The key to keeping a bright, healthy smile throughout adulthood is to practice proper oral hygiene. Adults can get cavities, as well as gum disease that can lead to serious problems. Throughout your adult life, it's important to continue to:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove dental plaque – the sticky film on your teeth that's the main cause of tooth decay and inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis.
- Floss daily to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gum line, before it can harden into tartar. Once tartar has formed, it can only be removed by a dental hygienist during a professional cleaning.
- Limit sugary or starchy foods, especially sticky snacks. The more often you snack between meals, the more chances you give bacteria to create the acids that attack your tooth enamel.
- Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups.
As we get older, staying healthy becomes more and more important. This is especially true for our oral health, because we’re at risk for dental problems we didn’t have to deal with when we were teenagers. Dental care for adults is crucial, and some examples may make you think twice before you cancel your next dental checkup.
Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of, and to discuss with your dentist during your annual checkups:
After age 35, patients lose more teeth to periodontal disease than to tooth decay. If your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures. Teeth will start to loosen, and if this is allowed to progress, you could require periodontal surgery, or may even suffer tooth loss. The good news is that this is a preventable.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.2
Dental Fillings Break Down
Dental fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them. When this happens, decay can go deep into your tooth, affect the nerve and possibly necessitate root canal treatment. If the tooth structure breaks down along with the filling, your only option may be to have a full crown and root canal treatment to restore your tooth.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
Bite irregularities and oral habits, such as grinding teeth, can lead to painful temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). Many things can cause your bite to shift slightly, but having teeth extracted can cause the teeth in your mouth to shift position significantly and alter bite. After time, the joints that are responsible for the movement of your jaw can be affected and cause pain and locking of your jaw. This is one reason for the importance of dental implants.
If you grind your teeth when you sleep, your dentist can make you a night guard. This appliance takes the stress off your joints. It also helps you stop grinding, which can wear down the enamel on your teeth.
Women have special oral health requirements during the unique phases in their lives. Changes in female hormone levels during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause exaggerate the way gums react to plaque. So at these times, women need to be especially thorough when brushing and flossing every day to prevent gum disease.
Other important information you should know:
Some women find that their gums swell, may be sensitive and bleed prior to their periods, while others experience cold sores or canker sores. These symptoms usually go away once your period starts and stress is lessened.
Gingivitis, inflammation of the gums, is one of the most common side effects of the use of oral contraceptives.
Studies show that many pregnant women experience pregnancy gingivitis, when dental plaque repeatedly builds up on the teeth and irritates the gum line. Symptoms include red, inflamed and bleeding gums. Prenatal care is especially important to keep the mouth healthy.
Oral symptoms experienced during this stage of a woman's life include red or inflamed gums, oral pain and discomfort, burning sensation, altered taste sensations in the mouth, and dry mouth.
A number of studies have suggested a link between osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw. Researchers suggest this may lead to tooth loss because the density of the bone that supports teeth may be decreased. When combined with gum disease, osteoporosis speeds up the process of bone loss around the teeth.
Preventive maintenance and dental care for adults are as important now as they were just a few years ago. As an adult, you are not immune to dental problems. In addition to maintaining a good home care routine, the best thing you can do is to schedule regular dental checkups and professional cleanings. Your dentist can closely monitor your oral health and take care of problems before they increase in severity. Remember the words once said by a very wise man: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
You also have a variety of cosmetic options available, including orthodontics (braces), whitening (both in-office and at-home) and bonding (veneers). Talk to your dentist about the different procedures to see which may be best for you.