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7 Secrets to a Healthier Smile

A top dentist shares his professional tips -- and personal habits -- for keeping teeth in tip-top shape.
By Elizabeth B. Krieger
WebMD the Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

When it comes to lighting up some of Hollywood's brightest smiles as well as tending to the pearly whites of the average Joe, New York City dentist Steven Roth, DMD, does it all. With more than 25 years of cosmetic and restorative dentistry experience, he created a technique that allows patients to "test drive" cosmetic dental procedures (such as temporary veneers) before taking the plunge. We chatted with Roth from his Manhattan office, SmilesNY, and asked him to share the seven things he always tells every patient.

1. You probably aren't seeing the dentist enough.

The standard twice-a-year visit (covered by most dental plans) is only half enough. Adults should see the dentist every 90 days. I know it sounds like a lot (and believe me, I get some resistance from reluctant patients), but, after just three months, the bacteria we clean out of your mouth during a check-up -- it's all recolonized! I know it can seem expensive, especially if you have to pay for the additional visits out of pocket, but it's well worth it from a health perspective. If you think about what you might spend on regularly cutting or coloring your hair, it's really not far off from that.

2. If you're scared of the dentist because you think it's going to hurt, you're not seeing the right dentist.

Today we can manage every single aspect of discomfort with the right medications to handle the annoyance of keeping your mouth open for a long period of time, or anesthesia for more extensive, invasive procedures like root canals. You name the issue, we can address it.

3. If you wait until you feel pain, it's way too late.

Know this: Most dental issues don't cause pain at first. Cavities, before they become deep, are painless. Gum disease -- also silent. But once you're wincing in pain, that means there's probably already an infection or the pockets of your gums have become riddled with bacteria. Bottom line: Make frequent check-up appointments to nip invisible-to-you problems in the bud, and put your dentist on speed-dial should you notice any problems.

4. Nothing can replace good, old-fashioned dental floss.

Sure, you can buy sharp little instruments at the drugstore for picking at your teeth or follow every meal with a toothpick, but until you get in between the teeth, where the surfaces abut one another, you're not attacking the location where some of the worst bacteria hide. The truth is, brushing only gets about 50% of the nasty stuff off of your teeth. Floss is the only thing that can attack the other half. No matter how fantastically high-tech your brush is or how thoroughly you go over each tooth, you still need to floss.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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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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