Prevention is the key to keeping a healthy smile. Caring for your teeth with an understanding of how to prevent dental problems before they start will not only give you a better smile, it will save you time and money. There are a number of ways to keep teeth and gums healthy, no matter how old you are. Good habits start early. Parents can help their children by:
- brushing and flossing daily to remove plaque until the children can clean their teeth well on their own
- using fluorides
- limiting the number of snacks containing sugar or carbohydrates
- taking your child for a dental check-up at least once a year
- providing mouthguards for sports
- modeling good dental health habits for your child by taking care of your own teeth and gums
Fluoride is a mineral that is found naturally in most water supplies. Drinking water with the right amount of fluoride is the best and least expensive way of preventing tooth decay. Fluoride assists in the remineralization of tooth enamel to make the enamel stronger and more resistant to decay. People of all ages benefit from drinking fluoridated water.
Fluoride sources include:
- fluoridated water (naturally occurring or added to community water supply)
- some foods and drinks
- fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse
- school fluoride mouth rinse programs
- fluoride gels, varnishes, tablets or drops (only when recommended by a dentist or dental professional)
Preventative resins are not fillings. They prevent tooth decay. They are clear or shaded plastic material applied to the chewing surfaces to protect the teeth from decay causing bacteria that hide in the deep pits and grooves.
Toothbrushing removes plaque and food particles from teeth and gums. The best kind of toothbrush for general use is one with round-tipped, soft bristles. A child will need a smaller brush than an adult. Replace a toothbrush when the bristles become bent or frayed, (usually every three or four months) or after an illness.
There are several methods of toothbrushing that may be used. Here is a recommended method:
- Hold the toothbrush against the teeth, with bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gum line.
- Gently move the toothbrush back and forth several times with very short strokes on two teeth at a time. Repeat until all areas are clean.
- For the inside of the front teeth, tilt the brush upright and use small vibrating strokes or small circles with the tip of the brush. Thorough brushing takes 3 to 4 minutes.
- Brush the tongue. This will remove bacteria and freshen the breath.
- Rinse your toothbrush well after brushing. Store the brush in a clean, dry place out of contact with other brushes.
Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line, areas where your toothbrush can’t reach. Gum disease and cavities often start in these areas, so it is important to clean them thoroughly once a day. Flossing becomes easier with practice. You will find that flossing takes only a few minutes.
- Break off a piece of dental floss about 45 centimeters (18 inches) long.
- Wrap most of the floss around the middle finger of one hand. Wrap the rest around the same finger of the other hand.
- Hold the floss tightly between the fingers and slowly work it between the teeth and under the gum line using a gentle back and forth motion.
- When the floss is at the gum line, curve it, making a “C” around the tooth, and slide it into the space between the tooth and the gum until you feel resistance. Then gently slide the floss up and down against the side of the tooth to remove the plaque.
- Repeat this process on each tooth, using a clean section of the floss each time.
- Remember to floss the backs of the very last teeth.
Don’t wait for an ache! Visit the dentist at least once a year for a thorough dental examination, preventive services and treatment.
The teeth and gums, like the rest of the body, need a well-balanced diet to stay healthy. Following Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating is an easy way to make sure children get the nutrition they need for good general and oral health. The bacteria in plaque feed on carbohydrates and sugars and become active whether you eat a meal or a cracker. Every time you put food in your mouth, you feed the bacteria, putting you at risk for tooth decay. It is important to choose healthy snacks.
Good snack choices include:
- fresh vegetables and fruits*
- milk, cheese and yogurt
- meat, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts*
- bread and cereals
Many cheeses increase the amount of saliva (spit). Examples are aged Cheddar, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Swiss, Blue, Brie and Gouda. This helps reduce the harmful effects acids cause the surface of your teeth. Serve cheese as a snack or at the end of a meal.
*For children under 4 years of age, reduce the risk of choking by cutting these foods in the following way:
- slice grapes lengthwise
- remove pits from, e.g., peaches, cherries, plums
- slice wieners lengthwise
- shred, grate or finely chop hard vegetable pieces
- shred or finely chop hard fruit pieces
Do not give nuts to small children
Medicine can be a source of sugar that is often overlooked. Ask your doctor about prescribing sugar free medicine, and:
- when buying over the counter medications, choose sugar free products whenever available
- if a child must use a medicine containing sugar, clean the teeth or rinse after administering the medication