Here is a list of items that may ruin your smile, some that you have probably heard of and some you may not have thought about.
• Bottled Water- our tap water has fluoride in it, which is known to prevent tooth decay. Many people prefer to drink bottled water these days, which may not contain fluoride. If you drink strictly bottled water, you may want to check with your dentist to see if you need a fluoride treatment.
• Sports Drinks- the low pH levels of many sports drinks, which enhances their taste and helps them to last longer on the shelves, also promotes tooth decay. Teeth are at greatest risk of erosion when pH is low. If you have to drink sports drinks, rinse your mouth frequently with water and drink it, don’t sip it. Choose sports drinks with the highest pH. If you are using a mouth guard, be sure to rinse your mouth guard as well.
• Smoking- smoking can cause yellowish discoloration of your teeth. There are countless other health hazards associated with smoking, but your teeth are the most visible. Obviously, quitting is the best way to keep your teeth white. You may want to try whitening toothpaste. If your teeth are very discolored, your dentist can recommend ways to improve your smile. Bleaching your teeth is one option.
• Wine- red wine, and to some extent white wine, can stain your teeth if you are a vino lover. If you have recently had your teeth whitened, this effect may be even more pronounced as your teeth will be more porous following a whitening treatment. Rinse your mouth well after drinking that glass of wine to avoid unsightly staining.
• Failure to Floss- flossing removes food that becomes lodged between your teeth. These tiny bits of food will lead to decay if not removed. No one likes to floss, but flossing is one way to prevent cavities.
• Not Brushing- Brushing after meals is crucial to good oral hygiene and prevents cavities. However, brushing too often or using a tooth brush with very hard bristles can also be harmful. Choose a soft to medium brush and replace your toothbrush every three months. If you can’t brush for any reason, chew a sugarless gum to induce saliva production. Saliva contains enzymes which help to prevent decay.
• Medications- many medications cause dry mouth, decreasing saliva production. Common culprits for dry mouth are blood pressure pills, antidepressants, narcotics for pain and allergy medications. You may not be able to avoid taking these medications, but there are things you can do to decrease dryness of your mouth: be sure to drink an adequate amount of fluids, rinse your mouth frequently, brush religiously and suck on hard, sugar-free candies to stimulate saliva production. If dry mouth is very uncomfortable, speak to your physician. With children, remember that many medications, such as antibiotics, have sugar added in the form of syrup to enhance the flavor, so be sure to brush teeth after medication administration.
• Playing Sports- if you play sports, especially contact sports, you are at risk of being hit in the mouth, which can cause you to lose a tooth. If you play contact sports, such as hockey, football, or rugby, wearing a mouth guard will protect your teeth from flying objects, including your opponent’s elbows and knees. Losing a tooth is serious and can cost a lot of money to repair or replace, so protect your teeth- you’ll be glad you did! If you do happen to lose a tooth, and the tooth can be located, pick up the tooth gently by the crown (not the root) and rinse it carefully with milk (yes, milk!) or saline. Place it back in your mouth, in the correct position, and hold it in place by biting down gently on a clean piece of gauze or cloth. If the tooth cannot be placed back in the mouth for whatever reason (i.e. other injuries have occurred), place the tooth in some milk. Getting dental care quickly may save the tooth, and your smile.
• Sodas- we love our sodas, but sodas are chock full of sugars which promote decay. Dark sodas may discolor your teeth. Sodas are being blamed for the obesity epidemic, but they are equally to blame for rampant tooth decay.
• Tea/Coffee- we have a love affair with coffee, which can cause staining of the teeth. Tea also stains, and if you are an avid coffee or tea drinker, your teeth may take on an unsightly yellow hue. If you have to have your caffeine, be sure to have your teeth cleaned regularly.
• Bruxism- grinding or clenching of the teeth is a common disorder affecting millions of people. Many are unaware that they have a problem, as bruxism often occurs during sleep. Over time, bruxism can lead to many problems, including wearing and fracturing of the teeth, headaches, and jaw pain. If you grind or clench your teeth habitually, your dentist can help by fitting you for a mouth guard to wear while you are asleep, decreasing wear and tear on your teeth.
• Dieting- some diets can rob you of essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs for healthy teeth and gums. If you are dieting, pay special attention to your teeth and be sure your dentist knows what type of diet you are on.
• Pregnancy- pregnancy can cause your gums to become swollen and inflamed, and may cause your gums to become infected. In addition, the vomiting of morning sickness can cause excess acid which can lead to tooth decay. If you are contemplating pregnancy, it is a good idea to have a dental check-up before becoming pregnant to be sure that your teeth and gums are as healthy as they can be.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but does highlight the importance of good dental hygiene, including brushing and flossing, as well as having regular dental check-ups. You can keep your teeth looking healthy and white by being aware of how some of the above practices affect your teeth, and how to counteract some, if not all, of the effects on your teeth.