Your evening has been great. First, a romantic movie. Now, deconstructing it at a quiet wine bar. As you smile across the table, you think that a kiss is in the very near future. This lovely thought is suddenly and alarmingly replaced by, "Do I have bad breath? Is there anything between my teeth?" The mood is dispelled by an emergency trip to the washroom to check the status of your mouth.
You can cut down on your number of frantic restroom dashes by consistently practicing good oral hygiene. The following 10 tips provide some surprises and new twists on an old topic.
The first, and perhaps most basic, way to keep your mouth healthy is to brush at least twice a day, in the morning and at night. And don't just focus on your teeth; you should spend 2 to 3 minutes each session brushing all surfaces of the teeth, your tongue and your palate. The mouth is full of a sticky bacterial substance called plaque. After eating (especially sugary foods), plaque unleashes acids that assault tooth enamel and can, over time, damage the enamel. The result? Cavities.
Use a soft-headed toothbrush, and don't keep it around indefinitely. Replace your brush every three to four months, sooner if the bristles are splayed or loose. Brush gently; scrubbing can wear down that protective enamel and irritate gums.
To keep your mouth thoroughly kissable, you'll need to do more than just brush. Floss at least once a day. It's good for removing plaque and food particles between teeth and between teeth and gums. Use a long piece of floss: 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 centimeters). That way, each time you move to a new space you can use clean floss. Wrap the ends around your index fingers and run the floss vertically between your teeth and under the gum line. Rinse often to clear away debris. Don't panic if you bleed a bit, especially if you don't floss regularly.
Floss comes in varying thicknesses and in many forms, such as plain, flavored, waxed and unwaxed. If you experiment with different types, you may find that you have preferences. For instance, very thin floss is beneficial if your teeth are tightly spaced, or extra soft floss could ease pressure on sensitive gums.
If you're cozying up for a kiss, you'll want to avoid bad breath. Easier said than done? Not if you understand what causes it. The sweetness of your breath is affected by your diet, your brushing and flossing routine, tobacco use and your health status. Strong foods such as onions and garlic are digested and carried through the bloodstream to the lungs; their scents are noticed when you exhale. In addition, if you don't floss and brush regularly, food stays in your mouth, decomposing and harboring bacteria.
Certain medical conditions can also cause bad breath. Saliva helps wash food and bacteria away, but dry mouth (a result of aging, medication, mouth breathing or salivary problems) prevents the removal of odor-causing particles. Halitosis can also be an indicator of health problems, such as postnasal drip, bronchitis, sinusitis, diabetes, as well as liver, kidney or gastrointestinal abnormalities.
What's worse for a kiss (and your health) than a mouthful of decaying teeth? Every time you eat, you're providing fuel to the bacteria that attack your tooth enamel. Try to minimize the foods that are primary contributors -- added, refined and natural sugars. Obvious sugar sources like candy and soda should be limited, but also check food labels. Many foods have sugar lurking as an unexpected ingredient.
Some nutritious foods contain natural sugars and carbohydrates, such as fruits and whole grain products. Don't avoid them, but try to brush soon after consumption. Add foods that are good for teeth and gums, like low-fat dairy products (for calcium) and citrus fruits and dark green vegetables (for vitamin C).
Brushing after eating is ideal, but what if you snack at work or school and can't brush? Alter your meals if not your routine, and choose snacks that are low in sugar and not sticky; they're less likely to cause an impact. Rough-textured snacks, such as carrots, can help scrape off plaque.
So far our list comprises do-it-yourself tips, but for ultimate kissability, you'll need some help. See your dentist regularly; every six months is the usual recommendation. Some people, however, avoid checkups due to anxiety over the potential pain associated with dental work. This fear can be overcome by talking to your dentist, who can make adjustments to accommodate your concerns.
Each regular office visit may encompass several procedures, including teeth cleaning, instruction in oral hygiene, an examination by the dentist and any preventative or restorative work that needs to be done. Your dentist will also look for health problems, such as oral cancer, and may require X-rays to further check out your teeth and bone.
The cleaning itself is enough to keep you visiting your dentist regularly, though. Special instruments remove tartar or calculus, built-up plaque that can lead to decay. Then teeth are then polished, which makes them both shiny -- contributing to kissability -- and slippery, which hinders the adherence of plaque.
Smoking or chewing tobacco products can ruin the kissability of your mouth, leading to stained teeth, bad breath and receding gums. So if you want a healthy mouth, don't use tobacco. More serious oral health results include tooth loss, cancer, canker sores, bone loss and unsuccessful dental implants.
