4. Avoid sugary, sticky snacks
If your mid-afternoon pick-me-up is a can of pop or a bag of candy, you could be doing your teeth (and your waistline) a disservice. That’s because sugary snacks and drinks cause acid to form in your mouth, and that can lead to tooth decay by wearing away at the enamel (diet and sugar-free soft drinks and juices won’t get you off the hook, because they’re still high in acid!). Dr. Tony Iacopino, dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Manitoba, says it’s important to avoid foods that are high in sugar in general, but having them on their own can spell trouble for your mouth. Instead, only have your sweet stuff at the end of a meal, when your mouth will already be bathed in the saliva it needs to whisk away cavity-causing debris. “The more time you keep sweets or sticky foods in your mouth, the worse it’s going to be, because you’ll be creating acid for longer,” he says. If you do have a particularly sweet or sticky snack, Dr. Iacopino recommends brushing afterwards; if that’s not possible, rinse your mouth with water.
5. Quit smoking
Besides putting your health at risk and dulling your smile, smoking can also raise your risk of cavities and oral cancer. “A lot of people, especially young women, don’t realize how smoking can affect their oral health,” say Dr. Höediono. “When you smoke, you’re taking in noxious substances through the mouth. Bacteria sticks to that, and then begins to create acid.” It then starts wearing away at tooth enamel, which can result in cavities and gum disease. “Tobacco products can also cause inflammation in the mouth, and that can lead to specific types of oral cancer,” he says, adding that 1,000 Canadians died of oral cancer in 2009. (Chances of survival are higher if the disease is caught early.)
6. Visit your dentist regularly
“You would be surprised by how often people don’t go,” laughs Dr. Höediono, who recommends people have checkups twice a year. He explains that although cavities are simple to fix, they can develop and progress quickly, and that can make things more complicated. “If you wait, they can get deeper and lead to nerve problems,” he says, adding that dentists also check for problems like oral cancer and other illnesses that may be visible in the mouth. Dr. Iacopino adds that anyone who has trouble keeping their teeth clean-due to age, or problems with hand-eye coordination-should see their dentist more often than every six months.