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A beautiful smile is one of your greatest assets, so it's no wonder that you brush religiously and shun sugary sodas to protect it. But the surprising reality is that you may be putting your pearly whites at risk without even realizing it. "Most often, it's everyday behaviors that lead to dental damage over time," says Nicholas Toscano, a celebrity dental surgeon and periodontist in New York City. Toscano and other experts shared with us the most common mistakes that women make when it comes to their teeth and gums.
Smile Saboteur: Stress
Too much pressure can bring on a frown in more ways than one: According to a Journal of Periodontology study, stressed-out people are more likely to develop gum disease than their calmer counterparts. That's because excess stress hormones, like cortisol, may lead to chronic gum inflammation, say researchers. Anxiety also causes many women to clench or grind their teeth, thus wearing down their protective enamel coating.
Fix: Toscano advises checking to make sure your teeth are slightly parted -- not pressed together -- throughout the day. "If you often wake up with a sore jaw or headache, see your dentist about bruxism -- nighttime grinding," he says. "You may need to sleep with a mouth guard." In the meantime, blow off steam by exercising regularly and taking time to cultivate relaxing activities, like yoga.
Smile Saboteur: You Skip the Flossing
Only one in 10 Americans floss regularly, reports the American Dental Association. If you're not that person, then it's time you break out the string more often. "Flossing removes the food particles that are trapped between teeth and in gums," says Jacquie Fulop-Gooding, an orthodontist in New York City. Not only does that protect against cavities, but studies also suggest it may help fend off bad breath, heart disease risk factors and even neck cancer.
Fix: Whether it's while reading the morning headlines or watching your favorite reality show, make flossing a part of your daily routine. Try out different types of floss, like picks or flavored threads, to see which one you prefer. "I used to hate flossing," says Toscano. "But I've found that using a pick with a hook and handle has made it so much easier."
Smile Saboteur: OJ and Sports Drinks
Giving up sugary sodas is one way to save your smile, but other beverages, like sports drinks and orange juice, may be even more harmful. Researchers from the University of Iowa found that these acidic beverages eroded teeth more than fizzy, sugar-based beverages.
Fix: You don't have to banish these drinks for good. Instead, use a straw and rinse your mouth with water after drinking. Also consider popping in a stick of sugar-free gum: Research in the Journal of Dental Research shows that chewing on a piece can stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize the acidity.
Smile Saboteur: The Wrong Toothbrush
When it comes to your grin, a gentle touch is best. "I don't know why manufacturers even make hard- or medium-bristled brushes," says Toscano. "Dentists only recommend those with soft heads." Why? Scrubbing too firmly with a hard brush can damage teeth. In fact, researchers from Britain's University of Newcastle revealed that people who applied more than 150 grams of pressure (about the weight of an orange in your hand) didn't remove more plaque than those with a lighter touch, but were more likely to cause tooth abrasion.
Fix: For the safest sweep, tilt your brush 45 degrees against your gum line. Gently move in circles on the sides of your teeth and in a front-and-back motion on the tops your teeth for two full minutes. The average woman only spends about a minute with her toothbrush.
Smile Saboteur: A Busy Schedule
On hectic days, it can seem like you barely have time to eat lunch, much less go in for teeth cleaning. That's one reason why nearly 30 percent of women avoided their dentist's office last year, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. But saving a few hours today can translate to more time spent fixing your teeth down the road. "Dentists spot and treat issues in their earliest stage, before they become a full-blown issue," says Toscano. "And cleanings disrupt the plaque that causes cavities."
Fix: Schedule those twice-a-year cleanings and annual checkups in pen, and treat them as you would any other non-negotiable meeting.
Sharon Liao is an award-winning health editor and writer who has been on staff at Prevention, Fitness, and Reader's Digest magazines. She has contributed to Seventeen and Weight Watchers Magazine, as well as The Intellectual Devotional: Health.
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