Dental Care at different Life Stages

Dental Care at life stage:  healthy habits, top concerns, nutrition and fact or fiction information:

 Babies and Kids:

Teaching your child good oral hygiene habits early can lead to a lifelong healthy smile, but did you know that just because babies don’t have any visible teeth, doesn’t mean they can’t get cavities? A baby’s 20 primary teeth are already present in the jaws at birth. And those baby teeth that begin coming through the gums around 6 months help set the stage for future smiles by keeping space in the jaw for adult teeth.

Baby teeth matter

When a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth can drift into the empty space and make it difficult for other adult teeth to find room when they come in. This can make teeth crooked or crowded. That’s why starting infants off with good oral care can help protect their teeth for decades to come. The ADA recommends that parents take children to a dentist no later than their first birthday and then at intervals recommended by their dentist.

Healthy Habits

kids fluoride amounts image

Start Early

Your child’s baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they first appear—which is typically around age 6 months. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. It most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected. In some cases, infants and toddlers experience decay so severe that their teeth cannot be saved and need to be removed.

The good news is that tooth decay is preventable! Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are 3-years-old. As your child grows, their jaws also grow, making room for their permanent teeth.

Cleaning Your Child’s Teeth

  • Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur. A baby’s front four teeth usually push through the gums at about 6 months of age, although some children don’t have their first tooth until 12 or 14 months.
  • For children younger than 3 years, caregivers should begin brushing children’s teeth as soon as they begin to come into the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician. Supervise children’s brushing to ensure that they use of the appropriate amount of toothpaste.
  • For children 3 to 6 years of age, caregivers should dispense no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician. Supervise children’s brushing to minimize swallowing of toothpaste.
  • Until you’re comfortable that your child can brush on his or her own, continue to brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. When your child has two teeth that touch, you should begin flossing their teeth daily.

Concerns

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

You can help prevent your baby from getting cavities or developing what is calledBaby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries, by beginning an oral hygiene routine within the first few days after birth. Start by cleaning your baby’s mouth by wiping the gums with a clean gauze pad. This helps removes plaque that can harm erupting teeth. When your child’s teeth begin to come in, brush them gently with a child’s size toothbrush and water. For bottle feedings, place only formula, milk or breast milk inside and avoid using sugary beverages such as juice or soda. Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottle before going to bed.

Dental Emergencies

Accidents can happen anywhere, anytime. Knowing how to handle a dental emergency can mean the difference between saving and losing your child’s permanent tooth. For all dental emergencies, it’s important to take your child to the dentist or an emergency room as soon as possible.

Here are some tips if your child experiences a common dental emergency:

  • For a knocked-out tooth, keep it moist at all times. If you can, try placing the tooth back in the socket without touching the root. If that’s not possible, place it in between your child’s cheek and gum, or in milk. Call your dentist right away.
  • For a cracked tooth, immediately rinse the mouth with warm water to clean the area. Put cold compresses on the face to keep any swelling down.
  • If your child bites his tongue or lip, clean the area gently and apply a cold compress.
  • For toothaches, rinse the mouth with warm water to clean it out. Gently use dental floss to remove any food caught between the teeth. Do not put aspirin on the aching tooth or gum tissues.
  • For objects stuck in the mouth, try to gently remove with floss but do not try to remove it with sharp or pointed instruments.

Thumbsucking

Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may suck on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects. It may help them relax or make them feel safe or happy. Most children stop sucking by age 4. If your child continues to thumb suck that after the permanent teeth have come in, it can cause problems with tooth alignment and your child’s bite. The frequency, duration and intensity of a habit will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs. If you are worried about your child’s sucking habits, talk to your dentist or consult your child’s pediatrician.

Space Maintainers

Space maintainers help “hold space” for permanent teeth. Your child may need one if he or she loses a baby tooth prematurely, before the permanent tooth is ready to erupt. If a primary tooth is lost too early, adult teeth can erupt into the empty space instead of where they should be.When more adult teeth are ready to come into the mouth, there may not be enough room for them because of the lost space. To prevent this from happening, the dentist may recommend a space maintainer to hold open the space left by the missing tooth.

Sealants

Sealants are a fast and easy way of protecting your child’s teeth that act as barriers to cavity-prone areas. They are usually applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth and sometimes used to cover deep pits and grooves. Sealing a tooth is fast and there is virtually no discomfort. As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing but may have to be reapplied if needed. Both primary and permanent teeth can benefit from sealants. Ask your dentist if sealants will help your child.

Mouthguards

Mouthguards can help protect your child from a dental emergency. They should be worn whenever your child is participating in sports and recreational activities. Mouthguards cushion blows that would otherwise cause broken teeth, injuries to the lips and face and sometimes even jaw fractures. If your child participates in such pastimes, ask your dentist about custom-fitted mouth protectors.

