Brushing after you eatbugsbunny12/Shutterstock
Does your morning routine include grabbing a toothbrush immediately after breakfast? Kudos to you for brushing regularly, but your timing needs tweaking. When you consume something acidic, like oranges or tomatoes, the enamel temporarily softens and becomes susceptible to abrasive wear. If you brush your teeth, especially forcefully, you can remove enamel, which will leave your chompers feeling sensitive. It gets worse as you get older, since your gums tend to recede with age and expose more root surface. (Tooth roots aren’t covered by enamel, but rather a thinner layer of a substance called cementum.)
If you want to exercise caution, wait approximately 30 minutes to brush. “Saliva is a buffering agent and will bring the acidity of the oral environment down, but it takes time,” says Gerry (Geraldine) Cool, a dental hygienist in Alberta, Canada and the president of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. Eating some types of dairy, especially cheddar cheese, can raise the pH inside the mouth and release calcium and other substances that fight plaque; and rinsing your mouth with water can help wash away debris wedged between teeth. You can also brush before eating something acidic instead of after—or, try this surprising way to keep your teeth clean without brushing
Medication which causes dry mouthWerayuth Tes/Shutterstock
You may be diligent about controlling a chronic health condition by taking prescribed medications as directed. Unfortunately, if you’re on any one or more of the hundreds of drugs—including certain antidepressants and pain meds—that have the side effect of reducing saliva flow, your oral health could suffer. “Patients on those medications tend to have a dry mouth, so they’re at a higher risk of developing tooth decay,” says Swan, “because the saliva isn’t there to physically wash food debris away or buffer acids.”
The solution isn’t to stop your medication, unless your doctor can offer an alternative without that side effect. Instead, try sipping water throughout the day. You can increase saliva flow with sugarless gum, mints containing xylitol, or sprays, gels and tablets designed specifically for dry mouth. These natural remedies for dry mouth
may also provide the relief you're looking for.
Drinking lemon wateriravgustin/Shutterstock
Swigging water with fresh lemon juice is said to help digestion, strengthen immunity, and cleanse your body of toxins, among other surprising health benefits
. “I find it nice as a hot drink in the morning, especially when it’s cold out,” says 64-year-old Christine Peets of Ontario, Canada, who drinks lemon water throughout the day to calm her digestive issues and stay hydrated.
She became concerned, though, after a relative—also a fan of the drink—discovered it was weakening her tooth enamel, so Peets checked with her dental hygienist. Lemon water may be a popular trend, but acidic fruit juice is a major culprit when it comes to dental erosion from diet. “Even though you’re diluting lemon juice with water, you’re still raising the acid level of the mouth. If you sip, and you’re doing that two or three times throughout the day over a prolonged period of time, I’d be concerned,” says Cool.
Peets’s hygienist warned her to delay brushing right away after consuming lemon water, and also recommended trying toothpaste for sensitive teeth and brushing less forcefully. (Here are some more tips for people with sensitive teeth
.) Drinking quickly is not a full fix, but it’s much better than sipping the tart mixture at length; using a straw may also lessen detrimental effects. Check that the water isn’t too hot, as warmer temperatures intensify the tooth damage. If you’re going to drink the acidic beverage, Cool suggests having a drink of plain, ordinary water soon afterwards. Unless you're at a restaurant, in which case you might want to avoid lemon water altogether—Here's why
Opting for spring watermervas/Shutterstock
According to Statistics Canada, approximately one in five Canadian households turns to bottles instead of taps as the main source of drinking water. Certainly, water is a much better go-to beverage than juice and sugary pop—In fact, you should probably stop drinking soda altogether
—but if bottled spring water is the only kind you drink, you might be missing out on a potential 25 percent reduction in tooth decay. Plus, turns out it doesn't actually contain much "spring" water at all (or at least this one brand doesn't
Fluoridated tap water is endorsed by health organizations such as the World Health Organization. It’s well proven to reduce tooth decay in both children and adults; it’s cost-effective; and it’s safe (levels are low and monitored, and it’s impossible to drink enough tap water to reach fluoride toxicity).
“When you drink fluoridated water, it gets into your system, so your saliva has a low level of fluoride in it that’s constantly benefiting your teeth,” says Swan. It’s especially protective for older people with exposed root surface that’s more vulnerable to decay.
Try to drink at least some tap water every day. You can use filters, as long as they’re not the type that removes fluoride. If you’re in a rural area, have your water tested to find out its mineral composition and then adjust as needed.
Next, learn the best foods to eat for stronger, whiter teeth