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Healthy Habits: How-Tos

How Healthy Is Your Mouth?

Dental expert Mark Burhenne shares the four keys to a healthy mouth.

If you’re like most people, you assume you have a healthy mouth and take it for granted: You open wide for a sandwich. You yawn convey you’re tired. You chew the fat at your favorite restaurant. But it’s time to take a look inside and give your teeth, gums and the rest of your mouth the attention they need to keep doing their job. Here’s what you need to know to maintain a healthy mouth.

Healthy Mouth Key No. 1: Love your teeth.
Your teeth are made up of a hard outer shell (enamel) and a softer core (dentin). When bacteria invade the grooves on a tooth’s surface and infect the dentin, you can develop a cavity -- or worse, need a root canal.

To prevent mouth problems: Avoid sucking on acidic fruit, which can damage enamel. If you can’t avoid acid exposure, rinse with water right after.

Bite lightly.
The surface of a tooth is made of ridges, which help you crush food so it’s easier for your stomach to extract nutrients. Since this surface gets a lot of work, it’s vulnerable to damage -- a crack can lead to sensitivity and enamel/dentin loss.

Healthy mouth tip: Keep hard objects like ice cubes out of your mouth. Don’t ignore jaw stiffness in the morning: It could mean you’re grinding your teeth at night, wearing them down.

Be wary of bleeding gums.
Your gums act like a gasket, sealing the spaces between teeth so foods don’t accumulate. This way, bacteria can’t invade the jawbone -- and the rest of your body.

Healthy mouth tip: Your gums can’t protect you if they aren’t healthy, so brush and floss regularly to prevent cavities and gum disease. Don’t ignore this red flag: bleeding when you brush or floss. See your dentist right away.

Look at your tongue.
Your tongue is coated with taste buds to warn you of bad substances. It’s also the director in your mouth, placing food against the palate to facilitate chewing and start digestion.

Healthy mouth tip: Your tongue is prone to injury and cancer, so your dentist should examine it at checkups. A red or white sore or a white coating that stays for over two weeks can be cancer. See your dentist pronto if you notice any changes.

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