Humans have 19 different types of smiles. Six of them are intertwined with happiness, but the rest might signify embarrassment, deceit, fear, anger, or other less-than-cheery emotions.
This year, our smiles may be often covered by masks, but caring for them is more important than ever. With the extra pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic, dentists are seeing more stress-related dental conditions, including teeth-grinding and clenching, and chipped and cracked teeth. Plus, mask breath is real.
So it’s a prime time to give extra TLC (Toothy Loving Care) to your chompers and gums. Not only will your mouth be healthier, but the things you can do to tune-up your tooth care can also do wonders for the rest of your body.
Here are 10 tips for boosting your brightest smile this year.
Foods and drinks that lower the pH in our mouths and make it more acidic — such as orange juice, sour candies, coffee, or wine — can work like a fast-pass to tooth decay. That’s because acid wears away at our tooth enamel, leaving our chompers vulnerable to bad bacteria. Brushing right away after eating isn’t the answer, because our enamel is more likely to suffer damage in its weakened state.
But you don’t have to give up that end-of-day cabernet. Just pair it with higher pH nibbles such as cheese, nuts, whole grains, apples, and vegetables. (Mmmm. This is starting to sound like a nice spread for a cheese board!) Be sure to wait 30 minutes after you eat — enough time for a little chat with a good friend — and then unleash your trusty toothbrush.
Keep your water bottle close by, especially when you’re sipping stain-causing drinks such as coffee or red wine. Imbibing H2O will help keep pigments from penetrating your enamel, dilute cavity-causing acids, and wash away the food particles and sugar that fuel bad bacteria. Tap water containing fluoride can also cut down on tooth decay, according to the ADA.
Apples, watermelon, and strawberries contain lots of malic acid, which can naturally help whiten your smile by removing surface stains. Other superfoods for your smile include high-fiber celery and leafy greens, which combine with saliva to scrape away stains and plaque like a mean, green mouth-washing machine. Looking for other ways to make your teeth sparkle? Check out our post on natural ways to keep your teeth white.
We all know that added sugars aren’t good for us. Unfortunately, they still make up to 17% of our caloric intake in the U.S., leading to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and perhaps even cancer, depression, and dementia — not to mention unsightly cavities and stinky breath. Oy.
But what’s a sweet tooth to do? One of the simplest fixes is to cut out soda and replace it with water (see above), since sweetened drinks account for 36% of our added sugar intake. Sparkling water can help satisfy your bubbly cravings and has been shown to be harmless to teeth.
Cooking more homemade meals can also help reduce added sugars in your diet. Need ideas for quick and easy bites? Check out Dinner for Everyone by cookbook-crafting veteran Mark Bittman. Want to go all out on quitting sugar? Try the 7-Day Sugar Challenge, created by the New York Times.
If your fragrant Cocofloss is flirting with you, feel free to indulge more, but be sure to floss at least once a day, ideally before bed. Flossing at night will give your teeth at least eight hours (we hope!) free of food debris. The 500+ microfilaments in Cocofloss will give your gnashers a loofah-like cleanse, combined with a soothing, antimicrobial dose of coconut oil (infused into every strand).
Be sure to floss before you brush so that you can wash away any remaining bacteria and food particles and allow the fluoride in your toothpaste to reach every surface. Here’s how (cue the music!):
1. Tear off about a shoulder-length piece (around 18 inches) of your favorite floss (a.k.a. Cocofloss! 😉).
2. Twirl the floss a couple times around your middle finger on each hand and hold a one-inch section with your thumbs and pointer fingers.
3. Insert floss between two teeth.
4. Make a “C” shape with the floss hugging the side of the tooth.
5. Shimmy the floss up and down each side of each tooth to scrub bacterial plaque off the surfaces. (Feel free to shimmy your shoulders, too!)
