The surface of your teeth is called enamel. It helps protect them from decay. Some wear and tear is normal, but there's plenty you can do to keep that barrier strong. Take these simple steps for a healthy mouth and a winning smile.
1. Limit Sugary Foods and Drinks
Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar from foods and drinks. Then they make acids, which soften and wear away your enamel. Chewy candies that stick on your teeth are can also cause damage. Soft drinks may have extra acids.
Soft drinks with artificial sweeteners are a smarter choice than ones with sugar, but they're also acidic and will wear down enamel over time.
The best choice when you're thirsty? A glass of plain water. Many flavored waters are acidic.
2. Eat Foods That Protect Enamel
Milk, cheese, and other dairy products help protect and strengthen enamel, says Pamela L. Quinones, past president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association. Choose low-fat or fat-free items to help keep calories down.
If you don't eat dairy, look for foods with calcium added.
3. Avoid Over-Brushing
You can wear down your enamel if you brush too fast and hard. Hold a brush with a soft bristle at about a 45-degree angle to your gums. Then move it back and forth in short, gentle strokes, about the distance of one tooth.
Wait for up to an hour after eating sweets or citrus fruits before you brush your teeth. Acidic foods can soften enamel and may make it easier for you to damage it.
4. Use Fluoride
The American Dental Association (ADA) calls fluoride "nature's cavity fighter" because it strengthens your enamel and helps repair the early stages of tooth decay. Fluoride also makes your teeth more resistant to acids that come from foods and from bacteria in your mouth.
The ADA recommends fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth appears and throughout your life. Rinsing with a mouthwash that has fluoride can also help prevent cavities and keep your enamel strong.
5. Treat Heartburn and Eating Disorders
If you have severe heartburn, stomach acids may escape and eventually reach your mouth, where they can erode enamel.
The eating disorder bulimia, in which people vomit food after they eat, is another threat to your enamel.
If you have either condition, talk to your doctor about treatment.
6. Beware of Chlorinated Pools
When swimming pools aren't chlorinated properly, the water may become too acidic. When that happens, the water can damage teeth that get wet.
Check with the recreation center or gym where you swim to make sure the pool's chlorine levels are checked regularly. While swimming, keep your mouth closed so your teeth don’t get wet.
7. Watch Out for Dry Mouth
Saliva helps wash away food and bacteria that can lead to cavities. It also fights the effects of acidic foods. Drink water often to keep your mouth clean and moist.
8. Avoid Grinding Your Teeth
Some people grind their upper and lower teeth together, especially at night. Over time it can wear down the enamel.
Talk to your dentist if you've got the grinding habit. They may suggest a custom-fitted mouth guard that can protect your teeth.
9. Get Regular Checkups
To keep your teeth strong, see your dentist every 6 months for a checkup and cleaning. They can spot signs of trouble, such as cavities or tooth grinding, before they do a lot of damage.
Your dentist will also make sure that you're getting the right amount of fluoride to harden and protect enamel. If your water supply isn't fluoridated, ask them if you need fluoride supplements, mouthwashes, or coatings for your teeth.