Many people think that losing teeth is inevitable with age, but it isn’t. If you want to keep your teeth for your entire life, you can, but you have to follow the rules.
Rule 1: Eat a Healthy Diet
As with any system in your body, your teeth need proper nutrition to grow. One of the most important nutrients for your teeth is calcium. Dairy is a good source of calcium, but so is broccoli, kale, spinach, soybeans, and certain fish.
Reduce your intake of processed sugar and acidic foods, especially soda, which contains both sugar and acid.
Some food also has protective effects. For example, yogurt has been shown to reduce your risk of periodontal disease, the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the United States.
2. Practice Healthy Eating Habits
It’s also not just what you eat, but how you eat that determines the health of your teeth. To protect your teeth from damage, focus on eating at regular meal times with fewer snacks between meals. Especially avoid carbohydrate-based snacks that can feed oral bacteria causing them to multiply and produce acid that can damage your teeth and gums.
End your meal with a protective regimen. Finish either with a crunchy fruit or vegetable that can help clean your teeth, some sugar-free gum, or both. After you drink a soda or eat acidic foods, rinse your mouth with water to reduce the damage to your tooth enamel.
3. Practice Good Oral Hygiene
Oral hygiene cleans away the plaque where bacteria shelter and produce acid that damages teeth and gums. Remember to brush at least twice a day, and floss every day. Brush for a minimum of two minutes at a time. Use a timer or get an electric toothbrush with a timer to make sure you’re brushing long enough. Get your floss down around the base of the tooth and curve it around the tooth to ensure you’re removing the most plaque.
4. Visit the Dentist Regularly
You should visit your dentist twice a year to make sure your teeth and gums are healthy. Your dental visits have three benefits:
- They can clean hardened plaque deposits (tartar or calculus) that you can’t remove with a brush
- They can recommend changes to your oral hygiene if problems are starting to develop
- They can fix minor tooth problems before they become serious
These three benefits will help you keep your teeth for a lifetime.
5. Don’t Use Your Teeth as Tools
Our ancestors often used their teeth as pliers, bone scrapers, and weapons, but today there’s no reason to be using your teeth in this way. Using your teeth to open bottles, crack nuts, or break ice will result in damage. Minor tooth damage can provide shelters for food and bacteria, which then multiply and destroy your teeth. More major tooth damage can cause your teeth to lose structural integrity or even break them out of your jaw.
6. Protect Your Teeth from Sports Injury
Sports injury is another common cause of tooth loss. If you play sports, make sure to wear a mouthguard fitted by a dentist. Over-the-counter prefitted mouthguards are not good for your teeth, especially if you have irregular dentition. Boil-and-bite mouthguards are almost as bad. They give the illusion of fittedness, but don’t provide as much protection as professional guards.
7. When All Else Fails, Replace Them
When faced with a Kobayashi Maru scenario for your teeth, change the rules. Modern dentistry allows you to replace lost teeth with dental implants, which are anchored in your jawbone so they function just like natural teeth. They also look just like natural teeth, so only your dentist knows for sure whether that full set of pearly whites is actually yours.
- License: Creative Commons image source
Dr. Matthew B. Candelaria (PhD, U of Kansas 2006) is a freelance dental researcher who has the privilege of retaining all his natural teeth (excuse the wisdom teeth).