While having pretty teeth is awesome, having healthy teeth is essential.
“Your oral health is linked to your overall general health,” says SmileDirectClub’s Lead Dentist, Dr. Jeffery Sulitzer.
We all know that if we don’t care for our teeth, we can get cavities. But the bacteria that causes cavities can affect our overall health. Bacteria in our mouths can spread to other parts of our bodies and can cause a range of health issues.
“Evidence strongly suggests that oral bacteria may be linked to heart disease, arterial blockages, and stroke,” Dr. Sulitzer says.
In honor of World Oral Health Day, we asked Dr. Sulitzer for tips on maintaining a healthy smile.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this for as long as you’ve had teeth: Brush and floss after every meal. But brushing and flossing doesn’t just keep your breath fresh and your mouth clean. It also gets rid of bacteria that can create problems over time.
“Brushing and flossing can reduce chronic inflammation of the gums and support tooth structure to help prevent major chronic inflammatory disease,” Dr. Sulitzer says.
Guess what happens when you get major chronic inflammatory disease in your mouth, also known as periodontitis or gum disease? You can lose your teeth. In fact, periodontitis is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
“Almost all adults have had at least one dental cavity in their lifetime,” Dr. Sulitzer says.
Cavities are a big deal, though, because they can lead to more serious health issues like tooth loss or gum disease. To reduce your chances of getting cavities, use a toothpaste with fluoride, Dr. Sulitzer says. Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral, helps prevent cavities and can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth damage. Many toothpastes marketed as “natural” use tea tree oil or herbal extracts as a cleaning ingredient and do not contain fluoride, so check the label to make sure the product you’re buying contains fluoride.
Your toothbrush gets worn out from all that brushing, so replace it as soon as the bristles look a little splayed. Old toothbrushes do a poor job of removing plaque and bacteria. Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly each time you use it, and let it air dry.
“Don’t store your toothbrush in a small and enclosed space, it will produce more bacteria,” Dr. Sulitzer says. “Store it in a cup or toothbrush holder and avoid letting it touch other toothbrushes.” Think of your toothbrush as a tool that must be kept in tip-top shape.
Don’t mess up your teeth with a dirty retainer (or dirty aligners).
“Bacteria builds up (on the retainer) and can lead to cavities, tooth sensitivity, and other harmful issues,” Dr. Sulitzer says.
You’ve heard it before, sugar is bad for your teeth. But here’s why it’s bad: Sugar is like a magnet for bad bacteria. The two most destructive types of bacteria found in the mouth – Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus – feast on the sugar you eat. Those nasty microbes multiply and turn sugar into dental plaque, a sticky, colorless film that forms on the surface of your teeth. If you don’t brush that plaque away, it makes your mouth acidic and eats into the enamel that protects your tooth. Once that enamel is damaged? Cavity. Acidic foods –like soda, sports drinks, citrus juices and flavored teas – are a problem, too, because they can wear away tooth enamel. So limit your intake of anything citrus, carbonated, or sour, or bye-bye, healthy teeth.
So celebrate World Oral Health Day by making a toast to a healthy mouth – with a glass of water, not a sugary drink. Treat your teeth to a new toothbrush, too, for the occasion. Because you’re only as healthy as your teeth.