OK, so taking care of your teeth can be, frankly, a snooze. Brushing, flossing, dealing with braces—well, it’s just something that you have to do as a teenager.
But it’s really important to take care of your teeth for lots of reasons. For one thing, healthy teeth look good! For another, it’s way better to prevent cavities than to get them. Third, dental health is good for overall health. Why? Because, for instance, untreated cavities not only hurt, but can lead to infections. And cavities and gum disease can sometimes lead to pretty serious conditions, like diabetes and respiratory diseases. On the flip side, some conditions like eating disorders, contribute to dental problems.
Luckily, it’s not too hard to avoid all that unpleasantness. Americans have some of the best dental care in the world.
Here are some ways you can protect your teeth so they’ll last a lifetime:
Get your teeth checked by a dentist and cleaned every six months. Your dentist will check for tooth decay, gum disease, loose or broken teeth, an uneven bite, and damaged fillings; take periodic X-rays every to check for cavities, missing teeth, or infections: and remove any plaque or tartar buildup on your teeth, floss them, and polish them.
Floss, Brush, Rinse
Ideally, you should brush your teeth at least two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Floss once a day, before you brush. Use a fluoride rinse for added protection. If you have braces, use a floss threader to remove stuck food stuck around your braces.
Thin plastic dental sealants on the chewing surface of back teeth help protect against decay-causing bacteria. Your dentist may have applied sealants to your premolars when you were younger; as a teen, you can have them put on your molars. But remember: sealants aren’t a replacement for brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups.
Wear a Mouth Guard
If you play contact sports and you want to keep your pearly whites safe, then you should definitely wear a mouth guard. You can buy an inexpensive one at a sports store, but it’s best to get a one custom-made by your dentist. Every year, more than five million teeth get knocked out, and between 13 and 39 percent of all dental injuries are sports related. Mouth guards protect your teeth as well as reduce the chance of getting concussions, brain damage, cuts and bruises to the mouth and face, and jaw dislocation and fracture.
Protect Enamel from Stains
Most teeth stains are caused by aging, tooth defects tooth, the use of certain antibiotics when young, and smoking. Staining can also be caused by coffee, tea, red wine, colored juices, curry, soy, colas and minerals in well water. If you’re concerned about the stains on your teeth, you can use any over-the-counter tooth whitening product.
Prevent Plaque and Cavities
Ah—the dreaded cavity! Getting your teeth cleaned twice a year, flossing, brushing, and using a fluoride rinse are all excellent ways to prevent cavities. But you can do more—like avoiding sticky sugary foods (think raisins and gummy bears), juices, and sodas. Such foods cause acid that can become too much for your saliva to prevent and repair. Even sugar-free soda can soften tooth enamel, contributing to cavity formation.
Get Retainers or Braces
You might need retainers or braces if your teeth are crowded or your bite isn’t aligned. How long you have to wear orthodontics depends on each individual case. If you choose clear braces for aesthetic reasons, keep in mind that you’ll have to wear them for longer than if you have metal braces, and you’ll have to visit your orthodontist more often.
Did You Know? Although soccer and basketball players are more likely to get a mouth or face injury than football players, only seven percent of soccer players wear mouth guards. Since it became a requirement in 1962 for high school and college football players to wear mouth guards, the percentage of mouth or face injuries dropped from 50 percent to 0.5 percent.
This article has been reviewed by BodiMojo expert, Tara Cousineau, Ph.D.
Last reviewed Nov 24., 2014.