Small, Easy Steps to a Healthy Smile

1. Brush your teeth at least twice each day. Aim for first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Once a day, use floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between teeth to remove food that your toothbrush missed. Make sure you:

  • Drink fluoridated water if you can. Fluoride's protection against dental decay works at all ages. Most communities in the United States are served with public water systems that have added fluoride. But not everyone lives in a community with a centralized, public or private water source that can be fluoridated. Check with your community's water department or health department to find out if there is fluoride in your water. You also may want to use a fluoride mouth rinse, along with brushing and flossing, to help prevent tooth decay.
  • Gently brush all sides of your teeth with a soft bristled brush and a fluoride toothpaste. Circular and short back-and-forth strokes work best. 
  • Take time to brush along the gum line, and lightly brush your tongue to help remove plaque and food debris. 
  • Ask your dentist or dental hygienist to show you the best way to floss your teeth. 
  • Change your toothbrush at least every three months or earlier if the toothbrush looks worn. A new toothbrush can remove more plaque than one that's more than three months old.
  • If you wear dentures, be sure to remove them at night and clean them before putting them back in the next morning.
2. Have a healthy lifestyle.
  • Eat healthy meals. Cut down on tooth decay by brushing after meals and not snacking on sugary or starchy foods between meals. 
  • Don't smoke. Smoking raises your risk for getting gum disease, oral and throat cancers and oral fungal infections. 
  • If you drink alcohol, only drink it in moderation – no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. Heavy alcohol use raises your risk for oral and throat cancers. When alcohol and tobacco are used together, your risk for oral cancers is even greater than using one of these alone.
3. Get regular checkups.
  • Having an oral exam twice each year will help find signs of problems early. During regular checkups, dentists and other types of dental providers can find signs of nutritional deficiencies, diseases, infections, immune disorders, injuries and some cancers. 
  • Make an appointment right away if your gums bleed often, if you see any red or white patches on the gums or tongue, have mouth/jaw pain that won't go away, have sores that do not heal within two weeks or if you have problems swallowing or chewing.
  • Besides your dentist, here are some other types of dental providers:
    • Dental hygienists – work as part of your dentist's staff. They clean gums and teeth and instruct patients on ways to prevent oral disease and to maintain oral health.
    • Periodontists – dentists who treat gum disease and place dental implants, or artificial teeth, to replace lost teeth.
    • Oral surgeons – dentists who can perform biopsies (taking a sample of tissue in your mouth to look at under a microscope) or surgery on your mouth and supporting tissues if you have a serious problem.
4. Follow your dentist's advice.
Your dentist may suggest that you do different things to keep your mouth healthy. He or she can teach you how to properly floss or brush and how often. He or she might suggest preventive steps or treatments to keep your mouth healthy.

5. If you have another health problem, think how it may affect your oral health.
For instance, if you take medicines that give you a dry mouth, ask your doctor or nurse if there's another drug you can use instead. Have an oral exam before beginning cancer treatment. And know that if you have diabetes, good oral hygiene to prevent gum disease is very important.

Source: The National Women's Health Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services