February is National Dental Health Month. I am sure most of you already have this marked in your calendar, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Seriously, February is a great time to focus on how important our mouth is. We rely on our mouths to eat, smile and talk. When our mouth is healthy and feels good, we are able to eat food that is nutritious and good for our body. Being able to smile and speak confidently is helpful to our social wellbeing. An unhealthy mouth can be a source of pain and infection. Diseases of the mouth have been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several other serious ailments. There’s no doubt that a healthy, happy person needs a healthy mouth.

It used to be assumed that as we grew older, we would inevitably lose all of our teeth. This is certainly no longer the case. In just a few decades that has changed dramatically. Older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer than ever before. Advances in modern dentistry and increased knowledge about preventive dental care have helped this to happen. Having solid, healthy teeth certainly allows us to eat the foods that are best for our bodies—vegetables, fruits and proteins. Obviously this has tremendous benefits to our entire body. We stay healthier, feel better, look better, and live better.

Of course, for those not satisfied with the state of their mouth, it’s never too late to get back on track. And don’t worry if it has been a very long time since you’ve seen the dentist. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. I guarantee that you are not the worst mouth they have ever seen. I promise. And considering how important a healthy mouth is to quality of life, there is no time like the present. Your dentist will see you for a complete examination that will include assessing you for cavities, infections, and gum disease as well as an oral cancer screening. Your dentist will discuss the findings with you, and together you can work on a plan to enhance or maintain your mouth.

What our dental team does for us is important, but what we do at home is just as important. Good care at home will help to keep your mouth in good shape. Here are some tips for you:

Brush at least twice a day, for at least 2 minutes using a fluoride toothpaste and soft bristled toothbrush
Floss between your teeth and gently under the gums every day
Consider using a mouth rinse with fluoride, especially if you are at high risk for cavities and/or your mouth is dry
Minimize the amount of sugary and starchy food you eat. Including sweet and acidic drinks.
Don’t smoke. Smokers have increased risk of oral and throat cancers.
Dentures and partial dentures should be taken out, cleaned daily with denture cleaner and left out of the mouth for at least 4 hours/day, preferable over night.

You will not regret having a healthy mouth. With professional dental care and good habits at home, it is certainly achievable. And the benefits are great. Feeling better, looking better, living better—now that’s something to smile about.