Maintaining healthy teeth and a clean mouth doesn’t stop when you head out the front door in the morning. When you’re away from home you can easily fight cavities (and midday dragon breath) by packing a few tooth-friendly items in your purse or bag. A toothbrush is the first essential to include in your dental health kit, but did you know you shouldn’t leave home without a celery stick or even a piece of cheese? Read on to find out about other surprising items that will help you squeeze dental health into your busy schedule.
Brushing your teeth is a quick pick-me-up for a fresh feeling during the day, says Lorinda Coan, LDH, MS, an assistant professor of dental hygiene at the Indiana University School of Dentistry in Indianapolis. Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush to promote healthy teeth and protect gums from irritation. No water? No toothpaste? No problem! Choose pre-loaded toothbrushes, no water needed — “the easiest and most convenient way for on-the-go cleaning,” says Timothy Chase, DMD, of SmilesNY cosmetic dentistry in New York City. “Colgate Wisp is an example.”
Your toothbrush needs reinforcements to keep teeth healthy and fight cavities. — namely floss to stave off decay between teeth. Duck into the restroom after lunch and use a disposable floss pick or good old dental floss to remove any remnants of spinach salad now lodged between your molars. Dr. Chase says that flossing products featuring a smooth dental tape (Oral-B, Crest) are easier to move between even the tightest teeth.
In the morning, slip a prepackaged cheddar square or other piece of cheese into your purse to help fight cavities. Why? Cheese and other dairy products provide calcium and vitamin D, essential for strong teeth and bones, says Pam Quinones, RDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Cheese also promotes saliva flow for dental health and can neutralize enamel-damaging acids. Chase adds that hard cheeses can help whiten healthy teeth by scrubbing away food particles.
Crunchy fruits and veggies (think apples and celery) also act as an effective scrub for healthy teeth and can help fight cavities, says Chase. They activate saliva, which discourages plaque from forming, a dental health plus. Quinones says that the vitamin C in celery and other fruits and veggies helps keep gums healthy as well. Here’s a DIY whitening trick from Chase: Rub an orange peel or a strawberry over your teeth, and then rinse your mouth with water. After a few months, your teeth will be noticeably whiter.
If your pearly whites are still looking a little dull, you might be tempted by an over-the-counter whitening product, such as a whitening pen or other quickie brightener. Do they work? Some products like Crest White Strips work somewhat, says Chase. To get good results though, a whitening agent generally needs to remain on teeth for 20 minutes, often with the help of a fitted tray. Talk to your dentist or dental health professional to find the best way to whiten your teeth beyond using a toothbrush and whitening toothpaste.
Your mother might have told you that chewing gum isn’t good for your dental health, but today’s sugarless gum can help fight cavities and protect healthy teeth. A review of research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that chewing gum with the sugar-substitute xylitol reduces the bacteria that cause decay. Examples of xylitol-containing gums include Ice Breakers Ice Cubes sugar-free gum and Trident and Trident Fusion With Xylitol, according to Coan. Just be sure to choose your flavor of gum carefully. A recent Boston University School of Medicine study found that acidic flavorings, usually found in fruit-flavored sugar-free gum, can damage enamel, which could lead to tooth erosion.
Sip on water during the day for better dental health and healthy teeth. Water helps hydrate a dry mouth and keeps the pH in your mouth balanced to allow natural defenses, such as saliva, to work more effectively, says Quinones. If you can’t use your toothbrush or sugar-free gum after a meal, rinsing can help remove food debris, says Coan. For extra cavity-fighting power, choose bottled water with fluoride, or fill up a reusable bottle with tap water at home. Most tap water in the United States contains fluoride.
Bad breath is not only embarrassing, but it can also be a sign of an oral hygiene issue or a health problem — and not just dental health. If you have chronic halitosis (bad breath), talk to your dentist first. Chase says that if your dentist can’t find a cause, consult your doctor. For an occasional problem like onion or coffee breath, mints can work when your toothbrush isn’t handy. Just make sure they’re sugar-free, so they don’t contribute to tooth decay. You might want to include a small bottle of mouthwash in your on-the-go dental health kit, too. Coan says that Listerine and Crest Pro-Health rinse are among the mouthwashes that can help freshen funky breath.