For a beautiful smile that lasts a lifetime, you have to take care of your teeth at every stage of life. Achieving optimal oral health isn’t difficult, but it takes consistent care and attention. Here’s how to take care of teeth at every age, to have a beautiful smile at any age.
Before teeth come in, wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, damp washcloth or pad after each feeding.
Brush your child’s teeth regularly using a child-size toothbrush and a rice-sized amount of children’s toothpaste.
As young as it seems, this is also the time for a first check-up with the dentist. We recommend children coming in before the age of one. This lets us check for decay of baby teeth and also helps children learn to associate going to the dentist with a pleasant experience.
Continue to brush your child’s teeth using a child-size toothbrush, but up the toothpaste to a pea-size amount. When your child wants to begin brushing by him- or herself, supervise to make sure he or she is doing it correctly, is brushing for long enough (minimum two minutes), and is spitting out the toothpaste rather than swallowing.
Several things happen at this stage. One, you can stop brushing and supervising your child’s brushing at around six or seven. Two, it’s time for the first visit to the orthodontist between seven to nine years of age, before baby teeth have all fallen out and permanent teeth have come in. Three, this is the ideal time for dental sealants, which are thin coats of a protective substance applied to molars to prevent cavities. This process is simple but can have a big impact, as nine out of ten cavities occur in the back permanent teeth.
Pre-teens and Teens
In this age range, twice yearly visits to the dentist are crucial, as this is when cavities are likely to be a problem. In fact, according to the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004), 85.58 percent of adults aged twenty to thirty-four already have a cavity, filled tooth, or missing tooth. The sooner decay can be spotted and cavities filled, the better.
In addition to cavities, gingivitis—inflammation of the gums—tends to crop up during the early adult years. If left untreated, it can develop into periodontal disease. Fortunately, regular visits to the hygienist, brushing, and flossing can reverse the damage easily if addressed soon enough.
This is also the age to speak to your dentist if you notice symptoms like clicking and popping in the jaw, pain when chewing, difficulty opening or closing the mouth, grinding of teeth, and unexplained headaches and jaw pain. These are all common symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), a disorder of the jaw joint, which should be addressed and corrected.
Half of American adults have periodontal disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology/CDC, so by this age there’s a good chance that you or someone in your family has it. Address it head-on by having a comprehensive periodontal evaluation every year either from your regular dentist or by a periodontist (a dentist who specializes in gum health) and get it treated if necessary.
This is also a common age where fillings run their course and crowns become necessary. Your dentist will talk to you about timing and options.
An increasingly common issue at this age is dry mouth. Many medications can cause dry mouth, which means less saliva, which means less protection for tooth enamel, which means more tooth decay. Staying hydrated is the easiest way to address this problem. Many dentists also recommend the application of a fluoride varnish a few times a year, which can protect teeth and reduce the incidence of root cavities.
We recommend older adults suffering from arthritis or with limited dexterity switch to an electric toothbrush, which can make regular brushing much easier.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
Teeth will get some wear with age and we can’t do anything about the passage of time. We can, however, make preventative dental care a priority, to save us time, money, and pain in the future. By brushing and flossing daily, seeing dental professionals every year, and watching what we eat, we can make a huge impact on the health of our teeth for years to come.