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
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
- 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 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.
Dentures (sometimes called false teeth) may feel strange at first.
When you are learning to eat with them, it may be easier if you:
- Start with soft non-sticky food;
- Cut your food into small pieces; and
- Chew slowly using both sides of your mouth.
Dentures may make your mouth less sensitive to hot foods and liquids.
They also may make it harder for you to notice harmful objects such
as bones, so be careful. During the first few weeks you have dentures,
your dentist may want to see you often to make sure they fit. Over time,
your mouth changes and your dentures may need to be replaced or adjusted.
Be sure to let your dentist handle these adjustments.
Keep your dentures clean and free from food that can cause stains, bad breath,
or swollen gums. Once a day, brush all surfaces with a denture care product.
When you go to sleep, take your dentures out of your mouth and put them in
water or a denture cleansing liquid.
Take care of partial dentures
the same way. Because bacteria can collect under the clasps (clips) that
hold partial dentures, be sure to carefully clean that area.
Dental implants are small metal pieces placed in the jaw to hold false
teeth or partial dentures in place. They are not for everyone. You need
a complete dental and medical checkup to find out if implants are right
for you. Your gums must be healthy and your jawbone able to support the
implants. Talk to your dentist to find out if you should think about
Doctors used to think that dry mouth (xerostomia) was a normal part
of aging. They now know that's not true. Older,
healthy adults shouldn't have a problem with saliva.
Dry mouth happens when salivary glands don't work properly.
This can make it hard to eat, swallow, taste, and even speak.
Dry mouth also can add to the risk of tooth decay and infection.
You can get dry mouth from many diseases or medical treatments, such
as head and neck radiation therapy. Many common medicines also can
cause dry mouth.
If you think you have dry mouth, talk with your dentist or doctor to find
out why. If your dry mouth is caused by a medicine you take, your doctor
might change your medicine or dosage.
To prevent the dryness, drink extra water. Cut back on sugary snacks,
drinks that have caffeine or alcohol, and tobacco. Your dentist or doctor
also might suggest that you keep your mouth wet by using artificial saliva,
which you can get from most drug stores. Some people benefit from sucking
Oral cancer most often occurs in people over age 40. It's important
to catch oral cancer early, because treatment works best before the disease
has spread. Pain often is not an early symptom of the disease.
A dental check-up is a good time for your dentist to look for early signs
of oral cancer. Even if you have lost all your natural teeth, you should
still see your dentist for regular oral cancer exams. See your dentist or
doctor if you have trouble with swelling, numbness, sores, or lumps in your
mouth, or if it becomes hard for you to chew, swallow, or move your jaw or
tongue. These problems could be signs of oral cancer.
Here's how you can lower your risk of getting oral cancer: don't
smoke; don't use snuff or chew tobacco; if you drink alcohol, do so in
moderation; use lip cream with sunscreen; and eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
publishes information on oral, dental, and craniofacial research and oral health care.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) Building 45, Room 4AS19
45 Center Drive MSC 6400 Bethesda, MD 20892-6400 301-496-4261
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.nidr.nih.gov
The American Dental Association (ADA) provides information about oral
American Dental Association (ADA)
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
For more information about health and aging call or write:
National Institute on Aging
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
NIA publishes fact sheets on various health related topics of interest
to older people and their families. For a complete listing of
publications, call or write to the above address.
National Institute on Aging
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
National Institutes of Health
This document sourced from the
Alzheimer's Disease Education and
a service of the National Institute on Aging.
en españolEl cuidado de los dientes
When you get your picture taken, everyone says, "Say cheese! Smile!" So you do — you open your mouth and show your teeth. When you see the picture, you see a happy person looking back at you. The healthier those teeth are, the happier you look. Why is that?
It's because your teeth are important in many ways. If you take care of them, they'll help take care of you. Strong, healthy teeth help you chew the right foods to help you grow. They help you speak clearly. And yes, they help you look your best.
Why Healthy Teeth Are Important
How does taking care of your teeth help with all those things? Taking care of your teeth helps prevent plaque (say: PLAK), which is a clear film of bacteria (say: bak-TEER-ee-uh) that sticks to your teeth.
After you eat, bacteria go crazy over the sugar on your teeth, like ants at a picnic. The bacteria break it down into acids that eat away tooth enamel, causing holes called cavities. Plaque also causes gingivitis (say: jin-juh-VY-tis), which is gum disease that can make your gums red, swollen, and sore. Your gums are those soft pink tissues in your mouth that hold your teeth in place.
If you don't take care of your teeth, cavities and unhealthy gums will make your mouth very, very sore. Eating meals will be difficult. And you won't feel like smiling so much.
Before Toothpaste Was Invented
We're lucky that we know so much now about taking care of our teeth. Long ago, as people got older, their teeth would rot away and be very painful. To get rid of a toothache, they had their teeth pulled out. Finally, people learned that cleaning their teeth was important, but they didn't have toothpaste right away.
While you're swishing that minty-fresh paste around your mouth, think about what people used long ago to clean teeth:
- ground-up chalk or charcoal
- lemon juice
- ashes (you know, the stuff that's left over after a fire)
- tobacco and honey mixed together
It was only about 100 years ago that someone finally created a minty cream to clean teeth. Not long after that, the toothpaste tube was invented, so people could squeeze the paste right onto the toothbrush! Tooth brushing became popular during World War II. The U.S. Army gave brushes and toothpaste to all soldiers, and they learned to brush twice a day. Back then, toothpaste tubes were made of metal; today they're made of soft plastic and are much easier to squeeze!
Today there are plenty of toothpaste choices: lots of colors and flavors to choose from, and some are made just for kids. When you're choosing a toothpaste, make sure it contains fluoride. Fluoride makes your teeth strong and protects them from cavities.
When you brush, you don't need a lot of toothpaste: just squeeze out a bit the size of a pea. It's not a good idea to swallow the toothpaste, either, so be sure to spit after brushing.
How You Can Keep Your Teeth Healthy
Kids can take charge of their teeth by taking these steps:
- Brush at least twice a day — after breakfast and before bedtime. If you can, brush after lunch or after sweet snacks. Brushing properly breaks down plaque.
- Brush all of your teeth, not just the front ones. Spend some time on the teeth along the sides and in the back. Have your dentist show you the best way to brush to get your teeth clean without damaging your gums.
- Take your time while brushing. Spend at least 2 or 3 minutes each time you brush. If you have trouble keeping track of the time, use a timer or play a recording of a song you like to help pass the time.
- Be sure your toothbrush has softbristles (the package will tell you if they're soft). Ask your parent to help you get a new toothbrush every 3 months. Some toothbrushes come with bristles that change color when it's time to change them.
- Ask your dentist if an antibacterial mouth rinse is right for you.
- Learn how to floss your teeth, which is a very important way to keep them healthy. It feels weird the first few times you do it, but pretty soon you'll be a pro. Slip the dental floss between each tooth and along the gumline gently once a day. The floss gets rid of food that's hidden where your toothbrush can't get it, no matter how well you brush.
- You can also brush your tongue to help keep your breath fresh!
It's also important to visit the dentist twice a year. Besides checking for signs of cavities or gum disease, the dentist will help keep your teeth extra clean and can help you learn the best way to brush and floss.
It's not just brushing and flossing that keep your teeth healthy — you also need to be careful about what you eat and drink. Remember, the plaque on your teeth is just waiting for that sugar to arrive. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and drink water instead of soda. And don't forget to smile!