Children learn how to take care of their teeth early on, but it’s equally important to protect teeth in adulthood. Strong teeth are attractive, promote good health and can even save you money. Here are some ways to have healthy teeth for years to come.

Floss First, Then Brush

Flossing and brushing are daily rituals, but it is important that they be done in the right order. Always floss first, to keep debris from re-settling on freshly brushed teeth. Use a soft brush and replace it every three months. Don’t brush too hard: You’re trying to remove plaque, not enamel!

You don’t have to rinse after you brush. Simply spit out any excess toothpaste. This leaves a film of fluoride in place to help strengthen your teeth. Avoid eating sticky foods if you won’t be able to brush immediately afterward.

A Better Diet for a Healthy Mouth

You already know to avoid sweets, especially between meals. Did you know that some foods are actually good for your teeth? Crunchy fruits and vegetables scrape film off teeth and stimulate the production of saliva, which reduces plaque buildup. Both green and black teas contain compounds that help reduce bacterial growth, as does red wine.

A diet rich in calcium is important for strong teeth. If you want to avoid dairy products, calcium is also found in sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens, and some types of molasses.

Protect Your Oral Assets

Teeth are made from minerals, notably calcium. In addition to needing calcium in the diet, you also need to protect the calcium that is already in your teeth. Fluoride toothpaste helps by making it easier for your body to replace calcium that might be lost from the enamel. Your diet can also come into play.

Acidic foods and drinks, such as carbonated sodas, erode enamel by creating an acid environment in the mouth. You can protect teeth by following your tangy treat with a glass of water. Milk, cheese and other dairy products also reduce acid.

Tooth grinding leads to excessive wear and even fractures in the teeth. If you find yourself clenching your teeth frequently or wake up with sore jaw muscles, it’s a good idea to talk to your dentist.

Your Smile and Your Wallet

Wanting an attractive smile is not just a matter of vanity. Stained, damaged or missing teeth make a bad impression that can hurt your career. It’s difficult to interact with coworkers when you’re afraid to smile or laugh because you don’t have healthy teeth. Yet many people avoid going to the dentist because they’re afraid of the cost.

One way to solve this problem is to include dental care in your annual budget. Another solution is a good dental insurance plan. These plans often cover routine exams and cleanings, along with fillings and other types of restoration. A dental budget combined with the right insurance can protect you from pain in your mouth and in your wallet.

You and Your Dentist: A Partnership for Health

A healthy mouth is more than just a pretty smile. It’s the key to preventing many health issues. Digestion begins in the mouth. The mechanical action of chewing, along with the enzymes in saliva, reduces food to the proper consistency for the rest of the digestive tract to process. Gum disease or abscesses put strain on the immune system and can even lead to an increased risk of stroke or heart disease.

Regular dental checkups help keep tooth trouble at bay and give you a chance to have any problems corrected before they lead to tooth loss or the need for crowns or other restorations.

Sports are a great way for children to develop motor skills as well as a spirit of teamwork and cooperation. As a parent, you recognize the many benefits of playing sports, but you also want to keep your children safe. In addition to bodily injury, sports accidents can affect your children’s teeth. An errant ball, a stray stick or another accident can cause a child to lose a tooth or suffer other oral injuries.

According to studies by the American Dental Association, athletes that do not wear mouth guards are 60 percent more likely to damage their teeth. Between 13 and 29 percent of dental injuries occur while people are playing sports. You can take proactive steps to protect your children if they participate in sports or other high-risk activities. Wearing a helmet is essential in sports that involve high speed and the risk of heavy contact like hockey, football and baseball as well as skating and bike riding. The helmet should fit correctly and be appropriate for the sport. In addition to the top, back and side of the head, a helmet and face shield will also help protect the child’s teeth and jaw.

While helmets are not standard equipment in martial arts, soccer and basketball, children should still wear mouth guards. These protective coverings shield children’s teeth, lips and tongue should they be accidentally struck in the face. The mouth guard can be custom fitted or be an off-the shelf boil-and-bite design, which are available in most sporting goods stores. Heat the guard until the plastic is soft. Once it has sufficiently cooled, place the guard in your child’s mouth and have the child bite down. If the fit is uncomfortable, repeat the process until a comfortable fit is obtained. An effective mouth guard is durable, easy to clean and does not restrict breathing or talking. You can also consult with a dentist for assistance in selecting the right mouth guard for your child. Helmets and mouth guards cushion blows that might otherwise cause injuries to the face, jaw, mouth or teeth.

Protective devices help to prevent thousands of sports-related dental injuries each year. Even with adequate precautions in place, accidents may still occur. It is important to see a dentist right away if a tooth is cracked, broken, dislodged or knocked out. Leaving a dental emergency untreated can lead to serious complications.

Health insurance generally does not cover these dental issues. If you do not have dental insurance, you will have to pay these expenses out of pocket. Having the right insurance in place will give you peace of mind knowing that your child’s dental care will be taken care in the event of an emergency.