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It's the tooth! The cost of dental care
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"Your electric toothbrush can be like your personal trainer," says Dr. Pollowitz. "For most people -- even people who are very diligent, you see across-the-board better results when they are using a high-quality electric toothbrush."

He stresses "high-quality," with the bells and whistlesbuilt in, such as timers and chimers that let you know precisely when you've brushed a full 30 seconds for each quadrant and when you reach the final goal.

Well, you can't say the dental-product companies aren't trying their hardest to make toothpaste fun and functional. The current crop of choices includes pastes geared to give a cinnamon rush (scratch-and-sniff label on the box to smell before buying), to make teeth "white, shiny and healthy," to control plaque and to smack down tartar (aged plaque).

There are even pastes that ensure organic-food fans don't violate their dietary preferences, even with a non-ingestible product. Kiss My Face, for example, offers a product with "certified organic aloe vera." Only you know how important organic toothpaste is to you.

What about the products with more medical claims, such as tartar reduction. How important are these qualities?

Ask your dentist or dental hygienist. Do you have a problem with significant tartar buildup? If you're thinking, heck, why not throw it all in: Get a paste that reduces tartar and plaque, whitens, brightens and does your taxes while it's at it -- think again. Less could be more: Do you wash with an anti-dandruff shampoo if flakes aren't a problem for you?

Still, it couldn't hurt, could it? Some dental products potentially could. Whitening toothpaste, for example, may be too harsh or abrasive for your enamel. Always look for the American Dental Association's seal of acceptance on a product, and follow your dentist's directions regarding the type of paste best for your mouth.

Now, what's the problem we seem to have with flossing? Don't look over your shoulder; statistically, chances are you're one of those who need to hear this: According to a recent national survey sponsored by McNeil-PPC Inc., only 24 percent of U.S. households use dental floss.

As you might have guessed, the choices of floss and the devices for easing its use have multiplied. There are now "advanced technology" flosses with a "low coefficient of friction," those that come in premeasured "servings" and even a gentle battery-powered version called the Hummingbird. Can this get any easier?

For those who prefer a mechanical aid, there is the Reach Access plastic hand-held flosser (for kids, there's something called Wild Flossers, with plastic dinosaurs securing the floss).

In case there's still some confusion as to why it's important to do this dental deed, Saland spells it out: "It displaces the food between teeth -- and the plaque between teeth."

Both Saland and Pollowitz say it's very important to keep oral bacteria down -- because the same germs go through your system, affecting heart health and more.

Flossing is one thing you can do, "that increases your life expectancy the most," says Pollowitz. It's no exaggeration to say that periodontal disease, which flossing fights, can be a real killer.

Next: "Choose your parents well!"
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