Stop Dry Mouth Now!

With the possible exception of major-league baseball players, nobody wants to think much about spit. But the truth is, having drought in your mouth is no good for teeth, gums and breath -- plus, it could signal a bigger health problem.

Common Culprits of Dry Mouth
Saliva is your mouth’s cleaning crew: It washes away bacteria that can contribute to tooth decay, gum diseases and infection in the mouth. It also lends a hand when you eat, helping you chew, swallow and digest food -- not to mention, actually enjoy flavors.

But when saliva drains, it leaves your mouth defenseless and your teeth and gums prone to disease. What’s more, dry mouth could be a symptom signaling a serious underlying problem, including diabetes, lupus, kidney disease and nerve damage.

The good news, however, is that dry mouth is actually almost always a side effect of medications. In fact, a whopping 400 different medicines can affect the salivary glands’ ability to manufacture saliva, including antihistamines, antipsychotics, anti-inflammatories, diuretics, sedatives and drugs prescribed for depression, high blood pressure and pain, according to Dr. Raymond K. Martin, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. And if you take several medications, your saliva is even more likely to suffer. 

Dry Mouth Rx
The first thing to do if your mouth is constantly dry is to discuss it with your doctor, suggests Martin. If you are otherwise healthy, sometimes simply switching to a different drug manufacturer or slightly lowering the dosage can do the trick. Your physician may also recommend artificial saliva mouthwashes, gels, sprays or medications that boost saliva production.

But if your mouth still feels like it’s not wet enough to whistle, pump up the moisture by trying out some of these handy tips:

  • Drink some water … and keep drinking. You probably already know that you should drink eight glasses of water a day, but this is especially important if you have dry mouth.
  • Chew sugarless gum. Chewing gum helps generate more saliva, naturally keeping your mouth moist and your teeth protected from bacteria.
  • Limit salty, spicy and sugary foods. All of these can make you even more parched.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which quickly dry the mouth.
  • Use moisturizing lip balm. It helps heal cracked lips, a common consequence of dry mouth.
  • Brush and floss regularly. Be extra-conscientious about your oral care habits, since a lack of saliva can make the mouth a breeding ground for bacteria and cause cavities.
  • Opt for an alcohol-free mouthwash. Research shows that alcohol in high concentrations contributes to dry mouth, causing bad breath. Check the product label to make sure alcohol is not an ingredient.
  • Consider fluoride gel. Talk to your dentist about whether you should use an over-the-counter fluoride rinse or a prescription fluoride gel to protect your teeth from decay.

The Secret to Instant Attraction: A Beautiful Smile

Want a better smile and cavity-free teeth? Brushing and flossing are merely the beginning. Turns out there are a host of incredible edibles that fight bacteria, attack plaque and build enamel with every bite, says Wendy Bazilian, a registered dietitian and author of The Superfoods Rx Diet. Here, her surprising foods for a camera-ready smile.

Better Smile Food No. 1: Whole Grains
You know whole grains are filled with cholesterol-lowering fiber. But were you aware that the B vitamins and iron they contain help keep your gums healthy too? According to a McMaster University study of 34,000 men in Canada, those who ate three daily servings of whole grains -- think brown or wild rice, barley, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread -- were 23 percent less likely to suffer from periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease.

Better Smile Food No. 2: Carrots
They’re not just good for your eyes; carrots are packed with beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that is key to building and maintaining strong, healthy teeth. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin are also excellent sources of this wonder nutrient.

Better Smile Food No. 3: Celery
Water-rich vegetables -- like celery -- cleanse the teeth, washing away sugar and starches that can cause cavities and plaque. In addition, munching on crunchy veggies massages your gums, which increases circulation and can help remove bacteria.

Better Smile Food No. 4: Dairy Products
Dairy products such as yogurt, low-fat or nonfat milk and cheese are all rich in calcium, a mineral that is essential for preserving and rebuilding tooth enamel. Calcium also aids in saliva production, which helps kill the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

Better Smile Food No. 5: Sesame Seeds
Another great calcium source, sesame seeds have a gritty texture that acts like 100 tiny toothbrushes to tackle plaque buildup. Try them sprinkled on cereal or vegetables, or blend them into yogurt, soups, and homemade breads and muffins.

Better Smile Food No. 6: Lean Protein
Eggs, poultry and lean beef are rich in phosphorous, a mineral that is critical to maintaining strong tooth enamel. In addition, phosphorous helps balance pH levels in the mouth, discouraging the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.

Better Smile Food No. 7: Water
Substituting water for sugary sodas and sports drinks may be the tooth-friendliest move you can make. Frequent exposure to liquid sugars allows cavity-causing ingredients to reach the most remote surfaces of teeth and gums. Sugary drinks also contribute to the formation of decay-causing acids in the mouth. (If you must indulge your cola cravings, be sure to sip through a straw to reduce exposure.) Water, on the other hand, contains no harmful ingredients and helps wash away bacteria from food, making it one of the cheapest, best dental health boosters around.

