How to take care of your teeth at every age

April is oral health care month so we’ve gathered the best tips to ensure you’re caring for your teeth the best way possible.

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Photo, iStock photo.

How can you tell when your mouth isn’t healthy?
Your mouth gives off warning signs when it’s not healthy and one of the first is a bad taste or bad breath.

Toronto-based, Dr. Janet Tamo (Crest and Oral-B’s consulting dentist), says bleeding is also an alarm bell to see your dentist. “Many people will spit out blood and not pay attention to it. If they were bleeding from an arm or a leg, they might react to it. But we often ignore the mouth when it bleeds,” she says.

Feeling a change in your bite, or like your teeth are moving, is another sign your mouth might not be in optimal health. There are a lot of nerves in the mouth so pain is another clear sign something’s wrong — and is often the sign of an abscessed tooth (an infection at the root or between the gums and teeth). There are many conditions in the mouth that won’t be as obvious however. Gum disease, for example, doesn’t get painful until its later stages.

Why does oral health matter?
There’s growing evidence that oral health affects overall body health. While research is still underway, dentists now know it’s important to control inflammation in the mouth before it spreads to other parts of the body.

At the upper end of the digestive tract, the mouth is the entrance to the digestive system, “If your mouth isn’t functioning properly you’re not digesting your food properly,” says Dr. Tamo. “If you’re not chewing your food properly, it’s not going through the rest of the digestive tract in a smooth manner. And there’s another warning sign, your digestive system will be upset if food is not being absorbed properly.”

For more on how you can take care of your teeth, check out this guide to your age-related issues:

Oral care routine in your 20s and 30s
Many women in this age bracket are experiencing hormonal fluctuations, especially during pregnancy. A hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is the hormone produced by the baby and increases sensitivity of the gums and sensitivity to plaque.

“When hCG gets into your bloodstream, your gums get much more sensitive than when you’re not pregnant. Women need to increase their home care. If you normally brush twice a day, increase it to three or four times a day,” says Dr. Tamo. “If you normally floss once a day, increase that to twice a day. If you normally go to the dentist every six months, go to the dentist every three to four months.”

Tamo advises people not stay away from the dentist during pregnancy. “It’s an important time to go have your teeth cleaned, and your gums and your health checked, because you have another human being you’re responsible for.”

Inflammation anywhere in the body is not good during pregnancy, but especially in the mouth, it can affect the outcome of the pregnancy,” says Dr. Tamo. Women with active gum disease can see a result in lower birth weight for the baby or earlier delivery.

Oral care in your 40s
American emergency medicine physician Dr. Travis Stork echoes Dr. Tamo’s sentiments that prevention is key in dentistry. This means a baseline, everyday routine to prevent chronic gum disease and gingivitis in later years.

A large part of this is teaching children how to take care of their mouths. Do this by setting a good example; brush your teeth at least twice a day for two full minutes, floss every day and rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash. Children are more likely to make a regular routine if they see their parents doing this.

Oral care in your 50s, 60s, and beyond
Gum recession, when the neck of the tooth is exposed, becomes more of an issue as you age. Because it’s the most sensitive part of the tooth, Dr. Tamo recommends switching to toothbrushes with soft bristles.

Dr. Tamo recommends age-specific “soft toothpastes”, which are less gritty. Women with more sensitive teeth should use a gentle stroke when brushing. As many people age, they may lose their mobility or develop arthritis in their hands. “When they can’t do the same job they used to do with a manual brush, definitely invest in an electric toothbrush,” says Dr. Tamo.

For women over 50, the different medications you may be taking can cause dry mouth. It helps to avoid snacks in between meals that add fermentable carbohydrates — an important concern when there is less saliva in the mouth.

“Saliva has many minerals in it that buffer the damaging effects of anything with sugar in it. Sugar turns into acid, and the buffers in the saliva neutralize the acid.”

Fermentable carbohydrates cause acidity, which in turn, causes decay. This can end up leading to root carries, a common occurrence in the elderly when their gums are dry and have receded. Water should be the go-to beverage in between meals.

Women in this age bracket should look for alcohol-free mouthwashes and toothpastes with fluoride. Alcohol is drying to the mouth and fluoride is important to strengthen the exposed enamel.

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