Save Your Smile, Boost Your Health

PHOTO: Taking care of your mouth can brighten your smile and make you healthier.
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We subconsciously connect a dull smile with age -- enamel wears over time, darkening our teeth, says Lauren Solomon, author of Image Matters! First Steps on the Journey to Your Best Self. "

A bright smile, on the other hand, gives the impression of good health and youth," she says. One quick anti-aging beauty tip: Cut back on teeth-staining habits such as drinking coffee and red wine and smoking cigarettes.

But oral health habits are much more than skin-deep. Every day, it seems like another new study links oral health problems to other big health issues such as heart disease, premature birth, and erectile dysfunction. Of course, taking care of your chompers starts with daily brushing and flossing and regular dentist checkups -- something we're not all so diligent about.

About 17 percent of adults admit to never flossing, according to one report, and about 25% of adults ages 35 to 59 have untreated tooth decay. But even if you're a dentist's dream patient, there are other surprising habits to start—and to skip—for a prettier, healthier smile. Here, 10 simple steps to try today.

Natural Total Body Beauty Detox

Limit Carbs to Mealtimes

Even not-so-sweet treats—like a handful of potato chips or a whole wheat roll—can be as damaging to your teeth and gums as a double-fudge brownie, if you're not careful.

That's because all carbohydrates break down into simple sugars, which are ultimately converted by bacteria in the mouth into plaque, a sticky residue that is the primary trigger of gum disease and cavities. Carb-based foods such as breads and crackers tend to have a chewy, adhesive texture, making it easier for them to get caught between teeth or under the gum line, where bacteria can then accumulate, says Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Have carbs at mealtimes rather than as a snack. When you eat a larger amount of food, you produce more saliva, which helps wash food particles away.

Don't Drink and Brush

Here's one time when you shouldn't clean your teeth...

Right after you drink a soda or other acidic beverage, says Mary Hayes, DDS, spokesperson for the Chicago Dental Society: Acid in the drink, combined with the abrasive action of brushing, can erode your tooth enamel.

To protect your pearly whites against the caustic compounds in soda, sip water or chew gum to activate acid-neutralizing saliva -- then brush your teeth. It's also smart to follow the same routine if you have chronic heartburn , which keeps your mouth in an acidic state.

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More from Prevention:

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Free: Fat-Blasting Toning Workout

Age-Defying Beauty Secrets from the Pros

Tested: The Lip Color That Brightens Your Pearly Whites

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