Malocclusion

Malocclusion, or bad bite, is a condition in which the teeth are crowded, crooked or out of alignment, or the jaws don’t meet properly. This may become particularly noticeable between the ages of 6 and 12, when a child’s permanent teeth are coming in. If not treated early, a bad bite can make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean where teeth are crooked or crowded, increasing the risk for cavities and gum disease.

Bad bites can also:

  • Affect proper development of the jaws.
  • Make the protruding teeth at risk for chips and fractures.
  • Affect eating and speaking.
  • Make some teeth more likely to wear abnormally or faster than those that are properly aligned.

 

Anesthesia and Sedation

Your dentist might recommend that your child be administered anesthesia or sedation to relax them in order to safely complete some dental procedures. Download a PDF of questions to ask your dentist before your child undergoes any type of anesthesia.

Nutrition

Smiling boy at the kitchen table
Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. What’s more, a good diet is essential for a child’s growth and development. Almost all foods, including milk or vegetables, have some type of sugar, which can contribute to tooth decay. To help control the amount of sugar your child consumes, always try to read food labels and choose foods and beverages that are low in added sugars. Also, select beverages, such as water, that hydrate andcontribute to good nutrition.

What to Eat:

According to MyPlate, a website from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an agency of U.S. Department of Agriculture, a balanced diet should include:

  • Fruits and vegetables. Combined these should be half of what your child eats every day.
  • Grains. Make sure at least half of their grains are whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
  • Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.
  • Lean proteins. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Try to vary protein choices to include eggs, beans, peas and legumes, too. Eat at least 8 oz. of seafood a week.

In addition to a nutritious diet, snacking habits, bottles and pacifiers also impact your child’s oral health.  Here are some tips to keep your child’s mouth healthy:

  • Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
  • Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
  • If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean—don’t dip it in sugar or honey, or put it in your mouth before giving it to the child.
  • Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday and discourage frequent or prolonged use of sippy cups.
  • Serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes.

 

 Teen

Your smile is one of the first things people notice about you. That’s why it’s so important to take care of it. Cavities aren’t just for little kids—you can get them at any age. When you consume sugary foods, soda, juice or energy drinks, you put yourself at risk for tooth decay and gum disease. Be smart. Always brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes and floss once a day.

The bottom line for smiles that are healthy on the inside and out:

  • Always brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes
  • Floss between your teeth daily
  • Avoid sugary and starchy snacks
  • Wear a mouthguard when you’re active
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t pierce your lips or any part of your mouth
  • See your dentist. Regular dental visits will help set you up to be Mouth Healthy for Life.

Healthy Habits

Brushing and Flossing

Want to avoid cavities? Brushing twice a day with toothpaste, flossing once a day, and limiting sugary snacks and beverages is how you do it. It’s simple but sometimes life gets busy and you might be tempted to skip it. Don’t. A bright smile makes you feel good inside and out. Make sure to see your dentist regularly, too.

Some things to protect your smile

Sealants

Dentalsealantsare a type of special plastic coating that act as a barrier, protecting cavity-prone areas. They are usually applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth and are sometimes used to cover deep pits and grooves in other teeth. Sealing a tooth is fast and easy. As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing but sometimes a reapplication is needed. Talk to your dentist about sealants. Remember: Just because you have sealants doesn’t mean you don’t have to brush and floss every day. Sealants are added protection against decay!

Mouthguards

If you play a sport or are active in things like skateboarding or snowboarding, it’s a good idea to wear a mouthguard. It may feel funny at first, but mouthguards are the best thing you can do to protect your teeth from getting broken or knocked out. They cushion blows that would otherwise cause injuries to the lips and face and sometimes even jaw fractures. There are different kinds of mouthguards; ask your dentist which one is right for you.

 

Concerns

Braces

If you have a bad bite or your teeth are crooked or out of alignment, you may benefit from braces. Braces can help improve your smile and make your teeth straighter. They can also improve your dental health and overall health because untreated orthodontic problems can make it hard to bite and chew and can interfere with eating. If you have a bad bite, you may also be prone to cavities or gum disease because it may be hard to clean your teeth. Braces come in many different styles, including tooth-colored plastic braces or traditional metal braces that come in a variety of colors. Removable clear retainers can sometimes be used. Talk to your dentist to see what the best choice is for you.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth, also referred to as third molars, get their name by being the last teeth to come in during young adulthood, the time of life when you gain maturity or “wisdom.” The majority of people have most of their permanent teeth by age 13. Your wisdom teeth should come into your mouth between the ages of 17-21. Sometimes they do not have enough room to come in normally or are in the wrong position to come straight up. When that happens, your dentist may refer to them as impacted and they may have to be removed.