According to the Journal of Peridontology (a field specializing in the study of the supporting structures for teeth), smokers are significantly more likely to:
- Have gum problems
- Have a greater amount of calculus on their teeth
- Have more missing teeth
- Need more recovery time for dental work
Ironically, smokers' gums don't bleed as easily as nonsmokers, but that's not due to healthier gums: Nicotine constricts blood vessels.
Keeping your teeth healthy is great, but, to enhance kissability, teeth should be as white as possible. There are several ways to reduce stains. Going to the dentist twice a year can help enormously; you can go more often for a cosmetic cleaning to prevent stains from settling in. Regular brushing and flossing are essential, as is minimizing your use of stain-inducing products such as tobacco, coffee and tea.
For more severe stains, teeth may be bleached. This is best done professionally, although your dentist may be able to recommend an appropriate in-home product. Toothpaste designed to remove stains is often abrasive and can harm tooth enamel; again, confer with your dentist. Some individuals experience tooth or gum sensitivity during office or home whitening treatments and may have to reduce the number of whitening sessions.
This next tip may be as easy as drinking a glass of water: Use fluoride to reduce cavities. Fluoride is often found in municipal drinking water. If you don't drink fluoridated water because you have a well or use bottled water, you may want to speak to your dentist about supplements. Fluoride is also a component of many toothpastes and mouth rinses.
Fluoride becomes part of a tooth's surface, protecting the enamel from the decaying acid released by plaque. In the presence of fluoride, decay may even be quashed, essentially healing the tooth.
Although over the years there has been some controversy surrounding the safety of fluoride, its use is supported by the American Dental Association, the National Research Council, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization.
Who wants to kiss a mouth full of bloody gums? Gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease, is characterized by swollen and bleeding gums. It is uncomfortable and can be the first step toward tooth loss. Gingivitis is caused by plaque irritating the gums; if not corrected, the acids can break down the tissue, leading to periodontitis, which causes irreparable bone and gum loss.
Regular brushing, flossing and professional cleaning can prevent gingivitis. However, it should not cause panic; the American Dental Association believes that 75 percent of adults are affected. Following the recommended brushing and flossing routine can alleviate gingivitis. Additionally, a saltwater rinse can reduce irritation and kill bacteria. After eating, if you can't brush immediately, rinse your mouth with water to remove particles and soothe gums.
Now that you've done everything else on the list to make your mouth truly kissable, there's one last, quick refresher. In addition to brushing and flossing, your dentist may recommend an American Dental Association-approved therapeutic mouth rinse. Such rinses have been judged to be safe for consumers and effective for specific uses, such as controlling gingivitis, delivering fluoride and controlling bad breath.
Cosmetic mouth rinses are also available. They may mask breath odor but do not address the source of the problem, nor do they affect the teeth or gums. For an effective solution closer to home, mix ordinary saltwater (1 teaspoon salt to 1 cup warm water) to remove plaque and kill odor-causing bacteria.
Good oral hygiene isn't terribly time-consuming; it requires a few minutes a few times a day. This small investment can result in a healthy, dazzling, kissable mouth.
Human beings are hard-wired to function better in a clean environment. HowStuffWorks looks at why.
More Great Links
- Anxiety, Dental. American Dental Association. (June 23, 2010)http://www.ada.org/3102.aspx?currentTab=1
- Bad Breath (Halitosis). American Dental Association. (June 23, 2010)https://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/dementia/dementia5.htm
- Fluoridation Facts. American Dental Association. (June 23, 2010)http://www.ada.org/sections/professionalResources/pdfs/fluoridation_facts.pdf
- Marikar, Shelia. "Behind Jessica Simpson's Sinful Smile." ABC News/Entertainment. April 30, 2010. (June 23, 2010) http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/jessica-simpsons-bad-brushing-habits-kill-career /story?id=10513455
- Meth Mouth. American Dental Association. (June 23, 2010)http://www.ada.org/2711.aspx?currentTab=2
- Mouth Rinses. American Dental Association. (June 23, 2010)http://www.ada.org/1319.aspx
- Sonius, Chelsea. "Feline Oral Health." Zimmer Foundation. Fall 2008. (June 23, 2010)http://zimmer-foundation.org/sch/csa.html
- Want Some Life-Saving Advice? American Dental Hygienists' Association. (June 23, 2010) http://www.adha.org/downloads/women_smoking.pdf
- You Have the Power. American Dental Association. (June 23, 2010)http://www.ada.org/sections/publicResources/pdfs/lifetime_module03_power.pdf