Save Your Smile, Boost Your Health

Increase Your C Intake

Vitamin C is the cement that holds all of your cells together.

"So just as it's vital for your skin, it's important for the health of your gum tissue," says Paula Shannon Jones, DDS, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.

People who consumed less than 60 mg per day of C (8 ounces of orange juice or one orange contains more than 80 mg) were 25% more likely to have gum disease than people who took in 180 mg or more, according to a study of more than 12,000 US adults conducted at the State University of New York University at Buffalo.

Add a daily glass of OJ to your breakfast routine, and make sure your multi meets the RDA for vitamin C.

Have Tea

The antioxidants are good for your gums.

Black and green teas contain polyphenols, antioxidant plant compounds that prevent plaque from adhering to your teeth and help reduce your chances of developing cavities and gum disease.

"Tea also has potential for reducing bad breath because it inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause the odor," explains Christine D. Wu, PhD, professor and director of caries research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, who has conducted several studies on tea and oral health. Many teas also contain fluoride (from the leaves and the water it's steeped in), which helps protect tooth enamel from decay and promotes healthy teeth.

Steep a cup every afternoon. Added bonus: a bit of caffeine for a postlunch perk.

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Sip with a Straw

Soda junkies, listen up!

Most sodas, sports drinks, and juices contain acids, such as citric and phosphoric, that can erode dental enamel -- even if they're diet or sugar-free versions. Sipping acidic drinks through a straw positioned toward the back of your mouth limits their contact with your teeth and helps preserve the enamel, says a study in the British Dental Journal.

Stock up on straws in your desk drawer at work and kitchen at home so you always have one handy.

Boost Calcium Consumption

The same way the mineral makes for strong bones, it's also necessary to protect your pearly whites. People who get at least 800 mg a day are less likely to develop severe gum disease, says a study by the Buffalo researchers. The reason: About 99 percent of the calcium in your body is in your bones and teeth. Dietary calcium -- available in foods like cheese, milk, and yogurt -- strengthens the alveolar bone in the jaw, which helps hold your teeth in place.

The recommended amount is 1,000 mg per day for women younger than 51 and 1,200 mg for those older. A calcium supplement could do the trick, but you should aim to get as much as you can from your diet. You get about 300 mg each from an 8-ounce glass of milk, a 6-ounce yogurt, or a 1.5- to 2-ounce serving of cheese.

Protect Your Smile When You Swim

It sounds surprising, but dental researchers have found that excessively chlorinated pool water can erode and stain tooth enamel.

If you're a frequent swimmer, pack a toothbrush along with your towel when you take your next dip. "More chlorine in a pool may equal more protection against bacteria, but overdoing it lowers the pool's pH level and makes it dangerously acidic," says Matt Messina, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association.

Brush your teeth and use a fluoride rinse immediately after spending more than an hour in the pool. "If you're swimming a lot and have any tooth discomfort whatsoever, check with your dentist," adds Messina.


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