Not everyone’s teeth develop on the same schedule. That’s why it’s important to see your dentist regularly so he or she can monitor the progress of your wisdom teeth. Every patient is unique, but in general, wisdom teeth may need to be removed when there is evidence of changes in the mouth such as:

  • pain
  • infection
  • cysts
  • tumors
  • damage to adjacent teeth
  • gum disease
  • tooth decay (if it is not possible or desirable to restore the tooth)

Your dentist or specialist may also recommend removing your wisdom teeth to prevent problems or for others reasons, such as when removal is part of getting braces, treating gums or other dental procedures.

Smoking

You know smoking is bad for you in general, so it should be no surprise that all forms of tobacco are also harmful to your oral health. For one, they can causebad breath, but that’s only the beginning. Other possible oral health impacts include:

  • stained teeth and tongue
  • dulled sense of taste and smell
  • slow healing after a tooth extraction or oral surgery
  • difficulties in correcting cosmetic dental problems
  • gum disease and tooth loss
  • oral cancer

Quitting is the only way to decrease your risk of these and other tobacco-related health problems. The addictive quality of nicotine, which is found in cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco, can make this especially difficult. That’s why it’s important to have a plan and a support network, people to help you stick to your plan. Write down your reasons for quitting.

Bottom-line: a smoke-free environment is healthier for you and for those around you. Make a plan to quit, stick to it and start living a healthier life.

Mouth Jewellery

Oral piercings or tongue splitting may look cool, but they can be dangerous to your health. That’s because your mouth contains millions of bacteria, and infection and swelling often occur with mouth piercings. For instance, your mouth and tongue could swell so much that you close off your airway or you could possibly choke if part of the jewelry breaks off in your mouth. In some cases, you could crack a tooth if you bite down too hard on the piercing and repeated clicking of the jewelry against teeth can also cause damage. An infected oral piercing can also lead to more serious systemic infections, including hepatitis or endocarditis.

Meth Mouth

Meth Mouth, a term for the damage caused by the use of the illegal and highly addictive drug methamphetamine, is one of many devastating effects this drug can have on users’ oral health. Methamphetamine is a potent central nervous system stimulant that can cause shortness of breath, hyperthermia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, permanent brain damage and rampant tooth decay. Some users describe their teeth as “blackened, stained, rotting, crumbling or falling apart.” Often, the teeth cannot be salvaged and must be removed.

For more information, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders arise from a variety of complex physical, emotional and social issues. They can also be devastating to your oral health. More than 10 million Americans are affected by serious eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. These eating disorders can also affect a person’s oral health. Without the proper nutrition, gums and other soft tissue inside the mouth may bleed easily. The glands that produce saliva may swell and individuals may experience chronic dry mouth. Throwing up frequently can affect teeth too. That’s because when strong stomach acid repeatedly flows over teeth, the tooth’s enamel can be lost to the point that the teeth change in color, shape and length. The edges of teeth become thin and break off easily. If you suffer from an eating disorder, it’s important to seek counseling and talk to your health care provider.

Nutrition

Photo of teen girl drinking a class of milk
Eating healthy foods helps keep your teeth and body healthy. Don’t eat or drink too many sweets. If you have something sweet, try to eat or drink it with a meal to limit the exposure time to your teeth. That’s because certain foods can put you at risk for cavities and other oral health problems? Here are some MouthHealthy tips.

What to Eat:

A balanced diet should include:

  • Fruits and vegetables. Combined these should be half of what you eat every day.
  • Grains. Make sure at least half of the grains you eat are whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
  • Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.
  • Lean proteins. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Try and vary your protein choices to include eggs, beans, peas and legumes, too. Eat at least 8 oz. of seafood a week.

Snacking tips:

  • Snacking is hard to resist but you can do your mouth a favor by watching the amount of soda, juice or other sweetened beverages you drink.
  • If you want a snack, try and choose something like fruit, low-fat cheese, yogurt or raw vegetables.
  • If you chew gum, make sure it’s sugarless. Certain sugarless gums have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance for helping prevent cavities by strengthening teeth. Look for the ADA Seal on the package.

If you have braces: Good oral hygiene is especially important for people wearing braces. Your dentist may recommend avoiding certain foods that could interfere with braces or accidentally bend the wires. These foods may include nuts, popcorn, hard candy, ice and sticky foods like chewing gum, caramel or other chewy candy.

Pregnancy:

Congratulations on this exciting and busy time of your life! You have so much to think about during pregnancy but don’t forget about your teeth and gums. It may be easy to overlook your mouth, but pregnancy can actually make some dental problems worse. Brushing and flossing contributes to your overall health, too, and if your mouth is healthy, it’s more likely that your baby’s mouth will be healthy

It’s important to continue to see your dentist during pregnancy for oral examinations and professional teeth cleanings. Make sure to tell your dentist that you are pregnant and about any changes you have noticed in your oral health. Good daily care is vital. That means always brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between your teeth once a day, eating a balanced diet and limiting between-meal snacks.

