With 75 percent of Americans over the age of 35 suffering from some form of gum disease, it's time to take a closer look at our dental health.
Dr. Oz talks to Dr. Jonathan Levine, dentist to the stars and author of Smile! The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty, about some toothy topics:
If you decide on tooth whitening, it's best done under the guidelines of a dentist who can help you determine the best method for you, Dr. Levine says. Over-the-counter whiteners are effective, but make sure to use a strip or paint-on system and read the directions carefully.
Some tooth stains are intrinsic—they are created internally by genetics, Dr. Levine says. These stains need a true whitener, done in a dentist's office. Extrinsic tooth stains, which can be created by smoking and consuming things like coffee, red wine and soy sauce, benefit from a good cleaning and an over-the-counter whitener. Good brushing and flossing habits will prevent most of these stains.
Finding the right dentist can be a challenge. Dr. Levine suggests calling the dental program at a local university and asking who they recommend in the area. Periodontists are another good source for recommendations.
If possible, interview the dentist on the phone to see if he or she is a good fit. A visit to the office can provide information about the courtesy of the staff, the appearance of the space and the quality of the technology.
According to Dr. Levine, your diet can affect the health of your mouth. If the pH balance of your saliva is too acidic, it can hurt the tissue and demineralize the teeth. Eating fruits, vegetables and other healthy, colorful foods will help the balance. Eating a lot of sugar and processed sugar, along with improper brushing and flossing, can cause a lot of acid, leading to tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath.
Sensitivity to cold, heat or sweetness is usually an indicator that there is some decay in the teeth or some root exposure—it's time to check with a dentist.
Dental Care 101
Most of us are brushing incorrectly—following these steps will keep you and your dentist happy, Dr. Levine says:
Use a rounded-end, soft-bristle brush
Brush twice a day for 30 seconds in each quadrant, or a total of two minutes
Angle the brush 45 degrees to the gumline—you want the bristles to get under the gum, gently
Replace your toothbrush every 30-45 days, because toothbrush heads harbor bacteria. Use a toothbrush sanitizer, and make sure to let the toothbrush air-dry, rather than storing it in a damp environment or in a drawer.
The type of toothpaste you use isn't that important, as long as it's something you like and will use, and you are brushing and flossing for an adequate amount of time, Dr. Levine says. However, if you're prone to getting cavities, you need a high-fluoride toothpaste. If you're prone to gum disease, make sure you're seeing a dentist twice a year.
According to Dr. Levine, only 10 percent of Americans are flossing regularly, a very low number considering it's one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Proper flossing contributes to good gum health and lowers the risk of heart attacks, among other problems.
Check the alcohol content of mouthwash. Alcohol can dry out the mouth, lowering the pH balance and killing the protective mechanisms in saliva. Newer mouthwashes are trending toward alcohol-free formulations.
Chewing gum acts as an exfoliant, taking off plaque and stains, exercising muscles and increasing saliva flow. Make sure you're chewing sugar-free gum—sugarless gum can still contain some amount of sugar.