5 tips to help create a healthy smile

Your smile isn’t just how you greet the world — it’s also part of how your body helps protect itself against illness.

Good oral health — including clean teeth and healthy gums — is an early line of defense against infections, inflammation and other issues that may happen when bacteria in the mouth enters the bloodstream. Additionally, a recent international study found healthy gums may help reduce the risk of complications with COVID-19.

There’s no doubt that working to improve oral health is time well spent — and may be more effective when it goes beyond basic brushing and flossing.

Dr. Leonard Weiss, chief dental officer at UnitedHealthcare, offers five strategies that may help promote an even healthier smile:

1. Improve toothbrush technique

Whether your toothbrush is old school or high-tech, remember to brush with soft bristles for a full two minutes and use these steps from the American Dental Association (ADA):

  • Place the brush head at a 45-degree angle to the gums
  • Gently move the brush back and forth in short (tooth-wide) strokes
  • Brush the outer, inner and chewing surfaces of all teeth
  • Clean the inside surfaces of front teeth with vertical up-and-down strokes
  • Brush the tongue to remove bacteria and keep breath fresh

If you are still using a manual toothbrush, consider upgrading to an electric version. Today’s smart electric toothbrushes offer several advantages, including the ability to monitor brushing. In some cases, the brush can sync to an app to track things like the duration and intensity of brushing, as well as overall tooth and gum coverage.

To help make electric toothbrushes more affordable, millions of UnitedHealthcare Dental members may be able to save up to 30% on a range of oral care products from quip, including smart electric toothbrushes, and refillable floss and mouthwash.

2. Focus on gum health

Unhealthy gums can lead to oral diseases, including a problem with redness and swelling called gingivitis. Left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which may eventually cause tooth loss. Gum disease is also linked to various chronic health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease and problems controlling blood sugar in people with diabetes.

Daily brushing and flossing can help protect against gum disease. Additionally, using a water flosser, which shoots a stream of water between the teeth, may also help to reduce bacteria below the gum line.

3. Evaluate the need for a nightguard

In a survey taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 70% of dentists reported an increase in patients experiencing teeth grinding and clenching, conditions often associated with stress.

Some people may grind their teeth while they sleep, making them unaware of the issue. Over time, the condition — known as sleep bruxism — may contribute to headaches, damaged teeth, gum recession and tooth loss.

Signs of bruxism can be identified by a dentist in a routine checkup. If the condition is noted, a dentist may suggest using a custom nightguard to reduce or prevent teeth grinding during sleep. 

4. Tap into virtual dental care

Virtual dental care, also called teledentistry, has become an important option for getting help with oral health issues. Some dentists provide telephone and video consultations, which may be a convenient starting point for advice about a tooth problem.

Additionally, because dental care ranks among the most frequently avoidable emergency room visits, virtual dental care may be a more affordable resource for faster help with emergency dental situations — including getting advice about when and where to access in-person help.

Consider checking your dental benefits to see if you have access to teledentistry, as many UnitedHealthcare dental plans now include two virtual visits per year at no additional cost.

5. Schedule regular cleanings

While it’s important to check state and local guidelines related to the spread of COVID-19, the ADA recommends you get routine cleanings and preventive care — even during a pandemic.

Regular cleanings and checkups are crucial for removing plaque that tends to build up over time and for detecting any potential issues with your teeth and gums. Many dental plans cover the costs for up to two annual cleanings.

Explore more information about dental and oral health.

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