Bones and Gums

Bones and Gums

Healthy teeth and gums make it easy for you to eat well and enjoy good food. Several problems can affect the health of your mouth, but good care should keep your teeth and gums strong as you age.

Tooth DecayToothbrushes and toothpaste for healthy teeth and gums

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 harm enamel and cause cavities. Brushing and flossing your teeth can prevent decay, but once a cavity forms, a dentist has to fix it.

Use fluoride toothpaste to protect your teeth from decay. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of a condition you have or medicines you take), you might need more fluoride. Your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment during an office visit or may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.

Gum Disease

Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and under your gum line. This plaque causes infections that hurt the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place. Gum disease may make your gums tender and more likely to bleed. This problem, called gingivitis, can often be fixed by brushing and flossing every day.

A more severe form of gum disease, called periodontitis, must 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.

How to Clean 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.
  • Brush carefully and gently along your gum line.
  • Lightly brush your tongue to help keep your mouth clean.
  • Clean around your teeth with dental floss. Careful flossing removes plaque and leftover food that a toothbrush can’t reach.
  • Rinse after you floss.

People with arthritis or other conditions that limit hand motion may find it hard to hold and use a toothbrush. Some helpful tips 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.

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.

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