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Preventing Mechanical Wear and Tear on Your Teeth continued...

Another problem that causes wear and tear is the habit of grinding or clenching teeth. Called bruxism, it is frequently caused by stress or anxiety. Over time, bruxism can wear down the biting surfaces of teeth, making them more susceptible to decay.

What to do:

  • Avoid chewing ice and other very hard foods.
  • Double-check to make sure that pitted foods have no pits before you bite down on them.
  • See your dentist regularly. He or she can spot cracked or broken fillings that may weaken teeth. Your dentist will also check for signs of bruxism. In many cases, people who grind or clench their teeth aren’t aware of the habit or the damage they are doing to their teeth. If you show signs of bruxism, your dentist may recommend a mouth guard that can be worn at night to prevent grinding.

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.

Tips for Pretty Teeth and Gums

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