Originally created 01/10/01

Age old questions



Q: As I get older, I understand how important it is to take good care of my teeth. How can I do this each day? - B.W., Sardis, Ga.

A: For those of us who remember grandparents with gap-toothed grins, proper care of our teeth is a priority. Thanks to medical technology, we now know how to preserve our pearly whites for a lifetime.

Daily cleaning, including brushing and flossing, along with regular visits to the dentist, helps maintain teeth for many years.

The most important way to help your teeth is to brush after meals and snacks and floss at least once a day. Cut back on sweets and starches as well. These foods increase your risk for plaque problems. The American Dental Association describes plaque as a sticky film of bacteria that uses sugars and starches to produce acids that destroy the surface of teeth.

When choosing a toothbrush, pick one that has a soft head. The American Dental Association recommends that you choose a brush that fits your mouth properly. The Wellness Councils of America suggest replacing your toothbrush every few months. Old toothbrushes can carry bacteria, so it is never a good idea to share a toothbrush.

Use fluoride toothpaste. Your dentist may be able to suggest special toothpastes for individual problems, including stained or sensitive teeth. When brushing your teeth, remember to brush all the surfaces - including the insides. Brushing your tongue can help prevent bad breath.

Flossing is especially important to remove plaque from the spaces between your teeth. If you are unable to floss, you may prefer to use specially designed interdental brushes or picks. Avoid toothpicks as your primary flossing tool. Improper use of toothpicks can damage gums.

Visit your dentist for advice on the proper use of interdental cleaning tools so you will not damage your teeth and gums.

Bad breath also can be combated with proper tooth care. Food trapped between teeth can decay, causing the odor associated with halitosis, or bad breath. Drinking more water can help rehydrate your system. Morning breath is often a product of a dehydrated body. Rather than beginning your morning with coffee or tea, drink a tall glass of water instead.

Smoking, garlic and onions also can cause bad breath. Breath mints will only cover up the problem for a while - seek professional help if your bad breath is persistent.

Perhaps the most important job you have in protecting your teeth is visiting your dentist regularly. Not only can your dentist clean your teeth more thoroughly than you can at home, he also will alert you to problem areas that you are missing in your regular cleaning and will give you advice for new techniques.

Gum disease causes red, swollen, bleeding gums that often lead to periodontal disease, which causes the gums to pull away from the teeth and causes pockets to form. This condition is the No. 1 cause of tooth loss for adults. If you are diagnosed with gum disease or more severe periodontal disease, your dentist may refer you to a specialized doctor known as a periodontist.

If you have any of the following symptoms, the Wellness Council of America suggests that you visit your dentist as soon as possible. It's especially important to do that if your gums bleed when you floss, if you avoid hard foods, if you have sores in your mouth that don't heal, if your teeth ache, if you have trouble swallowing, if you have swollen gums or neck, if you have discolored patches in your mouth, if your gums are receding, if you have a bad taste in your mouth, if your breath is bad a lot of the time or if you haven't been to the dentist in over one year.

If you have a question or would like additional information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.