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What is preventive dental care?

Just as you check the air in your tires to prevent a flat, or change the oil in your car to help prevent engine trouble, you need to take steps to keep your smile in tip-top shape.

Preventive dental care is simply a good idea. It helps keep your entire mouth healthy, which in turn, helps keep your entire body healthy.1

It is even more important if you have a medical condition that could affect your oral health, such as diabetes or pregnancy.2 This is also true if you have heart disease or osteoporosis.3

In short, preventive dental work, done by you at home and by your dentist, matters to your overall health and is essential if you have certain health issues.

Remember the basics of preventive dental care

These are the things you should do every day to maintain healthy teeth and gums:

  • Brush twice a day. Be sure to brush before turning in for the night to remove the day’s food and drink from your teeth.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles, preferably one with the American Dental Association's (ADA) seal of approval. Both manual or electric can do the job.
  • Brush gently. Don't scrub. Brush just hard enough to remove the film that develops on your teeth. You can learn more tips for proper brushing with this article.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three or four months. The bristles wear out and they don’t remove bacteria as well.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste. A pea-sized amount will do. Choose a toothpaste that is also recommended by the ADA.
  • Floss at least once a day. Flossing is the only way to remove the dental film between your teeth, plus it allows you to clean out any food particles left after eating. You can use dental floss or another tool; just be sure to floss daily.

Adopt a preventive dental diet

Everything you put in your mouth can help or hurt your dental health. Let’s review some easy things you can do to keep your mouth healthy.

  • Avoid sugary snacks and drinks.4 Sugar fuels the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Candy, cookies and ice cream are full of bad-for-your-teeth sugar. Certain drinks also contain a lot of sugar, including fruit juice and sports, energy and soft drinks. Even sugar-sweetened coffee or tea is bad for your teeth.
  • Steer clear of hard foods that can chip or crack your teeth. This includes hard candy, some nuts and seeds, and even ice.5
  • Limit the amount of citrus fruits and juices you consume. Citrus fruits and juices, such as lemon, pineapple and orange, are highly acidic, so eating or drinking them frequently can wear away the protective enamel on your teeth.6
  • Stay away from sticky foods. Not surprisingly, they tend to cling to teeth longer than other foods.7 Sticky foods include dried fruits as well as chewy caramels. When you do eat them, rinse your mouth with water or brush and floss afterward.
  • Limit starchy snacks like potato chips and crackers. Starch tends to get trapped in teeth and feed decay-causing bacteria.8 If you indulge in such foods, make sure to floss and brush well to remove any trapped particles.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol.9 Alcohol can lead to dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. And heavy drinking increases your risk of mouth cancer.
  • Stop smoking and using tobacco products. Tobacco can cause bad breath, gum disease and oral cancer.10

Preventive dental services

Just like you bring your car to the mechanic for routine servicing, you should see a dentist twice a year for dental maintenance.

Here is some typical preventive dental work you might consider:

  • Twice yearly checkups and cleanings (essential for everyone)
  • X-rays (as recommended by your dentist)
  • Fluoride treatments (usually for children)
  • Sealants (ask your dentist if these make sense for you)

You can also prevent further or permanent damage if you see your dentist as soon as you experience any symptoms.

Seek preventive dental treatment for:

  • Pain when you drink or eat something (often hot or cold items)
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Gums that are puffy or bleed when you brush or floss
  • Pain or swelling in your mouth, face or neck
  • Sores in your mouth that won't heal
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that you can’t seem to get rid of

Remember that even if you have no symptoms, regular visits are important for preventing many problems. Dentists are experts at finding issues you may not even notice.

Invest some time in preventive dental care

The time you take to care for your mouth and gums is worth it. The small amount of effort it takes to brush, floss and watch what you eat will pay off. Plus the preventive dental treatment that you get from your dentist can help keep you and your smile healthy.

Many dental insurance plans cover preventive dental care, and some cover it 100%. If you are eligible for Medicare, be aware that traditional Medicare does not cover most dental services, although you can find a Medicare Advantage plan that does. Read this article to learn more about finding the right dental plan.

So the next time you make an appointment for an oil change, let it remind you that it may also be time to make an appointment for preventive dental care.

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This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.