Healthy teeth and gums make it easy for you to eat well and enjoy good food. Several problems can affect the health of your mouth, but good care should keep your teeth and gums strong as you age.
Teeth are covered in a hard, outer coating called enamel. Every day, a thin film of bacteria called dental plaque builds up on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that can harm enamel and cause cavities. Brushing and flossing your teeth can prevent decay, but once a cavity forms, to avoid further damage, a dentist must fix it with a filling.
Use fluoride toothpaste to protect your teeth from decay. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of a condition you have or medicines you take), you might need more fluoride. Your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment during an office visit or may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.
Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and under your gum line. Plaque causes an infection that hurts the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place. A mild form of gum disease may make your gums red, tender, and more likely to bleed. This problem, called gingivitis, can often be fixed by brushing and flossing every day.
A more severe form of gum disease, called periodontitis, must be treated by a dentist. If not treated, this infection can lead to sore, bleeding gums, painful chewing problems, and even tooth loss.
To prevent gum disease:
• Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
• Floss regularly.
• Visit your dentist routinely for a checkup and cleaning. Tell the dentist about any medical conditions you have and medications you take.
• Eat a well-balanced diet.
• Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk for gum disease.
How to Clean Your Teeth and Gums
There is a right way to brush and floss your teeth. Every day:
• Gently brush your teeth on all sides with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste. Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.
• Use small circular motions and short back-and-forth strokes.
• Brush carefully and gently along your gum line.
• Lightly brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper to help keep your mouth clean.
• Clean between your teeth with dental floss, prethreaded flossers, a water flosser, or a similar product. This removes plaque and leftover food that a toothbrush can’t reach.
• Rinse after you floss.
People with arthritis or other conditions that limit hand motion may find it hard to hold and use a toothbrush. Some helpful tips are:
• Use an electric or battery-operated toothbrush.
• Buy a toothbrush with a larger handle.
• Attach the toothbrush handle to your hand with a wide elastic band.
See your dentist if brushing or flossing causes your gums to bleed or hurts your mouth. If you have trouble flossing, a floss holder may help. Ask your dentist to show you the right way to floss.
To learn more about how to take care of your teeth and mouth as you age, from the National Institute on Aging, CLICK HERE.