We tend to assume our teeth will always be there, but having healthy teeth and gums may take a little more effort than just gliding a toothbrush across them once a day. Strong, functional teeth should not be taken for granted, especially as we move on in years. Issues such as dry mouth due to medications, sensitivity to temperatures and textures and painful gums are all common dental complaints.
I recently heard a report on the radio about how baby boomers are concerned about not being able to afford dental care insurance. Interestingly, according to a new WellPoint survey that examines how we view dental coverage benefits, "Americans over age 45 understand that good oral care can positively affect their overall heath." But, the survey adds, "while 83 percent of Americans surveyed say they have medical coverage (from either an employer or the government), only half as many are covered by dental insurance." With retirement around the corner, the cost of dental care coverage is being weighed strongly.
Proper dental care is essential throughout the life cycle, no matter what your age. Here are some tips that should bring a smile to your face:
1. Your teeth and gums are made up of calcium, so you can imagine how important it is to make a deposit in the calcium bank. Eating foods such as yogurt, cheese and soybeans will keep your teeth strong. For breakfast, try having yogurt topped with a crunchy whole-grain cereal and fresh fruit to start your day off right.
[Read: High-Protein Breakfast Ideas.]
2. Vitamin D, most of which we get from the sun's rays, helps us absorb the calcium in our body. This is just another benefit of getting outdoors and exercising. If you don't know what your vitamin D level is, it's easy to check with a simple blood test.
3. Diets that are deficient in vitamin C can cause severe dental problems, including loose teeth and bleeding gums. Try a salad with citrus fruits, such as orange or grapefruit sections, to boost your body's ability to fight those destructive symptoms, as well as plaque. Be sure to buffer citrus fruits by including them as part of a meal, because their acid content could potentially erode tooth enamel.
4. Although it seems like a "duh" statement, avoiding sugary foods is pivotal to help ensure dental health. Foods high in sugar, like candy (particularly the sticky types), convert to acids inside your mouth and can cause the harmful decay you're trying to avoid.
5. Saliva is one of our body's strongest soldiers battling bacteria. Foods that promote saliva production, such as tart or sour foods including lemons, limes, cherries and cranberries, can help your body fight bacteria in your mouth. Drinking water is another great way to produce saliva, clear bacteria and cleanse your oral cavity. Foods that have a high water content also help to thwart the process of decay by diluting the sugars in the foods you consume. In other words, eat your fruits and veggies.
6. If you can't find your floss during the day, opt for Mother Nature's toothbrush. Hard, crunchy foods, such as carrots and apples, can clean your teeth naturally.
7. Make sure you are brushing and flossing twice-a-day – every day! Flossing should be a part of your morning routine, and both brushing and flossing after dinner could even help you lose weight by discouraging bedtime snacking.
8. See your dentist every six months. Your teeth may not look dirty from the outside, but bacteria and plaque lurks in places you cannot see in the mirror.
[Read: Stop the Excuses! Go to the Dentist.]
9. Rinse out your mouth with mouthwash, or at least water, after every meal. This practice will help kill germs and prevent others from knowing you had onions on your sandwich.
Remember that a smile speaks every language – it's the only thing that depicts "one size fits all." A healthy smile wouldn't be the same without shiny teeth to lend their support.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.