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Taking care of your teeth isn't just about having a nice smile and pleasant breath. Recent research has found a number of links between oral health and overall health. So, good oral hygiene should be a family affair.

Keep It Clean

Cavities, also called tooth decay, are one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States. They occur when bacteria feed off of sugars in your mouth and produce acid. The acid attacks your tooth enamel, the hard, outer layer of your teeth. Over time, these acids can form a cavity in your tooth. More than 80 percent of people have had at least one cavity by age 34. The good news is that tooth decay is preventable.

Preventing tooth decay starts with practicing good dental hygiene:

  • Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between your teeth with floss or another type of interdental cleaner once a day.

And be sure you are brushing your teeth correctly. Dentists recommend the following:

  • Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums.
  • Move the brush back and forth gently in tooth-wide strokes.
  • Brush the outer tooth surfaces, the inner tooth surfaces and the top of the teeth.
  • Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.

Watch Your Diet

Not only can your diet affect your overall health, but what you eat and drink can also impact your dental health. Sugar of any kind in food and drinks can contribute to tooth decay. Sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks and juice are major culprits. When reaching for a beverage, choose water instead.

Snacking smart can also make a difference. Chips and crackers contain carbohydrates that break down into sugar. These foods also tend to get stuck in your teeth. You should avoid sticky foods like dried fruit and candy. Enjoy a nutritious choice, such as cheese, yogurt, fruits, vegetables or nuts instead.

Regular Visits

Visiting your dentist regularly for a professional cleaning and exam is important to maintaining your dental health, too. These visits can help prevent dental problems from happening in the first place, or the dentist can spot them early, when they are easier to treat. During a dental checkup, the dentist or dental hygienist will remove dental plaque, check for signs of tooth decay and apply a fluoride gel or varnish if necessary. Your dentist can help determine how often you need a checkup.

A healthy body starts with a healthy mouth. There are simple strategies that can help you avoid common oral health problems, including gum disease (also known as gingivitis, and its more advanced form, periodontitis), cavities, and the clenching and grinding that can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

For more information, visit the Dental Resource Center.

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