What Dentists Tell Their Friends

One tooth can lead to big trouble

"Once during a casual phone conversation, one of my friends said, 'I broke my tooth—no big deal, right?' I told him, 'Call your dentist immediately!' The truth is, neglecting any dental problem can have serious consequences for your health, however rare. Take my friend's tooth: Even though the outside of it looked perfectly normal, untreated decay on the inside caused the shell of the tooth to break. Had the fracture also gone untreated, it could have infected the nerve of the tooth, which in some cases can spread infection throughout the body by way of the sinuses. It's uncommon, but the risk is very real, so never leave an opportunity for infection to invade your body—including cavities. Get in to see your dentist ASAP. My friend did, his tooth was treated, and now he's getting regular exams to prevent problems down the road." —Alice Boghosian, DDS, consumer adviser for the American Dental Association

Your dentist's office ..should be spotless

"My girlfriends often ask me how to evaluate a new dentist, and I tell them, 'Above all else, the office needs to be clean.' Dentists can pass serious infections along to their patients—I recently heard of a dentist who gave a number of them hepatitis C! Unfortunately, some practices aren't as hygienic as they should be, so you need to be on the look-

out on your first visit. Check out the waiting room. Are the magazines out of date? Are flowers wilting in a vase filled with old, dirty water? These small details can speak volumes about the overall cleanliness of the practice. Then make sure that the dentist's instruments are either disposable or sterilized, and that the napkin that's fastened around your neck is disposable, too. Finally, your dentist should wash his hands and put on a new set of gloves, a mask, and safety glasses or an eye guard before treating you. Bottom line: Speak up if you have concerns, and if you don't like the answers you get, pick another dentist pronto." —Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, president of the American Association of Women Dentists and a practicing dentist in Lincolnwood, IL This could be why you can't conceive

"A number of my friends have struggled with infertility, and they're shocked when I explain that periodontitis, or gum disease, could be one of the things at fault. Gum disease is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect many parts of your body. Research shows that women who have periodontitis can take longer to conceive, and unfortunately, those who do get pregnant are at higher risk for giving birth to a preterm or low-birth-weight baby. Your partner's gum health matters too—a small study found that men with periodontitis may have lower sperm quality. The good news: Gum disease can be treated with scaling and root planing or surgery, depending on the severity. If you're already pregnant, it's often fine to be treated for periodontitis as well. I know several women who have gotten pregnant after being treated for gum disease—maybe that's a coincidence, but seeing a dentist or periodontist certainly didn't hurt." —Griselle Ortiz-Ramsey, DMD, MS, Ph.D., diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology

You might be over-whitening

"At-home whitening strips, whitening toothpastes, and brushing with baking soda can all help keep your teeth whiter longer. But I don't recommend using strips more than once a month or brushing with whitening toothpaste or baking soda more than once a week—any more than that and you'll strip away too much tooth enamel. I tell my friends to avoid staining beverages if possible (and especially within 48 hours of using strips) and to whiten their teeth naturally with foods like strawberries and pineapple. Both are acidic in a cleansing way. Also great: celery, pears, and apples. They contain fiber, which increases the amount of saliva in your mouth. The more saliva you're making, the cleaner your teeth." —Kouroush Maddahi, DDS, a cosmetic dentist practicing in Beverly Hills, CA

We know you're lying

"I can tell if someone hasn't been flossing, even outside of an exam. You can't hide the inflammation that can be caused by skipping brushing and flossing—the margins of your gums will look red, and if I'm examining your teeth, your gums might even bleed when I touch them. Put simply: You should floss at least once a day. If your gums still look inflamed, your dentist will want to determine the cause." —Mark S. Wolff, DDS, Ph.D., professor and chair of cariology and comprehensive care at New York University College of Dentistry in New York City

Let your kids wiggle their baby teeth

"When my son started a new school, I was bombarded with all kinds of oral-health questions, even though my specialty is orthodontics. One mom asked what she needed to be concerned about when it came to her 7-year-old, and I told her to make sure he was wiggling out those baby teeth. Many kids today don't lose their baby teeth until age 10. Ten! They're being taught in school not to fiddle inside their mouths, so they won't spread germs—which is good advice most of the time. But if a baby tooth doesn't come out, the permanent tooth underneath will still try to push through. It might come in partially, making it difficult to brush either tooth's whole surface and leading to cavities and infection. So teach your kids to do the 'wiggle-wiggle-twist-twist'—wiggle twice, then twist twice over and over again—while you're reading them a bedtime story or during TV commercials. Just make sure they wash their hands before and after. And if you're ever concerned that your kiddo's baby teeth are taking too long to fall out, make an appointment with your dentist." —Katherine Graber, DDS, MS, spokesperson for the American Association of Orthodontists

Don't just mask bad breath

"Whenever a friend asks me about bad breath, I fire off a series of questions: Is she brushing (including her tongue), flossing, and using a mouth rinse daily? Then: Has she been eating foods like garlic or onion? The problem with these foods is that nothing will eliminate the odor caused by them—you have to wait until they've passed through your system. Next question: Does she get food stuck in her teeth, or does she have gum disease, untreated decay, or dry mouth? If she answers yes to any of those, I tell her to see her dentist. And if that doesn't help, I send her to her M.D. because her bad breath could stem from a condition somewhere else (for example, a sinus infection or gastrointestinal issue). Spending hundreds on gums, sprays, and mints isn't enough—you have to get to the root cause of your bad breath." —Tawana Lee-Ware, DDS, MSD, spokesperson for the American Association of Women Dentists

Never nurse a cup of coffee

"It drives me crazy to see friends pour themselves some coffee, add sugar, then take a sip every 10 minutes for an entire morning. Drinking small amounts of sweetened coffee over hours is more damaging to your teeth than eating a huge slice of chocolate cake in five minutes! When you sip occasionally, you're reintroducing sugar into your mouth, creating a breeding ground for tooth decay. I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy a cup—just take it without sugar if you can, or drink it as quickly as possible. Then brush your teeth." —Mark S. Wolff, DDS, Ph.D.

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