Dental Care Through The Life Cycle
Pregnancy: During pregnancy, increased hormone levels can make teeth and gums extra sensitive to bacteria which can increase the risk of developing dental infections, gum disease or tooth decay. Symptoms of pregnancy such as vomiting can also lead to dental problems by exposing the teeth to gastric acid.
To minimize damage, a pregnant woman should try to consume foods with calcium, eat vegetables and brush and floss with care. If possible, schedule a dental exam before pregnancy to treat any dental problems ahead of time. The American Dental Association recommends doing any elective work during the second trimester when the fetus is less sensitive to environmental issues.
Infants: Even before baby teeth appear, parents can take action to prevent future dental problems for their child. To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, wipe the inside of the baby’s mouth by gently rubbing a damp washcloth along the upper and lower gums after every feeding.
Between the ages of 3 and 9 months, primary teeth (also known as milk teeth) will begin to erupt through the gums, These teeth should be cleaned with water and a very soft toothbrush at least twice a day. To prevent tooth decay, never allow an infant to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, or fruit juices.
The ADA advises that a baby visit the dentist after the first tooth comes in and no later than the first birthday.
The American Dental Association recommends only non-fluoride toothpastes for children younger than the age of 2. Brushing teeth after the age of 2 years should be supervised to prevent the child from swallowing any toothpaste.
Preteens/Teenage: Permanent teeth should start erupting at 6 or 7 years of age and will continue to appear throughout the teenage years. The Center for Disease Control says that dental caries are the most common chronic disease of children aged 5 to 17.
Encourage teenagers to take care of their teeth by limiting snacks and eating nutritious, well-balanced meals. Providing sugar-free gum after eating helps create more saliva which will neutralize the acids that form in the mouth.
If the teenager plays sports, wearing a mouthguard will help protect against broken and damaged teeth.
Reiterate the importance of brushing and flossing teeth twice a day and visiting the dentist every 6 months for a cleaning.
Adults Under 40 : As we age, taking care of our overall health becomes vital not only for the body but also for oral health. Adults are always at risk for tooth decay which, left untreated, can lead to serious health problems such as damage to bone, nerves and tooth loss. Untreated oral infections can spread to other parts of the body increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and ulcers.
Adults can significantly lower the risk of tooth decay by eating a balanced diet, following a good dental hygiene routine, having regular dental cleanings and an annual dental checkup.
Adults 40-60: At least 40% of people in this age group are taking prescription or over-the-counter medication which can discolor teeth and cause dry mouth, receding gums, inflammation, bleeding or ulceration. During regular checkups your dentist will check for problems and offer suggestions to prevent permanent damage.
Adults using oral inhalers for asthma often develop oral candidiasis which is a fungal infection in the mouth. To prevent problems, these individuals are encouraged to rinse their mouths with water after using an inhaler.
Regular intake of alcohol can cause a dry mouth and tooth damage as most alcohols are acidic.
Smoking is associated with an increased rate of gum disease as well as an increased risk of cancers including oral cancer.
While it may seem difficult to maintain oral health in this age group, the majority of these individuals in the baby boomer generation will maintain their natural teeth for their lifetime because they’ve benefited from water fluoridation and fluoride toothpastes.
For those who do not have all their teeth at this age, dentures are a necessary replacement for natural teeth. Dentures should be stored in lukewarm water or denture cleaning liquid and should not be allowed to dry out.
For baby boomers, regular visits to the dentist can improve the chances that any changes in oral health will be caught early and treated immediately before more advanced damage occurs.
Over 60: The older adult enters a second round of cavity prone years where tooth fillings may start to weaken and/or crack. Denture wearers may have poorly fitting dentures allowing bacteria to accumulate around the edges of these fillings increasing the severity of gum disease and creating chewing problems or pain in the jaw.
Dry mouth can occur as it is a side-effect of over 500 medications including those prescribed for allergies, asthma, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Regular dental visits are critical as a way to check for oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 35,000 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer diagnosed each year. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62. In the early stages oral cancer doesn’t cause pain so early detection can saves lives.
Seniors may have difficulty maintaining a healthy mouth on their own and might need assistance. There are dentists who specialize in caring for the elderly and they can offer suggestions on how to maintain an oral hygiene program.
By following a good oral hygiene routine, making smart choices about diet and lifestyle and scheduling regular professional cleanings and dental checkups, your teeth can last a lifetime!