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 begin to harm enamel. Over time, the acids can cause a hole in the enamel. This hole is called a cavity. Brushing and flossing your teeth can protect you from decay, but once a cavity happens, a dentist has to fix it.
You can protect your teeth from decay by using fluoride toothpaste. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of medicines you take), you might need more fluoride. Your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment during an office visit. Or, the dentist may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.
Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and under the gum line. This plaque causes infections that hurt the gum and bone that hold teeth in place. Sometimes gum disease makes your gums tender and more likely to bleed. This problem, called gingivitis, can often be fixed by daily brushing and flossing.
A more severe form of gum disease, called periodontitis, needs to be treated by a dentist. If not treated, this infection can ruin the bones, gums, and other tissues that support your teeth. Over time, your teeth may have to be removed.
To prevent gum disease:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss once a day.
- Visit your dentist regularly for a checkup and cleaning.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk for gum disease.
Cleaning 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.
- Use small circular motions and short back-and-forth strokes.
- Take the time to brush carefully and gently along the gum line.
- Lightly brush your tongue to help keep your mouth clean.
People with arthritis or other conditions that limit hand motion may find it hard to hold and use a toothbrush. Some helpful ideas are:
- Use an electric or battery-operated toothbrush.
- Slide a bicycle grip or foam tube over the handle of the toothbrush.
- Buy a toothbrush with a larger handle.
- Attach the toothbrush handle to your hand with a wide elastic band.
You also need to clean around your teeth with dental floss every day. Careful flossing will take off plaque and leftover food that a toothbrush can’t reach. Be sure to rinse after you floss.
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.
Hold floss as shown.
Use floss between upper teeth.
Use floss between lower teeth.
Source: National Institute on Aging