Proper Oral Health – Infancy to Adulthood


Oral health is an important part of total body health and begins at the earliest stages of life. Visiting the dentist and establishing a “Dental Home” early on ensures that children and families have access to education and treatment. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a “well baby checkup” for the teeth. Besides checking the child for tooth decay and other dental developmental problems, the parents can benefit from education on how to properly clean the child’s teeth, how to identify adverse habits such as thumb sucking, and the importance of proper diet at an early age.

A child’s primary teeth, sometimes called “baby teeth,” typically begin to appear between the age of six months and one year. Primary teeth help children chew and speak, hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are developing, and are as important as the permanent adult teeth.

Proper oral hygiene is vital to overall body health for all ages and should include regular brushing, flossing, fluoride use, sealants, regular dental visits, and proper nutrition. Individual dental care plans may change as a person ages and risk factors for dental disease may also change. Today we know that poor oral health and periodontal (gum) disease can lead to increased risk for conditions such as respiratory disease, cardiac complications, stroke, pancreatic cancer, and low birth-weight babies.

The following are guidelines for dental home care:

  • Brushing/daily cleaning – Your teeth should be brushed twice every day, preferably after breakfast and before bedtime. Brushing your teeth helps to remove plaque, bacteria, and food particles which can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and possibly tooth loss. Take time to brush your teeth – about 2 minutes with a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. For children, use of a timing device like the microwave timer can help them from being too quick with their brushing. Brush your teeth with a soft bristled, manual toothbrush, or power toothbrush, being cautious to use a small circular motion and not to “scrub” too vigorously as this can contribute to receding gums and exposed root surfaces. Replace your toothbrush every three months, when it shows wear, or after an illness such as a cold or flu. A worn toothbrush does not effectively clean your teeth. Adults should monitor children until around age eight, since dexterity and the ability to be thorough can be limited. Very young children should have their teeth and gums cleaned by an adult. Simply wrapping a washcloth around a finger and wiping the teeth and gums can remove harmful plaque and bacteria. Commonly, dentists see an increase in the number of “cavities” in middle to late teen ages due to independence in both eating choices and daily brushing and flossing habits. Also, many of the children in this age group have orthodontic appliances complicating their ability to clean their teeth thoroughly.
  • Cleaning between your teeth – Today there are many options available to clean in between your teeth. Some of these include pre-threaded floss holders, handles with small brushes, automatic flossers, or traditional dental floss. Regardless of what you use, cleaning effectively in between your teeth at least once a day to remove plaque from the tooth surfaces that your toothbrush cannot reach is very important. Brushing only cleans about ¾ of your teeth’s surfaces. Cleaning in between the teeth daily removes plaque and bacteria before it has a chance to remain in the mouth and contribute to disease progression. Swelling or bleeding of the gums when brushing or flossing is NOT normal and often one of the earliest signs of periodontal or other systemic diseases. If bleeding is noticed you should visit your Dentist for an exam.
  • Fluoride – Exposure to the proper amounts of fluoride can help prevent tooth decay. Many community water supplies are fluoridated and drinking tap water regularly will ensure that you have access to this important cavity preventing mineral. Most bottled waters, however, do not contain fluoride. Several treatments are available for those who do not receive the recommended amount of daily fluoride. Generally when visiting the dental office, the need and recommendations for fluoride will be discussed. The benefits of fluoride are not only for children, but many adults can benefit from this preventive treatment as well. Senior adults, especially those taking multiple medications, often suffer from xeristomia, a big word for reduced saliva flow and a dry mouth, which put them at a very high risk for decay.
  • Sealants – Sealants are bonded protective materials that are applied to the biting surfaces of all back teeth to protect the fissures, or tiny grooves, where bacteria can harbor and start areas of decay. These small bonded sealants most commonly do not require anesthetic or drilling to be placed. The cost is much less than having a filling placed and they are very effective at preventing decay and preserving tooth structure. Sealants are not “just for kids.” Adults with unfilled back teeth can also benefit from placement of sealants.
  • Regular dental visits – Regular dental visits are essential for maintaining healthy teeth and gums, which will result in being able to keep your teeth for a lifetime. A professional dental exam is recommended at least every six months, and should include the following: a soft tissue examination and oral cancer screening, detailed restorative evaluation to discuss existing conditions, and an examination and risk assessment for periodontal diseases and dental decay. Many patients today are interested in improving their smiles cosmetically. Whitening, crowns, veneers, and orthodontics may also be discussed with your dentist. Your dentist can also evaluate your bite to determine if you are clenching or grinding and make appropriate recommendations to avoid future wear on the teeth. Dentists often see the earliest signs of these habits in very young adults. The long term harm and loss of tooth structure can be easily and inexpensively treated with a small protective appliance, like a retainer, to be worn at night. It is important to note that even those who may have dentures and partials should visit the dentist regularly for an exam and oral cancer screening; ill-fitting appliances can contribute to excessive wear on the teeth, sore spots on the tissues, and overall discomfort.
  • Nutrition – In addition to proper oral hygiene, choosing a diet filled with healthy foods and avoiding snacks and drinks that are high in sugar or acid are good ways to maintain a healthy smile. Carbonated sodas, sweet fruit drinks, sports beverages, energy drinks, and sugary snack foods should be limited. You do not have to eliminate these foods and drinks completely, but limiting the overall number of times that the teeth are exposed to these foods is vitally important to maintaining healthy teeth for a lifetime.

The hectic pace of today’s lifestyles often leaves little time to think about the importance of taking care of ourselves. Today we know that the mouth is the “window to the body” and many diseases and conditions exhibit signs and symptoms in the mouth first. While needs and concerns may change as we move from early childhood to maturity, it is important at all stages to put priority on maintaining proper oral health. Your Dentist is an important partner in your overall health. Keep smiling and see your Dentist!


Source by Dr. Jeff Moos

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