Being pregnant comes with many responsibilities—and oral hygiene is no exception. For most women, routine dental visits are safe during pregnancy, but let your dental office know what month you are in when you make your appointment. If yours is a high-risk pregnancy or you have some other medical condition, your dentist and your physician may recommend that treatment be postponed. Be sure to let your dentist know if there is any change in the medications you take or if you have received any special advice from your physician. The benefits of receiving dental care during pregnancy far outweigh potential risks. Be sure to keep your dentist informed of any changes in your mouth such as swelling, redness or bleeding.

Tips for maintaining a healthy mouth during pregnancy:

  • Brush thoroughly with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
  • Floss between your teeth daily.
  • Eat a balanced diet. If you snack, do so in moderation.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for a professional cleaning and check-up
  • If you have morning sickness and are vomiting frequently, try rinsing with a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with water to stop stomach acid from attacking your teeth or use of Pro Enamel toothpaste

Concerns during Pregnancy

  • Gingivitis

    Your mouth can be affected by the hormonal changes you will experience during pregnancy. For example, some women develop a condition known as “pregnancy gingivitis,” an inflammation of the gums that can cause swelling and tenderness. Your gums also may bleed a little when you brush or floss. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to more serious forms of gum disease. Your dentist may recommend more frequent cleanings to prevent this.

  • Medications

    Some drugs can be used during and after dental treatment to make you more comfortable. Inform your dentist of any prescription or over-the-counter drug you are taking. This will help your dentist determine what type of drug, if any, will be prescribed for you. Your dentist can consult with your physician to determine the drugs—such as painkillers or antibiotics—you may safely take during the pregnancy. Discuss any concerns with your dentist and physician. Both are concerned about you and your baby.

    Be sure to talk with your dentist about how to properly secure and dispose of any unused, unwanted or expired medications, especially if there are any children in the household. Also, take the time to talk with your children about the dangers of using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.

  • X-Rays

    It’s possible you’ll need an X-ray if you suffer a dental emergency or need a dental problem diagnosed. Although, radiation from dental X-rays is extremely low, your dentist or hygienist will cover you with a leaded apron that minimizes exposure to the abdomen. Your dental office will also cover your throat with a leaded thyroid collar to protect the thyroid from radiation.

  • Pregnancy Tumors

    In some women, overgrowths of tissue called “pregnancy tumors” appear on the gums, most often during the second trimester. These non-cancerous growths or swellings are usually found between the teeth and are believed to be related to excess plaque. They bleed easily and have a red, raw-looking raspberry-like appearance. They usually disappear after your baby is born, but if you are concerned, talk to your dentist about removing them. If you notice pregnancy tumors or any other changes in your mouth during pregnancy, see your dentist.

Adults Under 40

Some people think tooth decay is just for children, but did you know you are at risk your whole life? Untreated dental disease can lead to serious health problems such as infection, damage to bone or nerve and tooth loss. Dental infections that are left untreated can even spread to other parts of the body and, in very rare cases, can be life threatening.

Dental disease is preventable

The good news is that dental disease is preventable. You can practice preventive dentistry on yourself by adopting these healthy habits: Always remember to brush your teeth twice a day, floss between teeth once a day, eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks. And don’t forget to schedule regular dental visits. By following a healthy dental routine and making smart food choices, you can lower your risk for tooth decay.

Healthy Habits

Brushing

Brushing your teeth is the cornerstone of any good oral hygiene routine. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, always be sure to brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush. The size and shape of your brush should fit your mouth allowing you to reach all areas easily. Also, don’t forget to replace your toothbrush every three or four months or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won’t do a good job of cleaning your teeth. Finally, make sure to use an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste. It makes no difference whether you choose a manual or powered toothbrush—just make sure to brush twice a day, every day!
Flossing

Flossing goes hand in hand with brushing. By flossing once a day, you help to remove plaque from between your teeth in areas where the toothbrush can’t reach. This is extremely important because plaque that is not removed by brushing and flossing can eventually harden into calculus or tartar. Once tartar has formed, it can only be removed by a professional cleaning.

 

Concerns

Gum Disease

Gum disease is an inflammation of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. If it is severe, it can destroy the tissue and bone, leading to tooth loss. Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth. When plaque is not removed it can harden into calculus (tartar). When tartar forms above and below the gumline, it becomes harder to brush and clean well between teeth. That buildup of plaque and tartar can harbor bacteria that lead to gum disease. The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, which is the only stage that is reversible.

If not treated, gingivitis may lead to a more serious, destructive form of gum/periodontal disease called periodontitis. It is possible to have periodontal disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are so important. Treatment methods depend upon the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed. Good oral hygiene at home is essential to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring. Brush twice a day, clean between your teeth daily, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, often occurs unconsciously while you sleep. It can cause serious damage to your teeth and jaw. Although it is often considered to be stress-related, teeth grinding can also be caused by sleep disorders. Your dentist’s choice of treatment will depend on the cause of your grinding, but you may be fitted with a mouthguard to protect your teeth while you sleep.

