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 keep teeth strong and healthy from childhood to old age. Here’s how:

1. Start children early. Despite great strides in decay prevention, one in four young children develops signs of tooth decay before they start school. Half of all children between the ages of 12 and 15 have cavities. “Dental care should begin as soon as a child’s first tooth appears, usually around six months,” Caryn Solie, RDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, tells WebMD. “Teeth can be wiped with a clean, damp cloth or a very soft brush. At about age 2, you can let kids try brushing for themselves — although it’s important to supervise.”

2. Seal off trouble. Permanent molars come in around age 6. Thin protective coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth can prevent decay in the pits and fissures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sealants can significantly reduce caries. Yet only one in three U.S. kids receives dental 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 strengthens enamel, making it less likely to decay. Three out of four Americans drink water that is fluoridated. If your water isn’t fluoridated, talk to your dental professional, who may suggest putting a fluoride application on your teeth. Many toothpastes and mouth rinses 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. Three-fourths of teenagers have gums that bleed, according to the ADHA. Along with the basic advice, 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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