When it comes to anti-aging strategies, most of us focus on skin care and exercise. But glowing skin and a firm body can’t slow the clock if paired with stained teeth and recessed gums. Additionally, a healthy mouth can help keep the rest of you healthy, too. Ready to bite into the challenge? Check out these 5 natural steps to a younger smile:
Younger smile tip #1: Help teeth gleam with neem
Neem, a tropical evergreen plant, has been long used in Ayurveda (an ancient form of complementary medicine from Indian) to treat a wide range of dental and gum issues. So it’s not surprising it’s become a popular ingredient in natural toothpaste brands.
After a friend’s glowing review of a neem paste, I also started using one recently. [Note that some brands just add neem bark or leaves to conventional ingredients, so if you want an all-natural product, review the ingredient list.] Also, never use neem oil, which is toxic when taken internally.
While I’ve been using neem toothpaste for only a short time and brush with it in addition to my conventional brand, I find it keeps my mouth feeling clean longer. Other users claim with extended use it helps whiten teeth.
What’s so special about neem? It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and thus may help fight tooth decay, prevent periodontal disease, plaque, cavities and tartar.
Younger smile tip #2: Give your mouth a workout with oil pulling
To brighten your pearly whites maybe you’ve tried peroxide-based professional whitening or at-home kits. While these products can be effective, my dentist advised they work best on yellow-toned teeth, and may not do anything for grey-toned chompers. Also, repeated use can cause tooth sensitivity.
For natural whitening, you may want to try oil pulling, another Ayurvedic practice. It’s the darling of wellness warriors and even celeb detox diva Gywneth Paltrow has recently joined the oily-mouthed bandwagon. I wrote about my own experience swishing oil several months ago.
Basically oil pulling involves swishing unrefined sesame or coconut oil for between 10 to 20 minutes first thing each day prior to eating, and then spitting it out. It may seem like a major morning time killer, but isn’t so bad if you do it while showering.
Why would anyone do this? While there are many untested health claims attributed to oil pulling, scientific evidence indicates that as the oil is circulated through the mouth, bacteria stick to it and dissolve in the oil.
Younger smile tip #3: Stimulate those gums
There’s good reason most dentists nag us about flossing. It removes plaque, helps prevent gum disease, cavities and tooth loss, and minimizes bad breath. But if you want to really ace your next dental checkup, use a gum stimulator daily as well.
These dental gizmos are long metal or plastic tools that have rubber tips. They help remove the plaque your floss doesn’t get and also keep gums healthy.
After brushing, point the stimulator at a 45 degree angle and circulate it between each tooth on both the front and back. Rinse afterward.
In addition to helping prevent periodontal disease (an inflammatory disease that destroys bone and gum tissues that support teeth), evidence indicates gum care may also help prevent heart disease. A consensus paper published in 2009 by the American Journal of Cardiology and the U.S.-based Journal of Periodontology acknowledged the connection between cardiovascular and periodontal disease. Some scientists believe the inflammation caused by periodontal disease is what increases the risk of heart disease.
Younger smile tip #4: Be gentle
Cracked or chipped teeth are arch enemies of a younger smile. To prevent tooth trauma, ask your hygienist or dentist if there are signs you grind or clench your teeth. These behaviours are often revealed by jaw pain, tooth damage, or headache upon waking, but you may not be aware you’re doing it. My own clenching was only diagnosed by an astute hygienist when she noticed teeth marks on my tongue.
While you can try stress-reduction techniques to prevent grinding or clenching, your dentist will likely recommend a night guard to protect teeth.
Brushing too vigorously can also damage teeth and gums. My dentist tells patients to begin with brushing the tops of teeth (the strongest parts), then going to the insides and finishing up with the delicate front of teeth.
And then there’s damage caused by acidic food and drink. Enamel erosion becomes more likely with age, caused by a lifetime of acidic foods, dry mouth, or conditions such as acid reflux and teeth grinding.
To protect enamel, reduce intake of acidic foods, such as orange juice and soda. Also wait an hour to brush after eating or drinking acidic things.
Younger smile tip #5: Get fresh with tongue scraping
The whitest smile won’t make up for bad breath. And using a conventional alcohol-based mouthwash can actually reduce saliva and make your mouth an attractive environment for halitosis-producing bacteria.
So instead of swishing, scrape. Tongue scrapers come in various shapes, but they share the common goal of removing bacteria and buildup on tongues that can contribute to bad breath. I use Dr. Tung’s Tongue Cleaner, a curved stainless steel gadget that resembles a torture instrument, but removes gunk effectively.
If you’re married to mouthwash, there are some effective alcohol-free versions on the market. I like PerioWash, and have also found Dessert Essence Tea Tree Oil Mouthwash works well (albeit with a bordering-on-nasty taste).
Need more convincing to take better care of your teeth? A 2013 study by Oral-B in the UK found that whiter teeth can make people look up to five years younger. Now that’s something to smile about.