For good dental health, regular checkups are a necessity.  But let’s face it. Regardless of whether your teeth are in good shape or bad, going to the dentist, even just for a cleaning, doesn’t make everyone’s list of top things they like to do.

And when there’s extra work to be done  – such as filling cavities – it can be even more troubling. Most people know they should brush and floss.  But beyond that, what are some of the things you should do to stay out of the dental chair?

“Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is a great place to start,” says Dr. Anita Myers, a dentist and author of the book Stunning Smiles: A Dental Guide To Improve the Way You Eat, Smile & Live ( “Many people when they get up in the morning get a croissant, muffin or doughnut, and a coffee with sugar.  To protect their teeth, it would be much better to substitute whole grain cereal and then sweeten it with fruit.”

While Dr. Myers says most people worry about the impact of sugar on their weight, the damage done to teeth is just as bad if not worse.  “If you change your lifestyle you can lose extra weight.  But if you lose your teeth because of too much sugar, you can’t get them back.”

Dr. Myers offers the following advice for those who want to do a better job of caring for their teeth and gums:

  • Make good diet choices. Stay away from processed foods, which often contain sugar even when you don’t realize it. Sugar, of course, leads to tooth decay that causes cavities. Here’s how: The mouth has both good and bad bacteria in it. The harmful bacteria feed off the sugar, and as they do so they produce acid that breaks down your teeth layer by layer. Some processed foods that people may not realize have significant amounts of sugar include low-fat yogurt, condiments such as ketchup and barbeque sauce, pasta sauce and salad dressings.
  • Don’t abuse over-the-counter medications. Prescription drugs can create dental issues.  For example, a side effect of many medications is dry mouth, which leads to a variety of oral-health problems.  And watch out for the sugar in most cough drops and antacids, as some people tend to rely on these on a regular basis.
  • Stop smoking and using tobacco. In addition to being bad for teeth and gums, they increase the odds of oral cancer.  Chewing tobacco bathes the teeth and gums in toxins.
  • Drink plenty of water. Water cleanses the mouth of toxins.
  • Stop illegal drug use. Cocaine and methamphetamine cause a reduction in saliva flow that results in decay and affects the entire mouth. 
    “Too many people think brushing and flossing are the only aspects of good dental care,” says Dr. Myers.  “While those activities are important, there are many other things patients can do to maintain a great smile.”