What do you eat to get your best smile? Tell us below or @Completely_You

Teeth-Whitening Blunders to Avoid

Thanks to easy at-home whitening products, beautifying your smile has never been simpler. However, in the quest for whiter teeth, there are some mistakes that can render your efforts less effective and others that can put your health and looks at risk. Here, the top teeth-whitening no-no’s and how to avoid them.

Whitening mistake # 1: Using products longer than directed.

This is the top whitening faux pas. After all, if a little is good, then a lot is better, right? Wrong. Wearing your whitening strips or trays longer than you’re supposed to is not going to bleach your teeth faster. “Instead, it can cause painful sensitivity by irritating the nerves in the teeth and burn the gums,” explains New York City-based cosmetic dentist, Lana Rozenberg, DDS. “It can also leave teeth translucent and bluish on the edges.”  You can cause similar problems if you whiten too often -- for example, every four weeks, when a product recommends every six to twelve months. For best results, follow directions. “Most products have been tested and designed to work in a specific time period,” adds Rozenberg.

Whitening mistake # 2: Letting excess gel seep onto your gums.

Whitening strips and trays use a gel to bleach your teeth and remove stains. However, when you press strips onto your teeth or insert trays, some of the excess gel may ooze out onto your gums. “This can burn your gums leaving them red and painful with the gum tissue sloughing off,” explains Rozenberg.  After applying a tooth-whitening product, check gums to see if any gel has seeped out onto them. If it has, diligently remove it with a gauze pad.

Whitening mistake # 3: Using products that aren’t FDA-approved.

These teeth whiteners may be available, but that doesn’t mean you should use them. “The FDA is there to protect us and requires companies to do safety tests and research before granting their approval,” explains Rozenberg. A non-FDA approved product may not be effective, but that isn’t the only issue. “When a product is not FDA approved, it could harm not only your teeth, but your body,” cautions New York-based, celebrity dentist Marc Lowenberg, DDS. “Non-FDA approved teeth whitening products often use fillers and chemical concentrations that can damage teeth.” With plenty of approved whitening products to choose from, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Whitening mistake # 4: Not being consistent.

If you don’t use a product as often as directed, you may whiten your teeth but may not achieve the best results possible. “It takes time for teeth whitening products to work and you must be consistent in using them,” explains Lowenberg. “If you stop your at-home teeth whitening routine, your teeth may become yellow again and you have to do the whole process over again.” The bottom line is that you have to follow the instructions on these whitening products; the directions are there for a reason, says Rozenberg.

Whitening mistake # 5: Not prepping your pearly whites. 

No matter how eager you are to brighten your teeth, you need to take a few minutes to clean them well before applying the trays, whitening strips, or other tooth whitener. “Otherwise the whitening product isn’t going to be as effective, because plaque is covering the surface of the tooth,” says Rozenberg. Brush, floss and then start turning up the wattage on your smile.

Whitening mistake # 6: Drinking or eating while whitening.

This may sound obvious, but some people do drink water -- and even eat -- when they have whitening strips or trays in their mouths. The seal between the whitening product and your mouth isn’t a perfect one, making this a huge mistake for several reasons. “First, you may be diluting the whitening gel material so it will not be as effective,” says Rozenberg. “Second, you may swallow some of the gel with your drink.” Though the gel is made to go in your mouth, you don’t want to ingest any more than you have to.

Can That Dental Procedure Wait?

Technically, the recession is over. But dentists say that many people are still holding off on dental spending -- either by not going to the dentist at all or putting off the more expensive treatments. Even insurance holders (50 percent of Americans) typically pay more than half of the dental charges for anything other than cleanings and checkups, according to the latest data from Dental Market Research. That means many procedures are still expensive: A dental crown, for instance, generally costs patients approximately $450 out of pocket, even after a 50-percent reimbursement from their insurance carrier.

“Financially, it’s a hard world these days,” says Dr. Shehzad Sheikh, founder and director of Dominion Dental Care in Sterling, Va. “It’s not that people don’t want to get dental work done; it’s just that a little chip on a tooth that’s asymptomatic is a low priority. But it’s a mistake to defer the procedures you really need, because the problem could get worse and more painful -- and end up requiring more extensive and expensive treatment.” Here is a guide to help you figure out what can wait and what can’t.

A Filling (for a chipped filling or tooth)
Can it wait?
Maybe
“If a filling has a chip in it but you don’t have a cavity, or if you have a chipped tooth without any symptoms, you might be able to wait a while for a new filling -- but only your dentist can tell for sure,” says Sheikh. Keep in mind that with a chipped tooth, bacteria are more likely to get stuck in the tooth’s crevice, which can lead to decay.