6. Move to a new, clean section of floss to make sure you don’t spread bacterial plaque from one space to another.
7. Repeat between the next two teeth. Floss behind your back molars, too!
The American Dental Association recommends you follow the 2X2 rule — brush your teeth twice a day (in the morning and before bed) for at least two minutes each time. That helps prevent the plaque created by the bacteria in our mouths from hardening into decay-causing tartar. If you go too many hours between brushing or don’t brush for long enough, bad bacteria can set up shop and wreak havoc on teeth and gums.
BTW, two minutes is about the length of “Respect” by Aretha Franklin or “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles. Our post on raising floss fanatics includes a list of toothbrushing tunes that don’t resemble Raffi.
You’ve been brushing your teeth since you were a toddler, but perhaps it’s time for a refresher on how to bliss out your mouth and leave it beaming:
1. Put a pea-sized dollop of fluoride toothpaste on your favorite compact, soft-bristled brush. (A smaller brush can better maneuver to hard-to-reach spots; harder brushes can do more harm than good on your teeth and gums.)
2. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums, pointing slightly upward for your top teeth and downward for your lower chompers.
3. Brush in gentle circles, massaging away cavity-causing plaque. Remember, you’re treating your teeth to a loving spa session, not a punishing scrub-down. So don’t press too hard — that stresses out your gums and can eventually make them recede. (Want to improve your technique? One small study showed that taking a “selfie” may help.)
4. Give toothbrushing love to all the parts of your pearly whites, holding your brush vertically to get those tricky spots behind your front teeth.
5. Don’t forget your tongue, which can harbor bacteria that cause bad breath. Again, be mellow with your brush so you don’t break the skin.
6. Flash yourself a bright, clean smile in the mirror. It may trigger “mirror neurons” that could help calm you down and re-center you if you’re feeling low or anxious, according to psychiatrist Dr. Eva Ritvo in an interview with NBC News. Ritvo is the co-author of The Beauty Prescription: The Complete Formula for Looking and Feeling Beautiful.
P.S. Get yourself a new, pretty toothbrush every three months because frayed bristles just don’t do the job as well. (And you deserve a pretty toothbrush!)
If daily dental care is so essential, why do about 30% of Americans only brush once a day and 20% never floss? In fact, in one survey, about 14% of people said they would rather clean a toilet than floss! (Bet they’ve never tried floss from the Cocofloss gelato shop!)
One important key to keeping up on your twice-daily tooth-care routine is to make it just that: a routine or a habit. New habits can take time to establish. Get yours started with our 21-Day Floss Challenge! You can also learn more ways to make healthy habits stick — including making SMART resolutions, automating first steps (like setting up automatic delivery of Cocofloss), and rewarding yourself with chocolate — on our blog.
Set a reminder on your phone to get a regular dental check-up and cleaning. New research shows that for people without any risk factors, one annual visit might be enough. But if you have a higher chance of periodontal disease, you may need to recline in that fancy chair even more than twice a year. There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription — and you should speak to your dentist before you drop off one of your six-month visits.
Visiting your dentist may or may not be your favorite appointment, but for your mouth, it’s like an all-expenses-paid (by you or your insurance!) trip to pearly-white paradise. The exam, cleaning, and polish set you on track to show off your attention-grabbing grin.
One often-overlooked tip for shining your brightest smile? Exercising — even just a little bit. A recent review by University of Michigan researchers published in the Journal of Happiness Studies showed that even working out once a week or for 10 minutes a day can boost happiness levels. But the more exercise the better the result.
“We know that exercise improves health,” Dr. Weiyun Chen explained to the New York Times, “and feeling healthier might make people feel happier.” According to theNYT article, “Exercise might also remodel the brain, for example, by prompting the creation of new brain cells or inducing changes in brain chemicals, in ways that contribute to positive emotions.” Now that’s something to smile about!
Keep your smiles coming season after season by designing your own CocoBox subscription! Twice a year, you’ll receive a package filled with enough Cocofloss to keep your grin glittery bright for the next six months. Plus, you’ll save more than 10%!