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Preventing Stains on Your Teeth

Certain foods -- especially coffee, tea, and red wine -- can stain teeth. Tobacco, both smoked and chewed, also discolors teeth. For the most part, stains are a cosmetic issue. “But stains typically form where there is organic build-up, or plaque, on teeth, so it’s important to have them removed as part of a regular checkup,” says Iacopino.

What to do:

  • Avoid foods that stain teeth.
  • Brush regularly to remove plaque buildup, which will help your teeth resist stains.
  • Have your teeth cleaned professionally every six months.  Your dentist or dental hygienist can remove plaque and tartar that a toothbrush can’t reach.

If you still aren’t satisfied with the color of your teeth, talk to your dentist.  Toothpastes and bleaching systems can whiten teeth, and home bleaching kits are also available. Be sure to follow the directions for use. Overused, the chemicals can irritate gum tissue. Overuse can also lead to teeth that are unnaturally white.

Preventing Gum Problems

By far the biggest threat to healthy teeth is gum disease. The risk of gum problems increases with age, especially as pockets form at the gum line where bacteria can grow. Left untreated, bacterial infections can cause inflammation that damages connective tissue and even bone, leading to tooth loss.

What to do:

  • Brush and floss regularly to remove bacteria.
  • For added protection, use an antibacterial mouthwash.
  • Go to your dentist for a regular checkup every six months. This is particularly important for detecting gum disease early. “Although there are symptoms of gum disease that can serve as early warning signs, by the time they appear it’s often too late to reverse the disease process,” says Sam Low, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology.
  • Since gum disease is an inflammatory process, eating foods that suppress inflammation may help. Growing evidence suggests that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help dampen inflammation, says Iacopino. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, fish oil, and flaxseed.

Preventing Dry Mouth as You Age

Called xerostomia, dry mouth can drastically increase the risk of decay and gum problems. A healthy flow of saliva helps clean teeth and neutralize acids that otherwise eat away at the tooth enamel.

“Saliva flow doesn’t necessarily decrease with age. But as many as 800 different drugs cause dry mouth as a side effect,” says Iacopino. “Many of these are medications people take as they get older.”

What to do:

  • A drop-off in saliva levels can very quickly cause problems. So at the first sign of dry mouth, talk to your doctor. 
  • A change in prescriptions may help alleviate the problem. If not, your doctor may recommend chewing sugar-free gum. Gum increases saliva flow.
  • Saliva-like oral mouthwashes are also available.

Tips for Pretty Teeth and Gums

See how to keep your teeth healthy, white, and even.
View slideshow