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Healthy Teeth for Life: 10 Tips for Families

You have so many good reasons to keep your family’s teeth and gums healthy. Their sparkling smiles. Being able to chew for good nutrition. Avoiding toothaches and discomfort. And new research suggests that gum disease can lead to other problems in the body, including increased risk of heart disease.Fortunately, there are simple ways to help keep teeth strong and healthy from childhood to old age. Here’s how:

1. Start children early. Dental care should begin as soon as a child’s first tooth appears, usually around six months. Teeth can be wiped with a clean, damp cloth or a very soft brush.

2. Seal off trouble. Permanent molars come in around age 6. Thin protective coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth can help prevent decay in the pits and fissures. These are called sealants, talk to your dental professional.

3. Use enough — but not too much — fluoride. The single biggest advance in oral health has been fluoride, which helps with strengthening enamel. If your water isn’t fluoridated, talk to your dental professional, who may suggest putting a fluoride application on your teeth. Many kinds of toothpaste and mouth rinse also contain fluoride. Fluoride should be used sparingly in young children — no more than a pea-sized dab on the toothbrush. Too much can cause white spots on teeth.

4. Brush twice a day and floss daily. Gum disease and tooth decay remain big problems — and not just for older people. Remember:

  • Toothbrushes should be changed 3 to 4 times a year.
  • Teenagers with braces may need to use special toothbrushes and other oral hygiene tools to brush their teeth. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist.
  • Older people with arthritis or other problems may have trouble holding a toothbrush or using floss. Some people find it easier to use an electric toothbrush. Others simply put a bicycle grip or foam tube over the handle of a regular toothbrush to make it easier to hold.

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5. Rinse or chew gum after meals. In addition to brushing and flossing, rinsing your mouth with an antibacterial rinse can help prevent decay and gum problems. Chewing sugar-free gum after a meal can also protect by increasing saliva flow, which naturally washes bacteria away and neutralizes the acid.6. Block blows to teeth. Sports and recreational activities build healthy bodies, but they can pose a threat to teeth. Most school teams now require children to wear mouth guards. But remember: unsupervised recreational activities like skate-boarding and roller-blading can also result in injuries. Your dentist can make a custom-fitted mouth guard.

7. Don’t smoke or use smokeless tobacco. Tobacco stains teeth and significantly increases the risk of gum disease and oral cancer. If you smoke or use chewing tobacco, consider quitting. Counsel your kids not to start.

8. Eat smart. At every age, a healthy diet is essential to healthy teeth and gums. A well-balanced diet of whole foods — including grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products — will provide all the nutrients you need. Some researchers believe that omega-3 fats, the kind found in fish, may also reduce inflammation, thereby lowering the risk of gum disease, says Anthony M. Iacopino, DMD, PhD, dean of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry.

9. Avoid sugary foods. When bacteria in the mouth break down simple sugars, they produce acids that can erode tooth enamel, opening the door to potential decay.

10. Make an appointment. Most experts recommend a dental check-up every 6 months — more often if you have problems like gum disease. During a routine exam, your dentist or dental hygienist removes plaque build-up that you can’t brush or floss away and look for signs of decay. A regular dental exam can also spot:

  • Early signs of oral cancer. Early diagnosis of oral cancer through screening and early detection is critical. Survival is much better when the lesion is diagnosed at an early stage.  Undetected, oral cancer can spread to other parts of the body and become harder to treat.
  • Wear and tear from tooth grinding. Called bruxism, teeth grinding may be caused by stress or anxiety. Over time, it can wear down the biting surfaces of teeth, making them more susceptible to decay. If your teeth show signs of bruxism, your dentist may recommend a mouth guard worn at night to prevent grinding.
  • Signs of gum disease. Gum disease, also called gingivitis or periodontitis, is the leading cause of tooth loss. Periodically, your dental professional should examine your gums for signs of trouble.