Important Dental Care Tips As You Age

Different preventive steps should be followed throughout our lives to preserve dental health. 
Dentist Senior


Everyone knows the basics of dental hygiene — brush twice a day and floss. But Dr. Deborah Studen-Pavlovich, residency program director of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, says the bad habits of dental health are also taught young.

Many parents fail to realize the importance of scheduling their children for a first dental appointment once they hit age 1. While some might think, “Oh, they don’t have any teeth yet, so what’s the point of going to the dentist,” mouth health needs to start at an early age.

“The parent really needs what we call anticipatory guidance, because the goal from the pediatric standpoint is to prevent cavities and to prevent accidents,” she says. “It’s much easier to do prevention than to do treatment on little kids.”

Dr. Adam Feuer, endodontist at Three River Endodontics, says that the pulp tissue, which contains nerves and blood vessels, in the teeth of children and teenagers is still quite large. This means that even a moderate-sized cavity can reach the nerve — resulting in an early-age root canal. However, as people age, the tissue gets smaller and the tooth gets harder, reducing risk.

“We see small, small children that get rampant caries [cavities] on their primary teeth,” he says, “kids that will come in and have a cavity on almost every tooth in the mouth.”

Getting your child’s 6-year molars sealed can help prevent cavities by filling the space where food and drink can get stuck. Studen-Pavlovich says she believes this helps children and teenagers build independence because parents don’t need to supervise tooth brushing as closely.

Related: Top Dentists in the Pittsburgh Area | Peruse our new list for the best dentists in Pittsburgh, ranging from family and cosmetic dentistry to dental implants.

Tooth decay prevention for adults comes with regular X-rays and monitoring eating habits.

Dr. Paulina Zunino, division chief of dental medicine at Allegheny Health Network, says that prolonged sugar and acid exposure makes the enamel on your teeth weaker, which puts people at risk for decay.

A good diet should be limited to three square meals and two snacks a day, rather than grazing, which leaves leftover sugars to build plaque. Consuming large amounts of sugar, such as a soda, all in one sitting, allows the body to neutralize the acid and return to a normal alkaline pH level for the day.

“The worst thing that you could do is take a big gulp of a sugary soft drink and set it on your desk and every half hour take a sip of it. That’s a recipe for running out your teeth,” Feuer says.

For individuals who don’t plan on cutting out sugary drinks, Zunino recommends drinking out of a straw and following up by swishing your mouth out with water.

Use of teeth-whitening strips can also cause risks to the gums. You can limit damage by applying olive oil to the gums before usage, which creates a barrier.

“As a general rule, I say please stay away from whitening toothpaste and from tartar control toothpaste because they are just too abrasive,” Zunino says.

Tips from the American Dental Association

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for 2 minutes to reduce plaque buildup.
  • Clean between your teeth by flossing daily.
  • Eat a healthy diet that limits sugary beverages and snacks.
  • See your dentist regularly for prevention and treatment of oral disease.
  • Ask the dentist to provide guidance on additional action steps to reduce the risk of oral disease.
  • Design a home-care regimen with specific recommendations for oral hygiene involving consideration of individual oral disease risk.
  • For individuals with an increased risk for gingivitis or periodontal disease, over-the-counter oral care products containing specific antimicrobial active ingredients can decrease the risk of gingivitis.
  • Powered toothbrushes provide effective removal of dental plaque and reduction in gingival inflammation.
  • Consider the oral consequences of oral piercings — such as tooth fracture, tooth wear and gingival recession.
  • Pregnant patients experiencing morning sickness should avoid tooth brushing immediately after getting sick because it exposes the teeth to stomach acids.
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