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Helpful Hints for Healthy Teeth

Don't believe everything you hear about what is good or bad for your pearly whites.
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WebMD Feature

Remember how your mother used to tell you almost everything you did was "bad for your teeth?" You may have forgotten some of her warnings. And some things she said might not be as bad as you think. Read on.

"The function of teeth is to chew food -- and to some extent, help you talk and form words," Richard H. Price, DMD, retired dentist and former faculty member of the Boston University School of Dentistry, tells WebMD. He is also a spokesman for the American Dental Association.

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Teeth, Price says, are not to be used for:

  • Pliers
  • Coat hangers
  • Ice crushers
  • Potato chip bag openers
  • Knot looseners
  • Fork tine straighteners
  • Chomping frozen candy bars full of caramel or frozen nuts

"Blenders have special blades to crush ice, for heaven's sakes," he laments.

Whiteners: Good or Bad?

Gregory L. Paskerian, DMD, a private dentist and former assistant professor at Tufts University, tells WebMD that the new whitening rage follows a continuum of products. "The strips and other over-the-counter whiteners do not damage teeth or burn gum tissue," he says. "The trays (to hold the peroxide solution) you can buy may can contain an acidic, unbuffered solution, which could damage enamel."

The best tray-type lightening, he says, is provided by the dentist, who can control the solution and timing.

"For the fastest and safest whitening," Paskerian says, "you need to get the high-intensity light systems. This light changes the molecular structure of the enamel for a time, but it goes back to normal and at a lighter shade."

He adds, though that whitening is not really a color change, but a brightness or value change.

Price says he wishes patients would concentrate more on keeping teeth healthy. "There are bleaching groupies," he says, "People who can't get enough. You can only get teeth so white."

Price also says these solutions can sometimes cause gum sensitivity, although it is usually short-lived.

Don't Overbrush Your Teeth

Price says it's hard to go wrong on paste or brush if you look for the American Dental Association (ADA) label of approval. "This means a brush is firm enough to remove plaque but not tear up gums," he says. "Choose a brush like you would a piece of silverware -- something that feels comfortable in your hand." The designation of "Soft" is preferred by most dentists.

"Don't use a brush more than three months," Price adds. "That is the limit."

If you use an electric brush, Paskerian recommends a rotary head type that you take from tooth to tooth rather than cruising across the teeth with it.

Water picks, both dentists say, can drive bacteria back up into the gums, which can lead to it lodging in other parts of the body, such as the heart. "The picks do not remove plaque," Paskerian says.

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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