Trusted medical advice from the
American Academy of Family Physicians.

Mouth and Teeth: How to Keep Them Healthy

Taking good care of your mouth and teeth throughout your life can help prevent both dental and medical problems. You can do this by brushing and flossing every day and seeing your dentist regularly.

Path to improved health

A healthy mouth is more important than you might think. Consider everything you expect your mouth to do each day. You use your mouth to eat, to smile, to speak, and more. Poor oral health can affect all of these things.

Having a healthy mouth, teeth, and gums can also have overall health benefits. Systemic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are improved with better dental health.

Good oral health isn’t hard to achieve but it does take discipline. Use these tips for a lifetime of taking care of your mouth and teeth.

Infants and children

A baby’s first set of teeth is almost completely formed at birth. At first, these teeth are “hiding” under the gums. Typically, babies get their first tooth when they’re around 6 months old. These baby teeth 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 find tips on caring for your baby’s teeth here. You can find advice for your children’s teeth here. Overall, be sure to follow these suggestions.

  • Clean your baby’s 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.
  • Limit the use of pacifiers. They can worsen oral health and affect how teeth grow in.
  • 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.”
  • Children under 2 years of age shouldn’t use toothpaste. Instead, use water to brush your child’s teeth.
  • Teach your children how to brush their teeth properly and the importance of keeping their teeth clean. Make sure they brush their tongue, too. Also make sure they spit out all toothpaste and don’t swallow it.
  • Take your children to the dentist regularly. The American Dental Association recommends that children see their dentist starting at 1 year of age.
  • Encourage older children to eat low-sugar snacks, such as fruits, cheese, and vegetables. Avoid giving your child sticky, chewy candy.

Teens

Continued oral care is important as your children become teens. They now have adult (permanent) teeth. Helping them take good care of their mouth and teeth will help them have pleasant breath, a nice smile, and fewer cavities. Here are some simple things they can do:

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

Adults

Maintaining good mouth and tooth care as an adult can help you avoid tooth loss, painful gums, or other problems. If you have any problems with your teeth or concerns about your mouth, see your doctor or dentist right away.

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.

Things to consider

When you don’t regularly take good care of your teeth and mouth, you could experience the following problems.

  • Cavities. Cavities are caused by tooth decay. Your teeth can decay when you don’t brush and floss them regularly to get leftover food off of them. If left untreated, cavities can cause tooth pain, can cause your tooth to become infected, and can even lead to tooth loss.
  • Gum disease.Gum disease happens when plaque collects along your gum line. Gum disease is an infection of the tissue that supports your teeth. It can cause teeth to become loose over time. There is also evidence that gum disease is related to heart disease. Experts aren’t sure if gum disease makes you more likely to have heart disease or vice versa.
  • Oral cancer.Smoking, chewing tobacco, and alcohol can increase your risk for oral cancer (cancer in your mouth). Poor oral hygiene alone may not increase your risk for oral cancer. When you combine it with any other risk factor, though, it dramatically boosts your chances of getting cancer.
  • Poor self-esteem.When your teeth aren’t clean, you have bad breath. Bad breath can make you feel uncomfortable at work, school, and in social situations. This can make you reluctant to participate. Longtime poor oral health can result in tooth loss, which can make you smile less. All of these things can damage your self-esteem, or how you see yourself.

If you have mouth or tooth pain, don’t ignore it. See a doctor or a dentist right away. The longer you wait, the worse it could be for your mouth.

Also, see your dentist twice a year to get your teeth cleaned. If your dentist diagnoses you with gum disease, share this diagnosis with your medical doctor.

Questions for your doctor

  • Can my diet affect my oral health?
  • Is one toothpaste better than another?
  • Am I brushing my teeth the right way?
  • Are amalgam fillings safe?
  • Is it safe to have a root canal?
  • Should I get denture or a dental implant?

Resources

American Dental Association: Mouth Healthy

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Oral Health Basics

National Institute on Aging: Taking Care of Your Teeth and Mouth

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Dental Health

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