Mouth and Teeth: How to Keep Them Healthy


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Taking good care of your mouth and teeth throughout your whole life can help prevent problems as you get older. Taking care of your teeth means brushing and flossing every day and seeing the dentist regularly.

Infants and children

The first set of teeth is already almost completely formed at birth. At first these teeth are "hiding" under the gums. These teeth are important, because after they come in, they let your baby chew food and talk well. You baby's first set of teeth also holds the space where permanent teeth will eventually be. They help permanent teeth grow in straight.

You can care for your baby's teeth by following these suggestions:

  • Clean the new teeth every day. When the teeth first come in, clean them by rubbing them gently with a clean wet washcloth. When the teeth are bigger, use a child's toothbrush.
  • Children under 2 years of age shouldn't use toothpaste. Instead, use water to brush your child's teeth.
  • Don't let your baby go to sleep with a bottle. This can leave milk or juice sitting on the teeth and cause cavities that are known as "baby-bottle tooth decay."
  • Encourage older children to eat low-sugar snacks, such as fruits, cheese and vegetables. Avoid giving your child sticky, chewy candy.
  • Teach your children how to brush their teeth and the importance of keeping their teeth clean.
  • Take your children to the dentist regularly. The American Dental Association recommends that children see their dentist starting at 1 year of age.

Teens

Taking good care of your mouth and teeth will help you have pleasant breath, a nice smile and fewer cavities. Here are some simple things you can do:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.
  • Don't smoke or chew tobacco, which can stain your teeth, give you bad breath and cause cancer.
  • Wear the right protective headgear while playing contact sports.
  • See your dentist every 6 months for regular check-ups and cleanings.

Adults

Continuing good mouth and tooth care as an adult can help you avoid tooth loss, painful gums or other problems. Here are some helpful things you can do:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.
  • Don't smoke or chew tobacco.
  • Ask your doctor if your medicines have side effects that might damage your teeth. (For example, some medicines may cause you to have a dry mouth.)
  • Look inside your mouth regularly for sores that don't heal, irritated gums or other changes.
  • See your dentist every 6 months for regular check-ups and cleanings.

If you have any problems with your teeth or concerns about your mouth, see your doctor or dentist right away.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 07/13
Created: 09/00

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