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How well do you brush your teeth? Do you…

  • Use soft bristle tooth brush (and change it at least every 3 months or when bristles go haywire)
  • Use a toothpaste with fluoride
  • Brush your teeth twice a day, one of those being prior to bed
  • Brush all teeth surfaces (even the ones you can’t see) with adequate friction and in a circular motion
  • Brush your gums, tongue and inner cheeks during oral care
  • Dental floss at least once a day

If you got 6 out of 6 – Great work.

5 out of 6 – Almost there.

4 or less – We’ve got some work to do!

According to the American Dental Association, less than one-third of Americans brush their teeth correctly. This is problematic because poor oral health has been associated with more than just the bad breath, cavities, and gum disease that you’ve probably already heard about. Poor oral health has also been attributed to eating disorders, sleep disturbances, uncontrolled pain, difficulty focusing, self-esteem issues, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and even susceptibility to lung diseases such as pneumonia.

Brushing correctly is the best way to disrupt bacteria in your mouth so it doesn’t stay in place long enough and begin to cause damage. The longer that plaque sits in place, the more likely it is to become tartar. Tartar is the hard, yellow, rough material you sometimes feel in between your teeth that can cause inflammations and bleeding the gums. If that’s left untreated for too long, you could risk losing your teeth and getting oral infections. While there is no exact science to how long until plaque causes damage, it is possible for cavities to start by not brushing just once – like not doing so before you go to bed. And the truth is, it’s usually not just forgetting to brush once but for most Americans, more of a habit of never brushing before bedtime.

Your oral health is NOT separate from your overall health. This has long been the thought process because you see different providers – a dentist (if you see one) and a doctor for other health issues. But let’s be very clear, brushing properly and seeing your dentist at least twice a year is important. Your dentist is just as important as any other health specialist you would see for other health matters. So for all the reasons mentioned above and unless you scored 6 out of 6, perhaps you’ll consider changing a few things to better manage your (oral) health.

Nurse Alice Benjamin is a nationally board certified Cardiac Clinical Nurse at world-renowned Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, California with more than 15 years of experience. She is an American Heart Association spokesperson and first African-American nurse elected to the American Nurses Association/California Board of Directors. Benjamin is also a freelance on-air health expert and writer and hosts “Healthy Living with Nurse Alice” on Thursdays 9:25am ET on WENO 760AM. She has appeared on various national radio shows and TV shows including “Tom Joyner Morning Show”, “The Doctors” and HLN’s “News Now” and more. You can follow her on Twitter at @AskNurseAlice.