New Year’s Resolutions. Even if you don’t make them, the ringing in of the New Year does have a fresh-start feeling. This could be the year that you stop scrolling through Facebook before bed every night. Or maybe this is the year where you start focusing on your health.

Whatever resolution you may be trying to stick to, we’ve got a suggestion: Make 2017 your year for healthier, stronger teeth. Maintaining good dental health is crucial to your personal well-being, with poor habits causing cavities, tooth loss, and gum infections. To help you start forming better hygiene habits, here are 10 steps to take better care of your pearly whites.

STEP 1: Brush Your Teeth AT LEAST Twice a Day

The American Dental Association suggests that you brush your teeth in the morning when you wake up and again before you head to bed. Over the course of your day, bacteria within your mouth begins breaking down the food you’ve eaten throughout the day. As the bacteria is munching away on what’s left over from your lunch, it releases acids that can start damaging your tooth enamel. If you are only brushing once a day, it’s likely that the bacteria will begin to spread to different parts of the mouth which are often what causes the onset of gingivitis. It’s important to brush twice a day to keep all of the bacteria at bay.

STEP 2: When Brushing, Use a Fluoride Toothpaste

You’ve probably heard of fluoride as something that’s added to your water, or maybe as a child, your doctor prescribed fluoride tablets to help keep your teeth strong. But what is fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in the Earth’s crust, water, and in foods. When fluoride is added to your toothpaste it can be absorbed into your tooth enamel where it can help strengthen the tooth by replenishing the phosphorus and calcium that has been lost. Although you may have fluoride in your water already, you should still consider giving your teeth the extra fighting power that’s provided by fluoride. (However, do not use fluoridated toothpaste with children under the age of two unless you’ve first consulted your pediatrician.)

STEP 3: When You Brush, Floss

Although you may be an avid brusher, the odds are that you are one of the 32% of Americans who never flosses. In a report from US News in May of 2016, a study found that over a third of Americans, a whopping 37%, floss their teeth “less than daily.”

The importance of flossing regularly is related to those pesky bacteria we mentioned earlier. When you brush, many parts of your teeth, like the cracks and crevices in between, are out of reach for the bristles to scrub clean. That’s where flossing comes in. By reaching in between your teeth, flossing is stripping away the bacteria that could continue eating away at your enamel or that could irritate your gums. By linking your flossing habits to your twice-a-day brushing routine, you have a much lower chance of enamel loss or tooth irritation and decay.

STEP 4: Start Using a Rinse or Mouthwash

You may think that mouthwash is simply an instant breath freshener, but it does a lot more than take away your bad breath. If brushing takes away most bacteria and flossing takes another swing at it, mouthwash is the knock-out punch. Mouthrinses can reach and clean within every nook and cranny your mouth has bacteria hiding within. But buyer beware, not all mouthwashes are going to break down the bacterial compounds that can lead to tooth decay.

When shopping in the mouthrinse aisle, look for the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. This seal is given to manufacturers whose products have shown statistical significance providing the health benefit they claim. Don’t just look for something to mask bad breath, look for a product that can fight and kill the bacteria. You can even find some mouthwashes that have the bacteria killing power and added fluoride to help keep your teeth strong.

STEP 5: Replace Your Toothbrush More Often

If you’ve had your toothbrush for more than five months, do yourself a favor and toss it. Your toothbrush can house lingering toothpaste and saliva, even if it’s been rinsed after you’re done brushing. To keep your teeth as clean as possible, you should be replacing your toothbrush every three to four months. Consider buying a toothbrush sooner if you notice that your bristles are beginning to fray.

STEP 6: Drink More Water

Most people don’t want to bring their toothbrushes and toothpaste with them to use after every meal. With our busy lives, that solution is impractical. Instead, try drinking more water throughout the day, especially during and after meals. The water helps wash off foods and bacteria clinging to your teeth. Also, staying hydrated will help your mouth’s production of saliva and give your body the water it needs to distribute nutrients and keep you functioning at full capacity all day long.

STEP 7: Avoid Acidic Foods and Drinks

One of the reasons fluoride is such a good addition to your dental hygiene routine is because of the damage acidic drinks and food can cause. When drinks like soda, coffee, and wine are introduced to your teeth, their acidity breaks down your tooth enamel. In addition to some of these drinks, many of our favorite fruits also contain a high acid content. Limiting how much acidic foods you eat and drink can help you keep your enamel strong to ward off tooth sensitivity and decay.

STEP 8: Curb Your Sweet Tooth

Candies and sugary drinks are just two culprits that affect your dental hygiene. When you eat sugary foods, the starches from them get stuck in your teeth’s cracks and crevices. These sugars are great food sources for your mouth’s bacteria. By cutting down on some of your favorite sweet treats, you are doing your teeth a favor and giving your mouth’s bacteria only a sliver of a chance. If possible, try to eat sweet and acidic snacks when you’re home so you can brush up right afterward.

STEP 9: Stop Using Tobacco

Whether you are using chewing tobacco or have a habit of smoking, the use of tobacco products causes serious damage to your teeth and mouth. In addition to the yellowing of your teeth and gums, tobacco use is linked to the onset of gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth and throat cancers. If you are seriously wanting to take better care of your teeth this year, kicking these habits to the curb is a huge victory.

STEP 10: See A Dentist

The most important step is the one we saved for last. Although all of these steps improve your oral hygiene, there’s no substitute for the expertise and care that comes with visiting a dental office. Understanding your teeth’s strengths and weaknesses are the key to having good health overall, and dentists are trained to help you find a care plan that will keep your smile healthy for years to come.

If it has been awhile since you’ve been to a dentist, we’d love to meet you! If you would like to set up an appointment to meet the staff or for a check-up, give the Creason & Weber office a call at (616) 842-0822. We always welcome new patients, and you can even get in touch with us online!