Best Practices for Healthy Teeth and Gums

Woman in a yellow sweater smiles at the dentist during

By: Hayley L. Harvey, DDS, MS

My greatest professional passion is to ensure that all members of our community receive high quality dental healthcare. As the Section Chief and Director of Dental Education at Broadlawns Medical Center, I’m proud to be able to fulfill my passion and make dental care accessible. However, dental health is more than visiting the dentist. You can improve your smile every day with these tips.  

Tooth decay is preventable: You can prevent this infectious disease. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria on teeth that breaks down foods and produces acid which destroys tooth enamel. 

  • Drink fluoridated water. This can reduce the amount of decay in children’s teeth by 18-40%.

  • Brush twice a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste.

  • Clean between your teeth daily.

Diet is important:  You can make healthy food and beverage choices. Empty calorie foods such as candy and snack foods like chips are hard on your teeth. They offer no nutritional value, and the amount of sugar that they contain can lead to tooth decay. Sugary drinks are even more harmful because they provide your teeth with a constant sugar bath. 

  • Keep added sugar in your diet to a minimum.

  • Drink water—particularly fluoridated water.

  • Eat foods that are rich in vitamin D, calcium, B12 and iron. These nutrients are important for dental and general health.

Dental health is a window to your overall health: You can positively impact your overall health by taking care of your mouth. Your dental health might contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:

  • Endocarditis

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Pregnancy and birth complications 

  • Pneumonia

Tobacco and medications impact your dental health: You can stop using tobacco products. All tobacco products have a negative impact on your mouth. Also, certain medications can reduce saliva flow, which helps protect you from microbes that multiply and lead to disease.

  • Cigarette smoking can lead to oral cancer, oral lesions, gum disease, and tooth staining. 

  • Vaping increases your risk for gum disease, bruxism and tooth damage. 

  • Smokeless tobacco causes oral conditions such as gingival keratosis, halitosis, enamel erosion, gingival recession, gum disease, and tooth loss.

Disparities in dental health exist: You need to be aware of the dental health disparities that exist in our country for many racial and ethnic groups, by socioeconomic status, gender and age. According to the CDC:

  • The greatest racial and ethnic disparity among tooth decay in children aged 2–4 years and aged 6–8 years is seen in Mexican American and black, non-Hispanic children.

  • Adults aged 35–44 years with less than a high school education experience untreated tooth decay nearly three times that of adults with at least some college education.

  • Periodontal (gum) Disease is higher in men than women, and greatest among Mexican Americans and Non-Hispanic blacks, and those with less than a high school education.

See a dentist regularly: You can schedule regular check-ups. If you don’t have a dentist, I invite you to access high quality dental healthcare at the Broadlawns Dental Clinic.

About the Broadlawns Dental Clinic: The Broadlawns Dental Clinic provides emergency, preventive and comprehensive dental services for patients of all ages from children to adults. The Broadlawns Dental Clinic has been a mainstay for dental care in our community for over 45 years. In 2017, the clinic relocated to a beautiful new space in the Broadlawns Medical Plaza, expanding to 22 operatories. Broadlawns accepts most commercial insurances and all state insurance plans. In addition, eligible Polk County residents may receive coverage under the Broadlawns Community Care Program. For more information or to make an appointment, please visit our Dental Clinic webpage or call (515) 282-2421.

Dr. Hayley Harvey has been a practicing dentist for over 25 years. Dr. Harvey received her D.D.S. (94’) and Master’s Degree in Dental Public Health (96’) from the University of Iowa. She served 10 years in the Iowa and Michigan Army National Guard as a dental officer.  While living in Michigan, Dr. Harvey was the Dental Director for Baldwin Family Health Care in Baldwin, Michigan. She then returned to Iowa as the State Public Health Dental Director for the Iowa Department of Public Health. In 2002, Dr. Harvey joined the Broadlawns Medical Center Dental Clinic where she continues her work as the Section Chief and Director of Dental Education. Dr. Harvey lives in Des Moines with her husband, Matthew Harvey, and two daughters.