7 Secrets to a Healthier Smile

A top dentist shares his professional tips -- and personal habits -- for keeping teeth in tip-top shape.

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 12, 2012
5 min read

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

People are slowly realizing that gum disease might be a sign of heart disease. Some studies indicate a connection but more research needs to be done. It's all about inflammation -- be it of the gums or of the arteries of the heart. Some studies show that bacteria in gum disease is also in plaques in heart arteries. Seeing the dentist can benefit not only your smile and the whiteness of your teeth, but also your overall health.

I can tell so much about a person just peering into their mouth. I can see if they have certain habits or issues -- whether they drink a lot of soda or coffee and if they have had a drug problem in the past or present. If they are experiencing a lot of stress, they may grind or clench their teeth, leading to gum recession or telltale wear patterns. Acid erosion patterns can betray a bulimic. Bad breath can even say a lot -- be it acid reflux, a poor diet, or even diabetes. You just can't hide these things once you open your mouth.

There's no one-size-fits-all shade of white. If you bring in a picture of someone whose bright smile you admire, it's entirely possible it won't suit you. It depends on your coloring and your teeth. It's a bit like hair color in that respect. Everyone has a different potential for whiteness.

Ever wonder how much of their own advice dentists follow? Roth is one health professional who practices what he preaches.

How often do you get a new toothbrush?

Every 90 days, right after I get my cleaning -- it's easy to remember that way. I use a mechanical toothbrush, so I just swap out the old head for a new one.

If you can't brush, what do you do?

I rinse with [a mouthwash] to kill bacteria. (I also like to dip my toothbrush in it, but I guess this is when you have no brush on hand.) If nothing else is available, I rinse with warm water.

Do you have a special brushing technique?

Well, do you count brushing my teeth while I'm in the shower as special? Hey -- it's very efficient and I like to multitask! Also, I often floss three times a day -- I just love the feeling.

Confess: Do you have any bad habits that you usually advise patients to break?

I'm pretty virtuous -- no ice-chewing, candy-eating, or soda- or coffee-drinking for me.

What's the last thing in your nightly dental routine?

I put in my bite-guard. Yup, I have one, and I think a huge percentage of people could benefit from one. They help prevent a lot of the damage from nighttime clenching or grinding.

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