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Not only will a radiant smile make you look younger, a healthy mouth is also a good indicator of overall well-being. We subconsciously connect a dull smile with age—enamel wears over time, darkening our teeth, says Lauren Solomon, author of Image Matters! First Steps on the Journey to Your Best Self. "A bright smile, on the other hand, gives the impression of good health and youth," she says. One quick anti-aging beauty tip: Cut back on teeth-staining habits such as drinking coffee and red wine and smoking cigarettes.
1. Increase Your C Intake
Vitamin C is the cement that holds all of your cells together.
"So just as it's vital for your skin, it's important for the health of your gum tissue," says Paula Shannon Jones, DDS, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. People who consumed less than 60 mg per day of C (8 ounces of orange juice or one orange contains more than 80 mg) were 25% more likely to have gum disease than people who took in 180 mg or more, according to a study of more than 12,000 US adults conducted at the State University of New York University at Buffalo.
Smile Rx: Add a daily glass of OJ to your breakfast routine.
2. Have Tea
The antioxidants are good for your gums.
Black and green teas contain polyphenols, antioxidant plant compounds that prevent plaque from adhering to your teeth and help reduce your chances of developing cavities and gum disease. "Tea also has potential for reducing bad breath because it inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause the odor," explains Christine D. Wu, PhD, professor and director of caries research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, who has conducted several studies on tea and oral health. Many teas also contain fluoride (from the leaves and the water it's steeped in), which helps protect tooth enamel from decay and promotes healthy teeth.
Smile Rx: Steep a cup every afternoon. Added bonus: a bit of caffeine for a postlunch perk.
3. Boost Calcium Consumption
The same way the mineral makes for strong bones, it's also necessary to protect your pearly whites.
People who get at least 800 mg a day are less likely to develop severe gum disease, says a study by the Buffalo researchers. The reason: About 99% of the calcium in your body is in your bones and teeth. Dietary calcium—available in foods like cheese, milk, and yogurt—strengthens the alveolar bone in the jaw, which helps hold your teeth in place.
Smile Rx: The recommended amount is 1,000 mg per day for women younger than 51 and 1,200 mg for those older. A calcium supplement could do the trick, but you should aim to get as much as you can from your diet. You get about 300 mg each from an 8-ounce glass of milk, a 6-ounce yogurt, or a 1.5- to 2-ounce serving of cheese.
4. Protect Your Smile When You Swim
It sounds surprising, but dental researchers have found that excessively chlorinated pool water can erode and stain tooth enamel.
If you're a frequent swimmer, pack a toothbrush along with your towel when you take your next dip. "More chlorine in a pool may equal more protection against bacteria, but overdoing it lowers the pool's pH level and makes it dangerously acidic," says Matt Messina, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association.
5. Have an Apple a Day
It helps keep the dentist away too.
Crunchy foods, including apples, celery, and carrots, act like little toothbrushes when you chew them, and they actually help scrub away stubborn stains over time. The cleansing effect on your teeth may be noticeable—if ever so slightly—especially if you're a coffee drinker who wasn't eating apples every day to begin with. "The mildly acidic nature and astringent quality of apples, combined with their rough, fiber-rich flesh, makes them the ideal food for cleansing and brightening teeth," explains Jeff Golub-Evans, DDS, founding president of the New York Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
Smile Rx: If you start eating an apple a day as a between-meal snack and don't get the chance to brush your teeth afterward, be sure to chase it with a glass of water to rinse away the sugar, acid, and any plaque it may have removed from your enamel.
6. Go for Whole Grains
Whole grains are like dental insurance, suggests research from McMaster University, Canada. They also keep your heart healthy, preventing diabetes, and more: Whole grains keep teeth healthier longer. Among 34,000 men studied for 14 years, those who ate at least three daily whole grain servings were 23% less likely to suffer tooth-loosening gum inflammation than those averaging fewer than one.
Smile Rx: Swap white rice and regular pasta for brown and whole wheat versions. Check labels to make sure brown rice or whole grains are listed as the first ingredient.
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