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Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Cavities

See your dentist regularly. How often will depend on your particular needs. Your dentist can advise you.

Brush your teeth regularly to reduce plaque buildup. Brushing should last for about 2 to 3 minutes each time to make sure you're reaching all teeth surfaces. Even though there are many kinds of toothbrushes on the market, including electric and sonic models, any will do, says Susan Runner, D.D.S., chief of FDA's dental devices branch. "The most important thing about the brush is to use it and to have appropriate instruction from your dentist or hygienist on how to use it," she says. The American Dental Association recommends switching to a new brush every three to four months.

Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Check to make sure there is fluoride in the product, because not all toothpastes contain it. Three kinds of fluoride ingredients are allowed, based on their effectiveness and safety, according to FDA's final monograph on over-the-counter anti caries drug products, which took effect in spring 1997. They are sodium fluoride, sodium monofluorophosphate, and stannous fluoride. Toothpaste manufacturers sometimes combine fluoride with other ingredients that are said to reduce plaque and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Although FDA has approved one such product, Colgate's Total toothpaste, for helping to prevent cavities, plaque and gingivitis, FDA has not determined the effectiveness of many of the anti plaque and anti gingivitis ingredients. Also, consumers should be wary of claims that a dental product can do more than simply reduce tooth decay because, based on current scientific knowledge, this is the only cavity-fighting labeling claim FDA allows.

Floss daily. Like toothbrushes, any kind will do, as long as you use it daily. Flossing helps reduce plaque buildup in areas the toothbrush can't get to.

Eat a variety of foods, but eat fewer foods containing sugars and starches between meals. The more often you eat foods with sugars and starches and the longer these foods stay in your mouth before you brush your teeth, the greater the risk for tooth decay. Consider sugarless candy and gums made with certain sugar alcohols because they may not promote tooth decay.

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