TMJ

The temporomandibular joints, or TMJ, are among the more complex joints in your body. Any problem that prevents the TMJ from working properly may result in a painful disorder, also referred to as TMJ disorders or sometimes TMD. The exact cause of a TMJ disorder is often unclear, but possible causes can include arthritis, dislocation, injury and/or problems related to alignment or teeth grinding from stress.

Symptoms can include:

  • pain in or around the ear
  • tenderness of the jaw
  • clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth
  • headaches

If you’re regularly experiencing facial or jaw pain, see your dentist. Exercise, muscle relaxants or physical therapy may help.

Root Canals

Sometimes a cavity is just too deep to be fixed and may require a root canal. Root canal procedures are used to treat problems of the tooth’s soft core, otherwise known as dental pulp. The pulp contains the blood vessels and the nerves of the tooth, which run like a thread down into the root. The pulp tissue can die when it’s infected or injured. If you don’t remove it, your tooth gets infected and you could lose it. During a root canal treatment, the dentist removes the pulp, and the root canal is cleaned and sealed off to protect it. Your dentist may then place a crown over the tooth to help make it stronger and protect it.

Sensitive teeth 

If hot or cold foods make you wince, you may have a common dental problem—sensitive teeth. Sensitivity in your teeth can happen for several reasons, including:

Sensitive teeth can be treated. Your dentist may recommend desensitizing toothpaste or an alternative treatment based on the cause of your sensitivity. Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing tooth pain. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine or concerns about tooth sensitivity. 

Whitening

At some point, you may consider tooth whitening to help brighten your smile. Before using whitening products, talk to your dentist to determine the most appropriate treatment for you and if your teeth and gums are healthy enough to undergo a whitening procedure. This is especially important if you have fillings, crowns and/or extremely dark stains on your teeth.

Some popular whitening methods include:

  • In-office bleaching. A bleaching agent is applied to teeth and a light may be used to enhance the action of the agent. In-office bleaching products typically contain a higher percentage of peroxide than at-home formulations. The procedure is usually completed in less than two hours.
  • At-home bleaching. Peroxide-containing whiteners that bleach the tooth enamel. They typically come in a gel and are placed in a custom mouth tray. The bleaching trays are worn for short periods of time over a few days to gradually whiten the teeth.
  • Whitening toothpastes. Although all toothpastes help remove surface stains “whitening” toothpastes that carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance have special chemical or polishing agents that provide additional stain removal effectiveness. They do not alter the intrinsic color of teeth like bleaching agents do.

Nutrition

Image of young woman eating cereal

As you know, a balanced, nutritious diet is essential to healthy living. Poor nutrition can lead to all kinds of health issues, including oral health problems such as gum disease and cavities. In fact, studies show that people who have lost teeth or wear dentures don’t eat as many fruits or vegetables and tend to have less nutritious diets overall.

Your mouth is your body’s initial point of contact with the nutrients you consume. So naturally, what you put in your mouth impacts not only your general health but also the health of your teeth and gums. Did you know that certain foods can put you at risk for cavities and other oral health problems? Here are some MouthHealthy tips. Remember: If your nutrition is poor, the first signs often show up in your oral health.

According to MyPlate, a website from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an agency of U.S. Department of Agriculture, a balanced diet should include:

  • Fruits and vegetables. Combined these should be half of what you eat every day.
  • Grains. Make sure at least half of the grains you eat are whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
  • Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.
  • Lean proteins. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Try and vary your protein choices to include eggs, beans, peas and legumes, too. Eat at least 8 oz. of seafood a week.

Adults 40-60

We all know life can be busy, but don’t neglect your oral health. Your dental care is just as important now as it was when you were a kid. Untreated dental disease can lead to serious health problems such as infection, damage to bone or nerve and tooth loss. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day and see your dentist regularly. This simple routine can help you remain Mouth Healthy for Life.

Missing Teeth

Did you know that the average adult between the ages of 20 and 64 has three or more decayed or missing teeth? If you are missing one or more teeth, there are plenty of reasons to correct the problem. Talk to your dentist for more information about improving your smile.

Brushing

Brushing your teeth is the cornerstone of any good oral hygiene routine. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, always be sure to brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush. The size and shape of your brush should fit your mouth allowing you to reach all areas easily. Also, don’t forget to replace your toothbrush every three or four months or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won’t do a good job of cleaning your teeth. Finally, make sure to use an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste. It makes no difference whether you choose a manual or powered toothbrush—just make sure to brush thoroughly twice a day, every day!

