CHICAGO -- The Chicago Dental Society surveyed more than 300 members to find out how the economy is affecting dental care. More than half say their patients are putting off needed dental work. More than 40 percent of dentists report that visits for preventative dental care are also on the decline.
Taking care of your teeth now can prevent expensive dental procedures in the future. And while regular dental visits do play an important role in overall care, here are some at-home remedies that will help your smile -- and your wallet.
1. Drink plenty of water. Rinse with water in between meals, especially after drinking beverages such as soda, wine and coffee that stain teeth. Water also helps stabilize breath odors. Whenever possible, drink tap water, which has minerals that are stripped out of almost all bottled waters.
2. Eat a piece of cheese. At the end of the meal, a piece of cheese can help neutralize acids.
3. Chew sugar-free gum. Occasionally chewing gum increases saliva production, that can neutralize and wash away plaque acid, while also bathing the teeth in minerals such as calcium, phosphate and fluoride, which are known to strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent cavities.
4. Wait to brush after acidic drinks. If you consume a lot of acidic beverages, like orange juice and soda pop, wait to brush for at least 20 minutes to reduce the chance of enamel wear. Instead, swish your mouth with water or chew sugar-free gum to activate your saliva and rid your mouth of the acids that can damage your enamel.
5. Rinse with hydrogen peroxide. A small amount of hydrogen peroxide mixed with water makes an excellent anti-bacterial and whitening rinse after brushing. Don't swallow!
6. Brush with baking soda. Plain baking soda is a gentle abrasive that can clean like toothpaste. Apply a small amount to your damp toothbrush, brush and rinse.
7. Use a straw. Drinking soda, coffee, and red wine through a straw can help minimize direct contact between your teeth and these staining liquids.
8. Soften your toothbrush. Sensitive teeth may find relief after softening toothbrushes bristles by rinsing them with hot water before you brush.
9. Avoid sugar and starches. Both sugar and carbohydrates feed the bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay. And sweet treats are not just the issue: a handful of crackers can have the same effect as a candy bar at feeding bacteria.
10. Brush and floss! Perhaps obvious, but dental disease starts with the residue from foods and beverages that you eat. Be sure to floss at least once a day, preferably before you brush your teeth. Brush at least twice a day and preferably after every meal.
Data was collected for the Chicago Dental Society's 144th annual Midwinter Meeting, which begins at McCormick Place in Chicago on February 26, 2009. The exhibit floor opens on February 27.
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