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Tips to keep your smile healthy

These days, it seems like everyone's obsessed with getting a blindingly white grill. But there's more to taking good care of your mouth than having a soap-star smile.

The condition of your teeth and gums is associated with a host of other health issues that involve your hormones and your heart, and your dental needs can change from decade to decade. From our friends at, here's how to keep smiling strong at any age.

Tips to keep your smile healthy


Your 30s: Heed your hormones

If you're pregnant, you might not feel like dragging yourself to the dentist, but you should do it. Higher levels of estrogen and particularly progesterone can result in puffy, tender gums that are vulnerable to minor infection.

Flossing is especially important, experts say, because it helps cut the risk of periodontitis, a more serious gum infection that can endanger more than your teeth: some studies have linked untreated periodontal disease to preterm and low-birth-weight babies.

Tips to keep your smile healthy

While the exact reason is unknown, there is a strong link between gum disease and heart disease, Dr. Ostfeld says. If you don't floss, sticky, bacteria-laden plaque builds up over time, which can lead to gum disease. One theory is that these bacteria trigger inflammation in the body. "Inflammation promotes all aspects of atherosclerosis," Dr. Ostfeld says. Treating gum disease can improve blood vessel function.More from 10 best foods for your heart istockphoto

Perfect your stroke

Many adults never learned how to brush and floss properly, says Irwin Smigel, DDS, president of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics. Use a soft brush that has rounded nylon bristles and make gentle circular motions at a 45-degree angle to your gum line.

If flossing hurts or makes your gums bleed, keep working at it. "The more you floss, the tougher your gums become," explains Paula Jones, DDS, immediate past president of the Academy of General Dentistry.

Tips to keep your smile healthy


Kick those butts

"Smokers get periodontal disease at two to three times the rate of nonsmokers," says Sally Cram, DDS, a periodontist in Washington, D.C., and a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association.

Smokers also don't heal as well after getting treatment for these gum infections. Need help quitting? Go to for tips and motivation.

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Tips to keep your smile healthy

The health police have been trying to shoot down soft drinks for causing all sorts of bad things, including tooth decay and obesity. And now they have more ammunition because soda cans have a plastic lining that contains traces of BPA. istockphoto

Ditch the diet cola

soda, can, soda cans, bpaEven sugar-free soda can destroy your pearly whites, thanks to the high acid content of most carbonated beverages. "Acid weakens enamel and makes it softer," Dr. Jones says. A fluoride rinse can help strengthen it.

Tips to keep your smile healthy

Close-up of female with open mouth during oral checkup at the dentist's iStockphoto

Your 40s: Book your appointment

No matter how busy you are, make time for the dentist because he can spot signs of serious illness that shouldn't be ignored. For example, gum disease can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes.

Plus, oral cancer is more common after 40; your dentist will look for symptoms, such as unusual swelling or sores, as well as painless lesions.

Tips to keep your smile healthy

Logging off and taking time to live in the real world doesn't hurt, and may even help you iStockphoto

Get off the daily grind

Grinding or clenching your teeth (which can intensify if you're stressed) can cause excessive wear and even cracking and chipping. "A lot of tooth wear starts to show up in the late 30s and 40s," Dr. Jones says. "Your dentist can see if you're grinding, because areas of the tooth enamel will be worn smooth."

If your teeth show these signs, your dentist can give you a mouth guard. Stress-management techniques can also help you keep from clenching.

Tips to keep your smile healthy


Consider a renovation

Dental work you had done in your teens may need to be replaced. "If you've had lots of fillings or crowns, get them checked, because they do wear out," Dr. Cram says. A cracked or chipped filling can create a space for bacteria to collect, causing decay.

Tips to keep your smile healthy

Beautiful smile, full frame studio shot iStockphoto

Beware of overbleaching

Beautiful smile, full frame studio shot"Once you achieve the shade you want, you can touch up once or twice a year," Dr. Jones says. "Any more than that can be damaging." While evidence that bleaching erodes enamel is inconclusive, it may increase sensitivity. And, the truth is, there's a limit to how much whitening you can achieve as you get older.

More from How to Whiten Your Teeth Naturally

Tips to keep your smile healthy

Glass of milk next to carton of milk AP / CBS

Your 50s+: Bone up

Bone loss is one of the main reasons people lose teeth, Dr. Smigel says. A healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D can help you maintain strong bones. And if you have a family history of osteoporosis or periodontal disease, dental checkups are a must.

"Dental X-rays can show the progression of osteoporosis," Dr. Jones says. If you do lose a tooth, try to get an implant, Dr. Smigel advises. "It stabilizes the jaw so the bone doesn't shrink and make your face look older."

Tips to keep your smile healthy


Wet your whistle

Many medications (including antidepressants and heart or pain meds) can dry out your mouth, which ups the risk of tooth decay. If you have dry mouth, Dr. Jones recommends using a fluoride rinse at night, which can help protect the enamel. Drinking lots of water or chewing sugarless gum can also help.

Tips to keep your smile healthy

Businessman suffers a heart attack iStockphoto

Take heart

Businessman suffers a heart attackStudies show that people with periodontal disease may have higher risks of heart attack and stroke, possibly because the infection increases inflammation throughout the body.

"I can't say that you're going to have a heart attack if you don't take care of your teeth," Dr. Cram says. "But if you have a family history of heart disease or other heart disease risk factors, it's a good idea to pay extra attention to your oral health."

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