Is it possible to preserve your smile and keep your teeth?

Your teeth are perfectly designed to help you perform a variety of daily tasks, like speaking and eating, for your entire life. They gain their durability from your enamel, which is the hardest known biological material; it’s even harder than steel! This is what allows your teeth to withstand decades of grinding food multiple times a day. Enamel isn’t indestructible, however, as it’s vulnerable to damage by bacteria and is much more brittle than steel, making it prone to chipping, cracking, and breaking.

Without proper care, you may begin to lose your teeth to decay or injury, and once an adult tooth is gone, you can’t grow another. If you want your teeth to last a lifetime, there are steps you can—and should—take to protect your teeth from damage. Here are a few ways you can keep your teeth healthy and ensure that they stay healthy for your entire life.

Stick to an oral hygiene routine.

The biggest way you can keep your teeth healthy is to stick to a thorough oral hygiene routine. You should brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush for two minutes at least twice a day. Although it might seem like scrubbing your teeth gets them cleaner, brushing your teeth too hard can damage your enamel, eroding it over time and exposing your dentin to cavity-causing bacteria. Enamel erosion can also cause tooth sensitivity and make your teeth appear more yellow.

Additionally, you should floss and use mouthwash at least once a day. Although 32.4% of adults don’t floss at all and another 37.3% of adults don’t floss daily, flossing is incredibly important for your oral health; it cleans areas of your teeth that toothbrushes can’t reach and helps to prevent gum disease, which is the leading cause of tooth loss in America.

Find the right toothpaste and mouthwash for you.

Finding the right toothpaste and mouthwash can go a long way toward helping your oral health. For example, fluoride is an important mineral for your teeth, helping to strengthen your enamel and prevent cavities. It’s a good idea to use toothpaste or mouthwash that has fluoride in it, especially if your tap water isn’t fluoridated.

Everyone is unique, however, so you may struggle with unique aspects of your oral health. If you struggle with cavities, tooth sensitivity, or gingivitis, you can find toothpastes and mouthwashes that focus on improving those issues. If you’re unsure which toothpaste or mouthwash you should use, you can ask your dentist for recommendations based on your current oral health and risk factors.

Visit the dentist regularly.

Visiting your dentist for regular preventive evaluations is an incredibly important step in maintaining your oral health. Your dentist will be able to remove hardened tartar from your teeth, something you simply can’t do at home, and is trained to spot oral health concerns early. This includes small cavities, gum disease, and failing dental restorations.

Cavities and gum disease rarely cause pain until they’re severe, so it’s important that you visit your dentist for an appointment twice a year, even if you’re not in any pain. Early detection is crucial to receiving prompt treatment, which will ensure that you will be able to keep as much of your natural tooth structure as possible. Plus, you’ll likely save yourself from the  bills and pain involved with more serious treatments down the road.

Consider crowns to solve severe decay.

Large fillings can weaken your teeth and make them more vulnerable to breaking or cracking, so dental crowns are often the best option to preserve your tooth if you end up with a major cavity. They allow your dentist to remove all of the decay, stopping the infection in its tracks and preserving your natural tooth. The crown will protect your tooth from injury and play a role in preventing future decay.

Get your dental restorations checked regularly.

All dental restorations, from fillings to crowns and bridges, need to be replaced eventually due to wear and tear. If you don’t ensure that your restorations are checked regularly, they might begin leaking—that is, letting bacteria seep into the vulnerable dentin beneath it—without anyone noticing. If a failed restoration goes unnoticed, it can lead to cavities underneath your restoration and may involve bigger dental procedures down the road.

Your dentist may be able to detect some failed restorations during your preventive evaluations, but it’s smart to get regular X-rays because they will show any decay underneath your crown or filling. This makes X-rays the best way to ensure that your restorations are still doing their job well.

Limit foods and drinks that are bad for your teeth.

There are many delicious foods and drinks that are horrible for your teeth. You certainly don’t have to cut your favorite foods or drinks out altogether, but it’s a good idea to try and limit how much of them you consume.

Try to eat more fruits and vegetables, which contain vital minerals and vitamins for your teeth and may actually help remove plaque from your teeth as you chew. You should also limit how often you snack. Instead of eating a lot of little snacks throughout the day, stick to one bigger snack.

Additionally, cut back on sugary and acidic drinks, such as sodas, as they can damage your enamel. When you do drink these beverages, as well as drinks that are known to stain your teeth, it’s a good idea to use a straw to limit the contact that the drink has with your teeth. Water, milk, and green or white teas are good, tooth-healthy beverages you can drink instead of sodas or sports drinks.

Avoid tobacco use.

Any kind of tobacco use, whether it’s smoking cigarettes, cigars, or chewing tobacco, is horrible for your oral health. In addition to staining your teeth yellow, tobacco reduces your ability to fight infections, which makes you more vulnerable to gum disease. It also increases your risk of developing oral cancer, which often means you’ll need radiation and chemotherapy and may lose some of your teeth.

Protect your teeth from injury.

Enamel is strong, but it’s also brittle, making it vulnerable to breaking, chipping, and cracking. Most people know that you should wear a mouth guard during contact sports, like hockey and football, but you should also wear one during any sport in which you might suffer a blow to the face; this includes sports like soccer, mountain bike riding, skateboarding, and ice skating. Mouth guards protect the soft tissues of your mouth and help reduce the likelihood of injuries to your teeth.

Additionally, if you grind or clench your teeth at night, it’s a good idea to wear a night guard. Habitually grinding your teeth can wear them down to the dentin, causing sensitivity and requiring dental treatment. Your teeth may also chip, crack, or even break in the middle of the night, and the constant grinding can cause frequent headaches or jaw pain. Wearing a night guard prevents injuries to your teeth and may relieve symptoms involving jaw pain or headaches.

Although your teeth are durable and are meant to last a lifetime, they’re just like any other part of your body; they require regular care to last as long as possible. Caring for your teeth on a daily basis doesn’t take much time investment, but it gives back a lot in return, saving you money and keeping your entire body healthier for years to come.