Keeping your mouth healthy throughout life

Awareness of the oral-health conditions you are likely to face at different stages of life can help you stay a step ahead of potential dental problems, and build a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Dental Health: Pregnancy and Children

Expectant mothers can give children a head start by eating an array of healthy foods and taking calcium supplements while pregnant. Also, taking folic-acid supplements decreases the risk of a baby being born with a cleft lip and palate. After the baby’s birth, parents should wipe the infant’s gums with a soft, damp cloth after feedings, as this helps prevent the buildup of bacteria. When teeth come in, typically at six months old, parents can use a soft children’s toothbrush twice a day to clean the teeth and gum line, where decay starts.

Dr. Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, tells parents there is a risk for tooth decay even in children as young as nine months. “Parents need to pay attention to baby teeth — they aren’t disposable,” says Dr. Hayes, who also recommends parents brush their children’s teeth until they are six years old. “This instills good habits and a routine.” Hayes notes that prior to six years old, children aren’t able to brush their own teeth effectively. Parents can begin taking children to a pediatric or family dentist around one year of age. Another important habit parents can establish is to avoid feeding kids sweet and sticky foods. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as cheese and crackers, for tooth-friendly snacks.

Dental Health: Adults

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report nearly one-third of adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay. Early detection is important: In the early stages, tooth decay is often painless and can be picked up only during a dental exam. A visible sign of the separate dental problem of periodontal disease is loss of bone around the teeth and requires a dentist’s intervention as well.

Risk factors for dental health are often tied to overall health. Diann Bomkamp, a clinical dental hygienist and president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, cites smoking and certain medications

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