Five tips to put the brakes on bad oral health

Feeling the need for speed? Don’t take it out on your teeth.

In a society where people play an ongoing game of beat the clock, there are shortcuts taken with our oral health that can catch up with us.

Oral health experts have identified five habits in particular we should leave behind for the sake of our teeth.

“These personal habits can damage teeth and lead to costly dental work,” said Max Anderson, DDS, a national oral health adviser for Delta Dental Plans Association.

Following are the five bad habits dentists would like us to lose:

1. Smoking/smokeless tobacco—No surprise here—besides leading to off-color teeth and dull smiles, using tobacco products can lead to oral cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease. Meanwhile, there is the risk of damage to gums, which can progress to periodontal disease and, in some cases, tooth loss.

2. Using teeth as tools—Biting anything except food with our teeth is asking for trouble. Teeth aren’t meant to pry off bottle caps, rip open bags of chips or to bite finger nails. Use the right tools for the job: bottle openers, kitchen scissors and nail clippers.

3. Clenching and grinding—Does the rat race and stress have you clenching and grinding your teeth? Whether you do it while awake or in your sleep, putting this kind of wear and tear on your teeth can lead to more serious oral health problems. Dentists can help by recommending simple home therapies or prescribe a custom-formed mouth guard you can wear at night.

4. Mind what you eat and drink—Certain things we eat and drink may make us feel good and supply short-term energy, but over time, their impact on our oral health can be a real drag. The excessive sugar in cold drinks and candies are well-known culprits. Not so notorious are the medications that are helpful in treating specific ailments, but which might create the right conditions for oral health problems. Dentists should be told what prescriptions you’re taking so they can suggest solutions that will counter the adverse effects of medications.

5. Skipping the basics—Too busy to brush and floss your teeth? Don’t have the time to see the dentist? The small amount of time we invest in the basics pays big dividends physically, socially and financially with better teeth, fresher breath, brighter smiles and lower dental bills.

“We really need to slow down sometimes and think about how what we’re doing in our daily lives impacts the health of our teeth,” Anderson said. “That’s a great first step to changing habits, preventing problems and improving our oral health.”

Delta Dental Plans Association, based in Oak Brook, Ill., is a national network of independent, not-for-profit dental service corporations specializing in providing dental benefits programs to 46 million Americans in more than 80,000 employee groups throughout the country.

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

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