No matter what your age, you need to take care of your teeth and mouth. When your mouth is healthy, you can easily eat the foods you need for good nutrition. Smiling, talking and laughing with others also are easier when your mouth is healthy.
Tooth Decay (Cavities)
Teeth are meant to last a lifetime. By taking good care of your teeth and gums, you can protect them for years to come. Tooth decay is not just a problem for children. It can happen as long as you have natural teeth in your mouth.
Tooth decay ruins the enamel that covers and protects your teeth. When you don’t take good care of your mouth, bacteria can cling to your teeth and form a sticky, colorless film called dental plaque. This plaque can lead to tooth decay and cavities. Gum disease can also cause your teeth to decay.
Fluoride is just as helpful for adults as it is for children. Using a fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse can help protect your teeth. If you have a problem with cavities, your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment during the office visit. The dentist also may prescribe a fluoride gel or mouth rinse for you to use at home.
Gum diseases (sometimes called periodontal or gingival diseases) are infections that harm the gum and bone that hold teeth in place. When plaque stays on your teeth too long, it forms a hard, harmful covering, called tartar, that brushing doesn’t clean. The longer the plaque and tartar stay on your teeth, the more damage they cause. Your gums may become red, swollen and bleed easily. This is called gingivitis.
If gingivitis is not treated, over time it can make your gums pull away from your teeth and form pockets that can get infected. This is called periodontitis. If not treated, this infection can ruin the bones, gums and tissue that support your teeth. In time, it can cause loose teeth that your dentist may have to remove.
Here’s how you can prevent gum disease:
- Brush your teeth twice a day (with a fluoride toothpaste)
- Floss once a day
- Make regular visits to your dentist for a checkup and cleaning
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Don’t use tobacco products
- Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums
Knowing how to brush and floss the right way is a big part of good oral health. Here’s how: every day gently brush your teeth on all sides with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. Small round motions and short back-and-forth strokes work best. Take the time to brush carefully and gently along the gum line. Lightly brushing your tongue also helps.
Along with brushing, clean around your teeth with dental floss to keep your gums healthy. Careful flossing will remove plaque and leftover food that a toothbrush can’t reach. Rinse after you floss.
If brushing or flossing causes your gums to bleed or hurt your mouth, see your dentist. Your dentist also may prescribe a bacteria-fighting mouth rinse to help control plaque and swollen gums. Use the mouth rinse in addition to careful daily brushing and flossing. Some people with arthritis or other conditions that limit motion may find it hard to hold a toothbrush. It may help to attach the toothbrush handle to your hand with a wide elastic band. Some people make the handle bigger by taping it to a sponge or Styrofoam ball. People with limited shoulder movement may find brushing easier if they attach a long piece of wood or plastic to the handle. Electric toothbrushes can be helpful.