leading to decay. Eating raw, firm fruits and vegetables (like apples and carrots) with and after meals can help. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can also help prevent cavities by increasing saliva flow, which helps wash away cavity-causing bacteria.
Habit to break: Crunching candies and using teeth as tools
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Ripping open potato-chip bags (for other people, of course) and loosening knots with your teeth can lead to cracks and breaks and damage fillings and existing dental work. Also risky: Chewing ice cubes, frozen candy bars or hard candies.
Habit to break: Neglecting trouble
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Bleeding gums and chronic bad breath are hallmarks of gum disease. To fight bad breath, drink enough water to keep your mouth moist (water and saliva help control bacteria) and remove excess bacteria with a tongue scraper. To prevent bleeding gums, brush and floss daily. If your symptoms persistent longer than a few days, consult your dentist.
Habit to break: Avoiding the dentist
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You're probably familiar with the advice that you should get your teeth cleaned twice-yearly—but that's actually an arbitrary recommendation. We now know that some people may actually need to see a dentist every three months to keep gum disease at bay.
Habit to break: Ignoring your lips
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Even if you have clean teeth and fresh breath, your smile still won't shine if it's framed by dry, cracked lips. Lip skin, which is thinner than other skin on the body, is prone to moisture loss, environmental damage and changes due to aging. Using a moisturizing balm daily will help keep lips soft and smooth.