How to Keep Your Teeth

Believe it or not, major health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity have all been linked to poor oral hygiene.

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You get one set—that’s 32 chompers—for life. Don’t let them bite the dust.

Your teeth are stronger than your bones (fun fact: They’re the hardest part of your body!). But don’t get too excited—over time they can suffer damage and decay, affecting more than just your bite. “People with bad oral health are at greater risk for bad overall health,” says Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a dentist and a spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Believe it or not, major health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity have all been linked to poor oral hygiene. And once you get a cavity, it never goes away. Keep on smiling by following these nine tips.

1. FOLLOW THE 2x2 RULE

Right now there are likely more bacteria in your mouth than there are people on Earth (up to 500 million cells per tooth!), and they’re forming a film known as plaque on your teeth. But all you have to do to bust up bacteria and prevent buildup is brush twice a day for two minutes. And don’t forget to floss daily between teeth—this is especially important if you wear braces.

2. AIR IT OUT

Get this: Researchers at the University of Manchester in England found that a single toothbrush can host more than 100 million germs! But before you freak, know that it’s possible to keep yours clean. Don’t cover your toothbrush or keep it in a closed container. Instead, simply rinse it thoroughly after brushing to get rid of the bacteria it picked up from your teeth, then store it upright in a clean, dry place as far away from the toilet as possible. (Why? Every time a toilet is flushed, it sends a spray of bacteria into the air. Yuck!)

3. DON’T SHARE

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that live in your saliva, which means cavities can be contagious. Think twice before you kiss someone with poor dental hygiene, don’t store toothbrushes side by side, and never borrow your BFF’s toothbrush. If you forget yours at a sleepover, just wrap a paper towel around a clean finger, dampen it, use it to brush, then rinse your mouth.

4. BUST BAD BREATH

Your tongue plays host to the bacteria that help cause bad breath. So when you brush your teeth, brush your tongue too, to scrape away the stinkiness.

5. GO WITH THE FLOW

If you can’t get to your toothbrush, a few post-meal tactics may help prevent cavities. First off, guzzle some H2O to flush away cavity-causing bacteria. And chew sugar-free gum, which removes plaque and bacteria.

6. CHEW ON THIS

Next time you get a snack attack, reach for a firm fruit or raw veggie instead of a candy bar. Munching apples, pears, carrots, and celery triggers tooth-bathing saliva, which helps keep you cavity-free.

Foods rich in calcium and protein can help rebuild tooth enamel, so dairy is a slam dunk for dental hygiene. Cheese that contains casein, a protein that can help prevent tooth decay, is even better. And yogurt has phosphates, which put the minerals back into your teeth.

7. SKIP THE SWEET STUFF

Cavemen didn’t have toothbrushes or toothpaste, but research shows they had almost no cavities or gum disease. Why? Those hunter-gatherers ate only meat, vegetables, and nuts. If there’s just one change you make, avoid sipping sugary beverages, like soda or sports drinks, throughout the day. It’s like bathing your teeth in cavity-causing acid, say experts.

8. SPORT MOUTHGUARDS ...

Maybe you aren’t nuts about plastic peeking out from between your lips, but half of all kids and teens will suffer at least one traumatic tooth injury by the time they graduate from high school. Many of those dental injuries are related to sports and are preventable. Since it can cost up to $5,000 to replace a tooth, wear your mouthguard and save that money for college.

9. ... NOT GRILLZ

Much like braces, dental jewelry is a plaque magnet—a grill, for example, basically glues cavity-causing bacteria to your pearly whites. Mouth piercings—especially metal rings or bars—can rub against your gums, leading to gum disease. So keep your mouth bling-free.

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