From the time you were little, you’ve been hearing about how important it is to brush your teeth and floss every day. But caring for your teeth and gums does more than improve your smile and your breath. In fact, good dental hygiene may actually reduce your risk of ulcers, pneumonia, digestive problems, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

A healthy mouth doesn’t just happen by itself—you need to take on an active role by making dental hygiene a part of your everyday routine.

Although you can’t see them, there are literally millions of bacteria in your mouth. Some are harmless and help break down the food you eat so it can be more easily digested. Other bacteria are quite harmful. They clump together to create plaque, a sticky, acidic substance that builds up on the teeth.

Having plaque on your teeth is perfectly normal, and if it’s regularly removed (by brushing and flossing every day), plaque is harmless. But if it’s not removed, plaque begins eating away and decaying your teeth and will ultimately cause cavities and gum disease. Over time, the bones and tissue that hold your teeth in place can be destroyed. Your teeth may become loose and/or fall out.

GUM DISEASE

Approximately 75% of adults over 35 will have some form of gum disease at some point in their lives.

In the early stages, gum disease is painless and you might not even notice you have it. But if you notice any of the following symptoms, you should see a dentist as soon as you can.

• Red, swollen, tender gums
• Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
• Gums that have receded (pulled away) from the teeth
• Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
• Pockets of pus around teeth or gums
• Loose teeth, changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
• Pain when chewing or difficulty chewing certain kinds of foods

PREVENTION AND TREATMENT

Fortunately, early gum disease can almost always be reversed—but you’ll have to make a commitment to taking better care of your teeth. Here are some important steps to take:

• Have your teeth checked and cleaned at least twice a year.
• Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste—if possible after every meal. Use a soft bristled brush.
• Floss every day.
• Brush your tongue or use a scraper to remove the bacteria that gathers towards the back of your tongue.
• Eat crunchy foods like apples and carrots. They actually help reduce plaque buildup on the surfaces of the teeth and may even help reduce coffee stains.
• Avoid sugary snacks and soft drinks between meals. These foods quickly convert to plaque.
• Drink lots of water. Saliva helps reduce plaque by washing it away. But age and some medications may make your mouth dry and more susceptible to plaque buildup, tooth decay, and gum disease. Chewing sugarless gum is one way to stimulate saliva.
• Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
• Avoid chewing hard candies or anything else that might damage your teeth.
• If you have dentures, most of the suggestions above apply to dentures as well as your natural teeth.

Blueprint for Men’s Health: A Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle • Second Edition

By Tarah Johansson