Scott Bontrager

Scott Bontrager

Chompers, fangs, chiclets — no matter what you call them, teeth are underrated and often underappreciated. With the bountiful feasts of Thanksgiving and Christmas rapidly approaching, now is a good time to think about taking care of these important appendages so they don’t let you down at the table.

Healthy teeth and gums make for more than just a pretty face and a happy belly. Failing to take care of your mouth can lead to some serious health problems including cardiovascular (heart) disease and pneumonia. Some studies have even suggested that pregnant women with poor oral hygiene may be at higher risk of premature delivery and low birth weight. Fortunately, good oral care begins by taking some simple steps.

Brush and floss your teeth every day, twice a day. You may have thought this was just for getting rid of bad breath, but this simple act can significantly reduce your risk of cavities and the consequences of poor oral health. Flossing between teeth removes food particles from hard-to-reach spaces and promotes healthy gums. Brushing with toothpaste that contains fluoride helps to remove food particles left on and around your teeth, while also strengthening your teeth’s natural defense layer known as enamel.

Proper brushing is best done with a soft bristle toothbrush for a total of two minutes, being sure to go over the front, back and tops of all teeth. Bacteria living in your mouth (it’s normal and trust me, we all have them there!) like to feed on the sugars found in food particles trapped on and between your teeth. These bacteria create a mild acid as they digest the sugar; it is this which erodes the enamel from your tooth and leads to cavities (holes) in your tooth. Once formed, these holes can grow larger and ultimately may reach the tender inner tooth. When this happens, look out, there are nerves in there and exposing them is going to hurt! Avoiding sugary foods and beverages, especially at night before going to bed, can help reduce the risk of cavities. If you do enjoy an evening snack, remember to brush your teeth before bed.

See your dentist. Children should see their dentist after the first teeth appear. Children and adults should be seen every six months for a cleaning and checkup. Your dentist or dental hygienist can recognize problem areas early and can offer treatment to avoid further decline. So, remember, to keep your teeth healthy and reduce the risk of serious illness in the future, floss and brush daily, especially after meals and before bedtime, and see your dentist every six months.

Smile big for those Holiday photos and show off your pearly whites!

Scott Bontrager is a doctor at Health West’s Preston clinic. Dr. Bontrager attended medical school at East Tennessee State University and did his residency at Idaho State University.