The well-known secret to putting your best smile forward is taking good care of your teeth, but oral health doesn’t stop at the gum line. Strong teeth and the healthy gums that protect them are both essential parts of your overall oral wellness.

The Canadian Dental Association predicts that seven out of 10 Canadians will deal with gum disease in their lifetime. Gum health needs to be taken seriously and should be an important part of every Canadian’s overall health care. The good news is, with the proper dental hygiene routine, early stages of gum disease can be effectively reversed or prevented altogether.

Here are some tips and tricks to keep your teeth and gums happy, healthy and smile-ready.

1. Brush and floss regularly

This one may seem obvious, but it really is your first line of defense against a potential dental disaster below the gum line. A buildup of plaque (or in its more advanced stage, tartar) in the mouth creates the ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria that can lead to infection. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. Brush gently and thoroughly twice a day, particularly at the gum line (where your teeth and gums meet). Floss a minimum of once per day, scraping the sides of each tooth multiple times and using a clean section of floss every time.

2. Choose a toothpaste that promotes gum health

Crest’s Gum Detoxify Toothpaste is another item to add to your oral health toolbox to keep your teeth and gums at their best. It’s specially designed to target nasty plaque bacteria and prevent gum disease. Warning signs of gingivitis include red and puffy gums and possible bleeding when you brush or floss.

The Gum Detoxify Toothpaste formula protects your gums from infection and cools your gum line to leave you with that fresh, clean feeling. It also neutralizes harmful plaque bacteria to help prevent gingivitis by cleaning below the gum line.

3. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles

Brushing is a cornerstone of gum disease prevention, but brushing too hard can damage your teeth and gums. To avoid harming your mouth while brushing, find a toothbrush with soft bristles. Hard nylon bristles can irritate your gums and wear down your tooth enamel, especially if you’re a vigorous tooth-brusher. Consider picking up an electric toothbrush that’s equipped with a round brush head and precision and pressure controls to ensure you’re being gentle on your gums while still hitting those hard-to-reach places.

4. Wear a mouthguard to prevent grinding

Some of us may have the tendency to grind our teeth while we sleep — or even sub-consciously throughout the day. Teeth grinding (or bruxism) can cause pain, breakage or wearing down of the teeth.

If you’re a chronic grinder, your dentist can set you up with a plastic mouth guard to wear overnight. The mouth guard is fitted to your teeth to cover and protect them as you sleep. You can also try incorporating a few relaxation methods into your routine to reduce jaw clenching and teeth grinding, which commonly result from stress and anxiety.

5. Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash

Special types of mouthwash can actually kill bacteria in the mouth that cause bad breath, plaque, tooth decay and gingivitis; other kinds will only freshen your breath without targeting the bacteria responsible. Rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash (such as Scope Advanced 6-in-1) as part of your dental routine can provide cavity and tartar protection, stain prevention, strengthened enamel and of course, fresh, minty breath. This rinse can be particularly helpful for those who have difficulty with brushing or flossing.

6. Limit sugary and acidic foods

Foods that are high in acid or sugar can have a damaging effect on your teeth’s enamel. This causes sensitivity, especially to hot and cold. You don’t have to cut out candy or your morning coffee altogether; just consider enjoying them in moderation.

7. Visit your dentist

Top off these techniques with regular visits to your dentist. Professional cleanings and examinations are key to maintaining good oral health. Dental hygienists are able to remove tough plaque that brushing and flossing won’t budge. Your dentist will also be able to detect early signs of gum disease, so you can address it before it becomes a bigger issue.