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Open wide - and smile

A toothache can lead to headaches, loss of appetite and a bad attitude.

Chapped lips aren't only uncomfortable, but unattractive.

And a canker sore is about as pleasant as an enema.

If our mouths aren't feeling well, we're not feeling well.

"The mouth, teeth, lip and gums are important for maintaining health, and they are also markers of overall health," said University of California, Irvine Medical Center's Dr. William B. Armstrong, who specializes in head and neck cancer surgery. "If someone is malnourished, the gums and teeth will show it. Poor oral care goes along with chronic disease."

The mouth and lips are also key to an attractive appearance.

"Everyone always remembers someone's smile," said Anastazia Grey Woodin, a makeup artist and esthetician at Baker Street West Salon in Costa Mesa, Calif.

We all want a healthy and beautiful mouth, teeth and lips. To this end, we gathered information and tips from area medical and beauty experts.

FILLING-FREE AND HEALTHY

- Visit your dentist at least twice a year, said Dr. Nick Salvati, who owns a private dental practice in San Clemente, Calif. And don't forget to brush your teeth two to three times a day and floss.

- Inspect your teeth and mouth for changes in gum color, bleeding areas, chipped teeth, sores, or cuts on the gums or tongue whenever you brush, said dentist Dr. Maged Zakhary, president of TruDental in Newport Beach, Calif.

- Use an American Dental Association-approved fluoride toothpaste like Colgate Total, Biotene (for dry mouth) or Sensodyne (for sensitive teeth), Salvati said.

Be careful about using whitening and tartar-control toothpastes since their additives can make some people's teeth very sensitive. Though both types of toothpaste are safe for the most part, peroxide in whitening products and phosphate in tartar-control toothpastes can lead to sensitivity to temperature, sweets, touch and peeling of mouth tissues in some people.

Also, use a good mouthwash like Listerine, ACT or Colgate Phos-Flur to reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth, Salvati said.

Discard your toothbrush as soon as bristles appear worn or bent, Salvati said. Use a good soft toothbrush like Oral-B or Butler. Avoid abrading your teeth by brushing too hard.

- Eat a balanced diet, following the five major food groups (breads/grains; fruit; vegetables; dairy; meats/fish) to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs to build and maintain strong bones, decay-resistant teeth and healthy gums, Salvati said.

Eat fats, oils and sweets sparingly and avoid foods that stain teeth like coffee, red wine, berries and some carbonated drinks.

Snack on raw vegetables like celery or carrots to keep plaque from forming, Zakhary said.

- Drink more water and cut down on soda, said dentist Dr. Pooneh Sabo, owner and director of OC Dental Center in Santa Ana, Calif. When you do drink soda, use a straw so the liquid stays in your mouth less. Dilute juices with water.

Watch your milk intake, Sabo said. Milk has a lot of sugar in it, so brush or rinse after drinking.

GORGEOUS LIPS, NICE SMILE

- Apply a few drops of peppermint or tea tree oil to your tongue or toothbrush to help freshen your breath and kill bacteria, Zakhary said.

- To keep your lips soft and supple, use lip balms that contain soothing, moisturizing ingredients like cocoa or shea butter, aloe vera, maple (an antioxidant), tea tree and/or vitamin E, said Tamara Freedman, esthetician and director of education at Spa Gregorie's in Newport Beach, Calif.

- Avoid ingredients like camphor and menthols because they will ultimately dry out your lips, causing you to use more and more product. Don't forget to get a lip balm with sun protection, said UC Irvine dermatologist Dr. Christopher B. Zachary.

- Consider topical retinoids like prescription Tazorac or Renova, which can thicken the dermis and epidermis, reverse precancerous lesions, even out color irregularities, and have a toning effect on the skin, Zachary said.

These topical retinoids can also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Less-concentrated products can be purchased over-the-counter at stores like Nordstrom.

- For fuller lips, consider hyaluronic acid fillers like Restylane and Juvederm, Zachary said. Some fillers can cause allergic reactions. Fillers generally last three to nine months, though some companies are making ones that last a few years.

- Use glycolic acid products around the lips twice a day to exfoliate the area and make the skin look smoother, said Dr. Valdemar Ascencio, a plastic surgeon at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif.

MD Formulations and Obagi have lines available through doctors' offices, but glycolic acids can also be found over-the-counter.

- People 30 and older can use a bleaching agent (typically containing hydroquinone and/or kojic acid) around the lips twice a day, Ascencio said. These products will help lighten dark sun spots to match the surrounding skin color better.

- Avoid drawing too much past your lip line when applying color; overdraw only to correct the shape of your lips, Woodin said. When applying color, start your liner or lip brush at the side of your top lip and move upward.

- Try using a lip sealer on top of your lipstick to keep the color from bleeding and to keep the lipstick on longer, Woodin said. Avoid long-wearing lipsticks, which can dry out your lips.

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