Fresh Tips For A More Kissable Mouth

If you’re looking for romance on Valentine’s Day, focus on your smile. When judging the allure of a potential date or partner, both men and women rate attractive teeth as the top turn-on, according to a surprising new survey of 5,500 unmarried Americans by Match.com.

On the most kissable of holidays, however, remember that’s there’s more to good oral health than a bright, white grin. More than half of adults have gum disease, which has been linked to increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And 93 million Americans suffer from halitosis (chronically bad breath) which can sometimes signal other health problems.

Not only can taking great care of your pearly whites improve your looks—and breath—but it can even add years to your life, a recent study suggests. The researchers found that older people who failed to brush and floss daily, or hadn’t seen a dentist in the previous year were up to 50 percent more likely to die during the 17-year study than those with the opposite habits.

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Ohio dentist Dr. Matt Messina, spokesperson for the American Dental Association, and other experts offer these tips for a healthy, dazzling and kissable mouth:

  • Clean your tongue. Along with brushing and flossing twice a day, also use a tongue scraper (available at most drugstores) or brush your tongue. Your tongue, especially the top back, can be a serious source of halitosis. That’s because your tongue has millions of filaments that can trap food particles and bacteria, leading to oral odor.  
  • Chew sugarless gum. Surprising as it sounds, saliva is the best defense against bad breath. A common cause of halitosis is dry mouth, which can be triggered by certain medications and health problems. If you’re wondering why morning breath can be smelly, that’s because saliva flow is lower during sleep. Chewing gum counteracts these problems by stimulating salivation. What’s more, gum containing the sugar substitute xylitol may help reduce cavity-causing bacteria, a recent study suggests.  
  • Scent your breath with cinnamon. Unlike other flavorings, such as mint, which only mask bad breath, cinnamon appears to have odor-combating compounds. A study presented at the annual meeting of International Association for Dental Research reporting that the cinnamon-flavored gum, Big Red, seems to reduce odor-causing bacteria. In the study, people who chewed the gum had a more than 50 percent drop in bacteria levels.

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  • Candy isn’t so dandy. Sweets “feed” oral bacteria, which convert the sugar into acids that attack the teeth, leading to decay. And watch out for sugary beverages, which are a leading cause of cavities.
  • Cavities can be contagious. The bacteria that can cause decay can be transferred, so think twice about sharing a fork when you enjoy that double chocolate cake.
  • Pay attention to your diet. A surprising number of foods in your fridge can brighten your teeth and improve oral health. Carrots, apples, celery and other crunchy fruits and vegetables have been called “nature’s toothbrushes” because they actually scrub your teeth as you chew. Broccoli guards your teeth by forming an acid resistant film on them that protects enamel. A Brazilian laboratory study found that a broccoli “bath” cuts in half erosion of enamel due to the acid in sodas.
  • Ditch the cigarettes. Not only do they make you decidedly less kissable, tobacco reduces your ability to taste foods, irritates gum tissues and contributes to bad breath, points out Dr. Messina. And here’s more motivation to kick the habit: Tobacco users are more likely to suffer from gum disease and are at greater risk for oral cancer. If you use tobacco, ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.

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  • Never ignore dental symptoms. While a little bleeding when you brush your teeth may not seem alarming, it’s a warning sign of gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss if it goes untreated. In some cases, chronic halitosis can stem from a sinus or lung infection, bronchitis, diabetes, or some form of liver of kidney disease, reports Dr. Messina. The ADA has a new symptom checker app to help you identify what your symptoms might mean. Always consult a dentist promptly if you notice a problem. Early treatment could head off more serious issues.

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