Flossing

Flossing goes hand in hand with brushing. By flossing once a day, you help to remove plaque from between your teeth in areas where the toothbrush can’t reach. This is extremely important because plaque that is not removed by brushing and flossing can eventually harden into calculus or tartar. Click here to read about the best way to floss your teeth.

Concerns

Gum disease

The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, which is the only stage that is reversible. If not treated, gingivitis may lead to a more serious, destructive form of gum/periodontal disease called periodontitis. It is possible to have gum disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are so important. Treatment methods depend upon the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed. Good oral hygiene at home is essential to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring. Brush twice a day, clean between your teeth daily, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Missing Teeth

Did you know that the average adult between the ages of 20 and 64 has three or more decayed or missing teeth? If you are missing one or more teeth, there are plenty of reasons to correct the problem. For one thing, a large space between your teeth may affect how you speak or eat. Even if it’s not noticeable, a missing molar can affect how you chew. Remaining teeth may shift and in some cases, bone loss can occur around a missing tooth. With today’s advances, you don’t have to suffer from missing teeth.

Here are some options to replace a lost tooth or teeth. Talk to your dentist about which option is best for you: 

  • Bridges. Anchored to your adjacent teeth, these can be removable or fixed, depending on your mouth, your dentist’s recommendation and your needs.
  • Dentures. An option if you’ve lost all or most of your teeth.
  • Implants. Most similar to a natural tooth.

Sensitivity

If hot or cold foods make you wince, you may have a common dental problem—sensitive teeth. Sensitivity in your teeth can happen for several reasons, including:

Sensitive teeth can be treated. Your dentist may recommend desensitizing toothpaste or an alternative treatment based on the cause of your sensitivity. Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing sensitive-tooth pain. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine or concerns about tooth sensitivity.

Dry mouth

Everyone’s mouth can be dry sometimes, but if you feel like your mouth is always dry, it may be time to seek treatment. Medications and certain health conditions can lead to dry mouth. A dentist will check your teeth for signs of decay that can result from decreased salivary flow. A physician will test for any underlying disease or conditions that may be causing your dry mouth. Having a dry mouth is not itself serious but taking care of your teeth and gums and regular dental visits are important when living with dry mouth. Without the cleansing effects of saliva, tooth decay and other oral health problems become more common. Patients using oral inhalers for asthma often develop oral candidiasis, an oral fungal infection, and are encouraged to rinse their mouths with water after using the inhaler. Tell your dentist what medications you are taking and any other information about your health that may help identify the cause of your dry mouth.

Oropharyngeal Cancer

Ororpharyngeal cancer can affect any area of the oropharyngeal cavity including the lips, gum tissue, check lining, tongue, jaw the hard or soft palate and throat. It often starts as a tiny, unnoticed white or red spot or sore or swelling anywhere in the mouth or throat.
During your dental visit, your dentist can talk to you about your health history and examine these areas for signs of mouth and/or throat cancer. Regular visits to your dentist can improve the chances that any suspicious changes in your oral health will be caught early, at a time when cancer can be treated more easily.

The symptoms of mouth or throat cancer can include:

  • sores that bleed easily or do not heal
  • a thick or hard spot or lump
  • a roughened or crusted area
  • numbness, pain or tenderness
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down.

Make sure to tell your dentist about any problems you have when chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw. Regular dental check-ups, including an examination of the entire mouth, are essential in the early detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions.

Nutrition

Image of a woman eating cereal
As you know, a balanced, nutritious diet is essential to healthy living. Poor nutrition can lead to all kinds of health issues, including oral healthproblems such as gum diseaseand cavities. In fact, studies show that people who have lost teeth or wear dentures don’t eat as many fruits or vegetables and tend to have less nutritious diets overall.

Your mouth is your body’s initial point of contact with the nutrients you consume. So naturally, what you put in your mouth impacts not only your general health but also the health of yourteeth and gums. In fact, if your nutrition is poor, the first signs often show up in your oral health. Did you know that certain foods can put you at risk for cavities and other oral health problems? Here are some MouthHealthy tips.

According to MyPlate, a website from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an agency of U.S. Department of Agriculture, a balanced diet should include:

  • Fruits and vegetables. Combined these should be half of what you eat every day.
  • Grains. Make sure at least half of the grains you eat are whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
  • Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.
  • Lean proteins. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Try and vary your protein choices to include eggs, beans, peas and legumes, too. Eat at least 8 oz. of seafood a week.

Adults Over 60

Just 60 years ago, it was an assumption that as we age we would lose our natural teeth. But, that’s not the case for today’s older adults who are keeping their natural teeth longer than ever before. A healthy mouth and teeth help you look good, eat delicious and nutritious foods, and speak clearly and confidently. Being mouth healthy is essential for good quality of life.

