Dental and Oral Health

Brushing and flossing your teeth every day and seeing the dentist on a regular basis is a key step to maintaining good oral and dental health.

Taking good care of your mouth and teeth throughout your whole life can help prevent problems as you get older.

Dental Care for Infants & Children

The first set of teeth is already almost completely formed at birth. At first these teeth are "hiding" under the gums. These teeth are important, because after they come in, they let your baby chew food, smile and talk well. Your 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 care for your baby's teeth by following these suggestions:

  • Clean the 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.
  • Children under 2 years of age shouldn't use toothpaste. Instead, use water to brush your child's teeth.
  • 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."
  • Encourage older children to eat low-sugar snacks, such as fruits, cheese and vegetables. Avoid giving your child sticky, chewy candy.
  • Teach your children how to brush their teeth and the importance of keeping their teeth clean.
  • Take your children to the dentist regularly. The American Dental Association recommends that children see their dentist starting at 1 year of age.

Dental Care for Teens

Taking good care of your mouth and teeth will help you have pleasant breath, a nice smile and fewer cavities. Here are some simple 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, which can stain your teeth, give you bad breath and cause cancer.
  • Wear the right protective headgear while playing contact sports.
  • See your dentist every year for regular check-ups and cleanings.

Dental Care for Adults

Continuing good mouth and tooth care as an adult can help you avoid tooth loss, painful gums or other problems. Here are some helpful things you can do:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Thorough tooth brushing reduces dental plaque can prevent gingivitis—the mildest form of gum disease.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.
  • Drink fluoridated water and use a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride's protection against tooth decay works at all ages.
  • Avoid tobacco. In addition to the general health risks posed by tobacco, smokers have 4 times the risk of developing gum disease compared to non-smokers. Tobacco use in any form—cigarette, pipes, and smokeless (spit) tobacco—increases the risk for gum disease, oral and throat cancers, and oral fungal infection (candidiasis). Spit tobacco containing sugar increases the risk of tooth decay.
  • Limit alcohol. Heavy use of alcohol is also a risk factor for oral and throat cancers. When used alone, alcohol and tobacco are risk factors for oral cancers, but when used in combination the effects of alcohol and tobacco are even greater.
  • Eat wisely. Adults should avoid snacks full of sugars and starches. Limit the number of snacks eaten throughout the day. The recommended five-a-day helping of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables stimulates salivary flow to aid remineralization of tooth surfaces with early stages of tooth decay.
  • Visit the dentist regularly. Check-ups can detect early signs of oral health problems and can lead to treatments that will prevent further damage, and in some cases, reverse the problem. Professional tooth cleaning (prophylaxis) also is important for preventing oral problems, especially when self-care is difficult.
  • Diabetic patients should work to maintain control of their disease. This will help prevent the complications of diabetes, including an increased risk of gum disease.
  • Relieve dry mouth. If medications produce a dry mouth, ask your doctor if there are other drugs that can be substituted. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco and alcohol.
  • Have an oral health check-up before beginning cancer treatment. Radiation to the head or neck and/or chemotherapy may cause problems for your teeth and gums. Treating existing oral health problems before cancer therapy may help prevent or limit oral complications or tissue damage.

If you have any problems with your teeth or concerns about your mouth, see your doctor or dentist right away.


This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

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