Regular Cleanings
Can it wait?
No
“You don’t want to miss those twice-a-year hygiene appointments, because small problems could get worse,” says Sheikh. “If your dentist catches something early, it can be a quick and easy fix.” Also keep in mind that fluoride treatments, which aren’t always covered by insurance, are worth the money because they help re-mineralize the teeth and protect them from decay.

Cosmetic Work
Can it wait?
Yes
If you want to bleach your teeth or get veneers to improve your smile, those procedures can wait because they’re not a necessity. Plus, they won’t make a difference to your long-term oral health.

Deep Cleanings
Can it wait?
Maybe
“Sometimes you absolutely have to have scaling and root-cleaning done,” says Sheikh. But in some instances, you might be able to defer the procedure (which can cost more than $1,000 for the entire mouth) if you have regular cleanings every three months instead of every six. “That way, you may be able to get some semblance of control over the gum tissue,” says Sheikh.

A Root Canal
Can it wait?
No
“For a root canal, there aren’t any options: If you don’t do it now, you’ll end up losing the tooth. And if there’s infection, it could spread to other parts of your body,” explains Sheikh.

A Crown for a Serious Chip or Cavity
Can it wait?
No
“The longer you wait, the more prone you are to getting bacteria stuck around the tooth,” which can accelerate the rate of decay, Sheikh warns. In addition, if you need a crown to relieve pain (from a nerve that’s affected, for example), the pain could get worse and you could end up needing a root canal.

Ultimately, you’ll need to see your dentist to determine what can wait and what can’t. “If you come in for cleanings and X-rays, we can get a more realistic picture of what’s going on and can assess which procedures can wait,” says Sheikh. Ultimately, it’s a judgment call better made with your dentist’s advice.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/amphotora

How Clean Is Your Toothbrush?

It’s a toothbrush’s job to keep your mouth clean. But if you’re not careful, your toothbrush could become home to tons of nasty germs. And any bacteria or fungi that live on your toothbrush can transfer to your mouth as well.

“Many people don’t realize that their habits are adding to the amount of bacteria growing on their toothbrushes,” says Alice Boghosian, DDS, an American Dental Association spokesperson and a dentist practicing in Niles, Ill. Luckily, keeping your mouth and toothbrush free from illness-causing germs is as easy as following a few simple steps.  

Rinse Thoroughly

Take a look at your toothbrush right now: If you can see any toothpaste buildup on it, you’re not doing a good enough job rinsing it. Boghosian says you should hold your toothbrush under running water after you use it, and keep it there long enough to completely remove all toothpaste and debris. Another type of rinsing can also help keep your toothbrush clean: Swish with an antimicrobial mouthwash before brushing, and you’ll expose your toothbrush to fewer germs, all while getting your mouth clean.

Store It in a Dry Place

Since any type of moisture on your brush will promote bacterial growth, it needs to dry completely between uses to stay germ-free. If your toothbrush sits in a travel case or in your medicine cabinet, remove it ASAP.

“If you store your toothbrush in a closed cabinet, that doesn’t allow air to circulate,” Boghosian says. Store your brush upright instead of lying down, so that more air can circulate around it. This will help it dry faster. And definitely don’t use a toothbrush case or cover.

Also, avoid storing it in the same cup as other people’s toothbrushes. “If you put it in a cup with four other toothbrushes, there’s a strong possibility of cross-contamination,” says Boghosian. You can catch colds, bacterial infections like strep throat or even a blood-borne disease such as Hepatitis B or C from someone else's toothbrush.

Don’t Flush Where You Brush

Put the toilet seat cover down before you flush -- and encourage everyone in your household to do the same. Contaminated spray from each flush can reach anywhere from 6 to 8 feet. And anything within that vicinity could get covered in fecal matter, Boghosian says. We’re thinking the same thing you are right now: gross!

Don’t Share

This should go without saying, but whenever you share toothbrushes with someone, you expose yourself to all of the bacteria in his or her mouth. Since you don’t know what kinds of germs they’re harboring, investing in your own brush is an easy way to decrease your odds of picking up an illness from them.

Don’t Use the Dishwasher (Or Microwave)

Because toothbrush manufacturers don’t design them to withstand either of these appliances, you may damage your brush and compromise its effectiveness by doing either in an attempt to clean your toothbrush. Products or rinses that are specifically designed to sterilize brushes won’t hurt, but they won’t necessarily help either.

“There’s really no clinical evidence that shows these sanitizers work or don’t work,” Boghosian says. “If that makes you feel better and makes you want to brush your teeth, then do it, but from a scientifically based standpoint, there’s no evidence of them being good or bad.”

Replace Your Toothbrush on Time

Finally, replace your toothbrush every three or four months, visit the dentist every six months, and floss daily. “Keep your mouth and body as healthy as possible,” Boghosian says. “That will affect the type and number of bugs that grow on your toothbrush.” And more importantly, it will help keep your mouth free from germs as well.