Your mouth is the gateway to your body

Maintaining good oral health habits now is especially important because unhealthy bacteria in the mouth not only can harm your teeth and gums but may be associated with serious medical conditions. Research has shown that infections in the mouth may be associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, pneumonia and other health problems that are common in older adults. It really only takes a few simple steps, brushing and flossing daily, visiting your dentist regularly and eating nutritious foods to be Mouth Healthy for Life.

Healthy Habits

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Brush and Floss Daily

Brushing and flossing your teeth is just as important for you as it is for your grandchildren. Even though it may have been years since you’ve had a cavity, your risk of cavities increases with age. One of the reasons is dry mouth—a common side effect of many prescription medications.

Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoridetoothpaste. Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head to get to those hard to reach areas. Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles becomes frayed. If you have arthritis or other condition that limits movement, try an electric toothbrush.

Clean between teeth daily with floss. If floss is too difficult to work with, try a floss pick or tiny brushes made specifically to clean between teeth.

When you’re buying oral care products, look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance. The ADA Seal has been around since 1931, and when you see it on a package you can trust that the product is safe and does what the manufacturer advertises.

Clean Dentures Daily

Bacteria stick to your teeth and also to full or partial dentures. If you wear dentures, remember to clean them on a daily basis with cleaners made specifically for dentures. Do not use toothpastes for natural teeth or household cleaners, which are too abrasive and can damage dentures that can be expensive to replace.

Take your dentures out of your mouth for at least four hours every 24 hours to keep the lining of your mouth healthy. It’s best to remove your full or partial dentures at night. Your dentist will provide you with instructions about how long your dentures should be worn each day.

Visit a Dentist Regularly

Get regular dental checkups at least once a year – please do not wait until you have pain. Why? As you age, the nerves inside your teeth become smaller and less sensitive. By the time you feel pain from a cavity, it may be too late and you may lose your tooth. There are also more serious conditions that your dentist will look for, like oral cancer and gum disease, which do not always cause pain until the advanced stages of the disease. By then, it’s more difficult and costly to treat.

When you go to your dentist for a check-up bring the following information:

  • List of medications, including vitamins, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter medications
  • List of medical conditions and allergies
  • Information and phone numbers of all health care providers, doctors, and your previous dentist
  • Information about your emergency contacts, someone who can help make decisions on your behalf in the case of a medical emergency
  • Dental insurance or Medicaid cards
  • Your dentures or partials, even if you don’t wear them

Be sure to talk with your dentist about how to properly secure and dispose of any unused, unwanted or expired medications, especially if there are any children in the household. Also, take the time to talk with your children and/or grandchildren about the dangers of using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.

If you don’t currently have a dentist, you can search for one at ADA® Find-a-Dentist™. Simply put in your address for a list of ADA member dentists near your home.

Are you over 60 or the caregiver of an older adult in need of dental care? Visit Oral Health America’s Tooth Wisdom for a list of the resources available in your state.

Drink Water with Fluoride

No matter what age you are, drinking water with fluoride helps prevent toothdecay. Fluoride is nature’s cavity fighter. Many community water systems contain added fluoride, but if you prefer bottled water, check the label because some do not contain fluoride. And, some home water filters remove fluoride from the tap water. Visit the ADA Seal product search page for a list of water filters that do not remove fluoride from tap water.

Quit Smoking

It’s never too late to quit smoking. Smoking increases problems with gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss. It also slows down healing after dental procedures and can decrease the success rate of dental implants. Talk to your dentist about quitting. There are tobacco cessation programs, over-the counter products and prescription medications that your dentist may prescribe or recommend to help you quit for good. Smokefree.gov is another good resource to help you quit today.

Concerns

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The Link Between Medications and Cavities

You may wonder why you’re suddenly getting cavities when you haven’t had them in years. As we get older, we enter a second round of cavity prone years. One common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. However, it is a side-effect in more than 500 medications, including those for allergies or asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety or depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.This is just one reason why it’s so important to tell your dentist about any medications that you’re taking. Your dentist can make recommendations to help relieve your dry mouth symptoms and prevent cavities. Here are some common recommendations:

  • Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers, such as a spray or mouthwash.
  • Consult with your physician on whether to change the medication or dosage.
  • Drink more water. Carry a water bottle with you, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Your mouth needs constant lubrication.
  • Use sugar-free gum or lozenges to stimulate saliva production.
  • Get a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that irritate dry mouths, like coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and acidic fruit juices.
  • Your dentist may apply a fluoride gel or varnish to protect your teeth from cavities.

Gum Disease

Many older adults have gum, or periodontal disease, caused by the bacteria in plaque, which irritate the gums, making them swollen, red and more likely to bleed. One reason gum disease is so widespread among adults is that it’s often a painless condition until the advanced stage. If left untreated, gums can begin to pull away from the teeth and form deepened spaces called pockets where food particles and more plaque may collect. Advanced gum disease can eventually destroy the gums, bone and ligaments supporting the teeth leading to tooth loss. The good news is that with regular dental visits gum disease can be treated or prevented entirely.

