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Oral Care

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Teeth

By John Donovan
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS

Learning how to take care of your teeth is as much a part of growing up as learning to tie your shoes, recite the alphabet, or memorize the multiplication tables.

You brush. You floss. You don't use your choppers to pop off a bottle cap or to crush ice. It really should be as easy as A-B-C.

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However, when it comes to our teeth, many of us still have a thing or two to learn. Here are 5 facts about your pearly whites that you might not know, even after all these years.

1. Your teeth's best friend might not be your toothbrush.

Oh, sure, a toothbrush and a strand of floss wielded often and wisely will do wonders for your teeth. You should use both.

But your teeth's first line of defense against what you put in your mouth is something that's already there. "Saliva is nature's disinfecting cavity fighter," Kimberly Harms, a dentist from Farmington, MN, says.

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that feeds on sugars from food and drinks. That bacteria -- called plaque -- can stick to your teeth, producing acids that eat through the enamel on your teeth. Saliva, that trusty old friend, helps rinse out your mouth and neutralize that process.

If you have a dry mouth, getting the same result could be tough. "The buffering effects of saliva, the ability of saliva to counter the bad effects of sugar," says Howard Pollick, a San Francisco based dentist and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, "[means] if you don't have enough saliva, [you have] a real problem."

People who take lots of meds can be especially susceptible to dry mouth and possible tooth decay. Pollick says he carries sugar-free mints around with him. "That's what I pop in my mouth when my mouth feels dry or I can't get a snack and I want something," Pollick says. "That's what I recommend."

Another good choice: Keep a bottle of water handy. It'll do your teeth some good.

2. Snacking and sipping may be hurting your teeth.

Worse than a big old piece of chocolate cake after dinner or that mid-afternoon Snickers break is the non-stop snack-snack-snacking or sip-sip-sipping that goes on in offices and schools across America. "It's not just how much sugar or starch we eat," Harms says. "It's how you eat."

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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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You are currently

Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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