Preventative dentistry relies on good oral hygiene and regular dental care; and
is important throughout your life, whatever your age. By practicing good oral
hygiene at home and visiting the doctor regularly, you will help prevent dental
problems and save time and money. In the process, you can save your teeth and
By fighting plaque you can keep your teeth for a lifetime. Today, in fact,
older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer because of scientific
developments and an emphasis on preventative dentistry.
Good oral hygiene requires an understanding of plaque. Plaque is a sticky,
colorless layer of bacteria. When you eat carbohydrates (foods made of sugar
or starch) you feed this plaque, which in turn produces acids that attack tooth
enamel, cause cavities, and develop a hard substance called calculus (tartar).
Uninterrupted, the acid attacks can result in tooth decay and gum disease (also
known as periodontal disease). If left untreated, gum disease can cause loss
of teeth and bone.
At any age, you can begin the fight with plaque and keep your teeth and gums
healthy. It's really quite easy. Simply:
Preventing Tooth Decay
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride
toothpaste to remove food particles and plaque from the tooth surfaces. While
you're at it, brush the top surface of your tongue to eliminate bad breath
and bacteria buildup.
- Clean between your teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner. Decay-causing
bacteria can linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can't reach. Flossing
removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum
- Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks. If a snack is needed,
nutritious foods such as raw vegetables, plain yogurt, cheese or a piece of
fruit should be chosen.
- Schedule regular check-ups. Visit the doctor regularly (every 6 months)
for professional cleanings and oral exams.
- Ask the doctor about dental sealants, a protective plastic coating that
can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay often
- Wear mouth protection such as a mouthguard when you play contact sports
or extreme sports.
Tooth decay (cavity or caries) can develop on any surface of any tooth. Because
cavities grow, they are much easier and less expensive to treat when they
are small. A decaying tooth may not hurt, so you may have a cavity and not
realize it. The dentist checks for tooth decay at your regular check-ups
and will periodically use x-rays to check for decay between teeth. The dentist
treats tooth decay by cleaning out the cavity and placing a restoration (filling)
in the tooth.
By following the strategies listed above, you can prevent tooth decay.
Preventing Gum Disease
Gum disease (also called periodontal disease) is an infection of the tissues
that support your teeth. It is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because
gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. At each regular
checkup the dentist will measure the depth of the shallow v-shaped crevice
(called a sulcus) between your tooth and gums to identify whether you have
Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly
forms on the teeth. These bacteria create toxins that can damage the gums.
Periodontal diseases attack just below the gum line in the sulcus, where they
cause the attachment of the tooth and its supporting tissues to break down.
As the tissues are damaged, the sulcus develops into a pocket; generally, the
more severe the disease, the greater the depth of the pocket.
Periodontal diseases are classified according to the severity of the disease.
The two major stages are gingivitis and periodontitis.
In the early stage of gum disease, called gingivitis, the gums become red,
swollen and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is still reversible and
can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.
In the more advanced stages of gum disease, called periodontitis, the gums
and bone that support the teeth become seriously damaged. The teeth can become
loose, fall out, or have to be removed by a dentist.
Some factors increase the risk of developing periodontal disease:
If you notice any of the following signs of gum disease, see the doctor immediately:
- Tobacco smoking or chewing
- System-wide diseases such as diabetes
- Some types of medication such as steroids, some types of anti-epilepsy drugs,
cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
- Bridges that no longer fit properly
- Crooked teeth
- Fillings that have become defective
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
It is possible to have periodontal disease and have no warning signs.
That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations
are very important. Treatment methods depend on the type of disease and how
far the condition has progressed.
Good oral hygiene at home is essential to keep periodontal disease from becoming
more serious or recurring. You don't have to lose teeth to periodontal disease.
Brush, clean between your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular
dental visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Normal, healthy gums: Healthy gums and bone anchor teeth firmly in place.
Gingivitis: Gums are red, swollen and bleed easily.
Periodontitis: Unremoved plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As plaque and
calculus continue to build up, the gums begin to recede (pull away) from the
teeth, and pockets form between the teeth and gums.
Advanced periodontitis: The gums recede farther, destroying more bone and the
periodontal ligament. Teeth - even healthy teeth - may become loose
and need to be extracted.
The good news is that you can help prevent gum disease by taking good care
of your teeth every day and having regular dental checkups.
How to Brush Your Teeth
» View step-by-step instructions for brushing your teeth
You should replace your toothbrush every three or four months — or sooner
if the bristles become frayed. A worn toothbrush will not do a good job of
cleaning your teeth. Children's toothbrushes often need replacing more frequently
than adults because they can wear out sooner.
How to Floss Your Teeth
» View step-by-step instructions for flossing your teeth
People who have difficulty handling dental floss may prefer to use another
kind of interdental cleaner. These aids include special brushes, picks, and
sticks. If you use interdental cleaners, ask the doctor about how to use them
properly to avoid injuring your gums.
Choosing Dental Products
When choosing any dental product, look for the American Dental Association
Seal of Acceptance, an important symbol of a dental product's safety and
effectiveness. Talk to the doctor about what types of oral care products
will be most effective for you. The ADA Seal on a product is your assurance
that it has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. Look for the ADA
Seal on fluoride toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, interdental cleaners, oral
irrigators, and mouth rinse.
By taking care of your teeth, eating a balanced diet, and visiting the doctor
regularly, you can have healthy teeth and an attractive smile throughout your