Mouth Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 35,000 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer diagnosed each year. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62. During dental visits, your dentist will check for any signs of oral cancer. Regular dental visits are important because in the early stages oral cancer typically does not cause pain and early detection saves lives. Some symptoms you may see include open sores, white or reddish patches, and changes in the lips, tongue and lining of the mouth that lasts for more than two weeks.

Paying for Dental Care after Retirement

Many retirees don’t realize that Medicare does not cover routine dental care. Begin to plan for your dental expenses in advance of retirement so you don’t have to let your dental health suffer once you’re on a fixed income. Organizations like AARP offer supplemental dental insurance plans for their members.

Discount dental plans are another option that typically have a lower monthly fee than traditional dental insurance. You select a dentist within the plan network who has agreed to provide certain services for 10 to 60 percent less than the typical fee. You pay the reduced fee out-of-pocket, and there is no claim paperwork to fill out. You can search for a dental plan at the National Association of Dental Plans website. A recent article on SmartMoney.com investigates the pros and cons of dental price clubs to pay for care. Many dentists offer no interest or low interest financing plans that may be a better option than paying for your dental work on a household credit card with a higher interest rate. If you have concerns about continuing your dental care due to a limited income, talk to your dentist. He or she may be able to offer solutions.

Do I Need to Take an Antibiotic before a Dental Procedure?

If you have a heart condition or artificial joint, be sure to tell your dentist. You may think it’s not relevant. After all, what do your heart and joints have to do with your teeth? But, there are conditions with a high risk of infection and an antibiotic is recommended prior to some dental procedures.

Dentists follow recommendations that have been developed by the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in cooperation with the American Dental Association. Talk to your dentist about how these recommendations might apply to you.

Caregiving for a Disabled or Elderly Loved One

You may have a parent, spouse or friend who has difficulty maintaining a healthy mouth on their own. How can you help? Two things are critical:

  • Help them keep their mouth clean with reminders to brush and floss daily.
  • Make sure they get to a dentist regularly.

These steps can prevent many problems, but tasks that once seemed so simple can become very challenging. If your loved one is having difficulty with brushingand flossing, talk to a dentist or hygienist who can provide helpful tips or a different approach. There are dentists who specialize in caring for the elderly and disabled. You can locate a specialist through the Special Care Dentistry Association’s referral directory. For those who wear dentures, pay close attention to their eating habits. If they’re having difficulty eating or are not eating as much as usual, denture problems could be the cause.

When you’re caring for someone who is confined to bed, they may have so many health problems that it’s easy to forget about oral health. However, it’s still very important because bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled into the lungs and cause pneumonia.

If you are a representative for a nursing home resident who needs dental care and is enrolled in Medicaid, there is a regulation, called an Incurred Medical Expense, that may help pay for medically necessary care as determined by a dentist. The Medicaid caseworker at the nursing facility and the dentist providing care can work together to apply the Incurred Medical Expense to pay for needed dental benefits.

Nutrition

Image of woman eating healthy

An apple a day keeps cavities away? You can help prevent tooth decay by making smart and healthy food choices. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins like turkey, chicken and fish. Limit processed foods and beverages that are high in sugar – they can lead to tooth decay and obesity. Here are some MouthHealthy tips on foods that can be harmful to your dental health. Also, limit your alcohol intake since alcohol can irritate the sensitive lining of the mouth and may also increase your risk of oral cancer. To learn what foods are best for you, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov, a website from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If you’ve lost any teeth, it’s a good idea to replace them. A full set of teeth will help you chew delicious and nutritious foods like meats, beans, fruits, grains, and vegetables. Ill-fitting dentures can lead to diets of soft food that are low in nutrients and don’t help your mouth stay clean.

Many medications can affect the taste of foods, your food preferences, and your appetite, so be sure to report any changes in your eating habits to your physician, dentist and dental hygienist.

Calcium Supplements: Bad for Your Heart?

Calcium is an important part of everyone’s diet, and it’s especially important as we get older to prevent bone loss or osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can happen in the jaw bone and when it does, may lead to your teeth becoming loose or falling out.

In a recent study, people who got their calcium almost exclusively from supplements were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with those who took no supplements.

Health care professionals recommend most adults get about 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day preferably from foods, including low-fat dairy like milk, cheese and yogurt since they contain other bone building nutrients along with calcium. That’s about 3 cups a day. If you prefer vegetables and leafy greens, try broccoli, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, which also provide some calcium.

Calcium doesn’t work alone. Other nutrients, like phosphorus, are an important part of the structure of teeth. And vitamin D is needed to help absorb, carry and deposit calcium in the bone that supports your teeth.

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