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Feature Stories

Smile! Good dental health important at every age

Smile! Good dental health important at every age

As you get older, good dental care still needs to be part of your life. Without it, you may be prone to cavities, pain, and an inability to eat healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. These problems can affect overall health and longevity.

As the years go by, risks may rise for oral health issues, such as needing dentures, developing cancer in your mouth, or having a dry mouth.

Here are common dental health questions. The answers can help you take better care of your teeth, now and in the years to come.

Do I still need as many checkups as I did when I was younger? Yes. The American Dental Association recommends everyone see a dentist for a checkup at least once a year.

Can I still get cavities? Older people can get cavities when old fillings break down or receding gums expose root surfaces. Medications can also cause dry mouth, which increases the risk. So does eating softer, sweet foods, like pudding and ice cream.

Should I be concerned about gum disease? Periodontal (gum) disease can make eating a healthy diet difficult and painful due to gum sensitivity. It also causes bad breath and can increase the risk for pneumonia in people with heart disease, stroke, and uncontrolled diabetes. If left untreated, gum disease can affect the bones and tissues supporting your teeth. You may need to have teeth pulled as a result. To prevent gum disease, brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss once a day, have regular checkups and cleanings, eat a healthy diet, and don't smoke.

How can I reduce my risk of oral cancer? Not smoking and drinking alcohol only in moderation can cut your risk. However, having your dentist check for signs of the disease when you have checkups is a must. Pain is not an early symptom of this kind of cancer. As with other cancers, early detection is the key to successful treatment.

Is bad breath a problem? Bad breath can usually be blamed on bacteria, which collect on food particles. Other bad breath culprits include certain foods, such as garlic and onions. Tobacco use, mouth dryness, and postnasal drip can affect breath, too. So can sinus infections, gum disease, and some medical conditions, such as liver disease.

To attack bad breath, brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day. Dentures need to be cleaned thoroughly every day. Also important: Gently brush the tongue – especially the back part – twice a day. Here are some other strategies:

  • Keep your mouth moist with water or sugarless-gum.
  • Rinse and gargle with a mouthwash your dentist recommends.

If bad breath persists despite these strategies, talk to your dentist or doctor.

Choosing a toothbrush

A good toothbrush can be crucial in the battle for a healthy mouth; some may help more than others. Here are some considerations when buying your next toothbrush:

To help ward off plaque and gum disease, look for a toothbrush with a long, wide, easy-to-hold handle; a small head – about 1 inch in length and 1/2 inch in width – that can reach all teeth; and soft, nylon, round-ended bristles.

It's still unclear if electric toothbrushes remove more plaque than manual ones. But electric toothbrushes may be helpful to those with limited dexterity. Ask your dentist about which kind of toothbrush would be better for you. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months – or before the bristles become frayed. And choose a new toothbrush after you've been sick. The bristles could harbor germs.