Teeth for Life
At birth people usually have 20 primary (baby) teeth, which
often erupt through the gums as early as six months of age.
These teeth are then shed at various times throughout childhood.
By age 21, all 32 of the permanent teeth have usually erupted.
Preventative dentistry relies on good oral hygiene and regular
dental care; and is important through-out your life, whatever
your age. By practicing good oral hygiene at home and visiting
Dr. Wall regularly, you will prevent dental problems and
save time and money. In the process, you can save
your teeth and gums.
By fighting plaque you can keep your teeth for a lifetime.
Today, in fact, older adults are keeping their natural teeth
longer because of scientific developments and an emphasis
on preventative dentistry.
Good oral hygiene requires an understanding of plaque. Plaque
is a sticky, colorless layer of bacteria. When you eat carbohydrates
(foods made of sugar or starch) you feed this plaque, which
in turn produces acids that attack tooth enamel, cause
cavities, and develop a hard substance called calculus (tartar).
Uninterrupted, the acid attacks can result in tooth decay and
gum disease (also known as periodontal disease). If left untreated, gum
disease can cause loss of teeth and bone.
At any age, you can begin the fight with plaque and keep your
teeth and gums healthy. It’s really quite easy. Simply:
- Brush your teeth
twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride
toothpaste to remove food particles and plaque from the
tooth surfaces. While you’re at it, brush the top
surface of your tongue to eliminate bad breath and bacteria
- Clean between your teeth
daily with floss or an
interdental cleaner. Decay-causing bacteria can linger
between teeth where toothbrush bristles can’t reach.
Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between
the teeth and under the gum line.
- Eat a balanced diet
and limit between-meal snacks. If a snack is
needed, nutritious foods such as raw vegetables, plain yogurt,
cheese or a piece of fruit should be chosen.
- Schedule regular check-ups. Visit Dr. Wall regularly (every 6 months) for professional
cleanings and oral exams.
- Ask Dr. Wall about
dental sealants, a protective plastic coating
that can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back
teeth where decay often starts.
- Wear mouth protection
such as a mouthguard when you play contact sports
or extreme sports.
Preventing Tooth Decay
Tooth decay (cavity or caries) can develop on any surface
of any tooth. Because cavities grow, they are much easier
and less expensive to treat when they are small. A decaying
tooth may not hurt, so you may have a cavity and not realize it. The dentist checks for tooth decay at
your regular check-ups and will periodically use x-rays to
check for decay between teeth. The dentist treats tooth decay
by cleaning out the cavity and placing a restoration (filling)
in the tooth.
By following the strategies listed above, you can prevent
Preventing Gum Disease
Gum disease (also called periodontal disease) is an infection
of the tissues that support your teeth. It is a major cause
of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless,
you may not know you have it. At each regular checkup the
dentist will measure the depth of the shallow v-shaped crevice
(called a sulcus) between your tooth and gums to identify
whether you have gum disease.
Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria
that constantly forms on the teeth. These bacteria create
toxins that can damage the gums.
Periodontal diseases attack just below the gum line in the
sulcus, where they cause the attachment of the tooth and its
supporting tissues to break down. As the tissues are damaged,
the sulcus develops into a pocket; generally, the more severe
the disease, the greater the depth of the pocket.
Periodontal diseases are classified according to the severity
of the disease. The two major stages are gingivitis and periodontitis.
In the early stage of gum disease, called gingivitis, the
gums become red, swollen and bleed easily. At this stage,
the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated
by daily brushing and flossing.
In the more advanced stages of gum disease, called periodontitis,
the gums and bone that support the teeth become seriously
damaged. The teeth can become loose, fall out, or have to be
removed by a dentist.
Some factors increase the risk of developing
- Tobacco smoking or chewing
- System-wide diseases such as diabetes
- Some types of medication such as steroids, some types
of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium
channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
- Bridges that no longer fit properly
- Crooked teeth
- Fillings that have become defective
If you notice any of the following signs of gum disease,
see Dr. Wall immediately:
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
It is possible to have periodontal
disease and have no warning signs.
That is one reason why regular dental checkups and periodontal
examinations are very important. Treatment methods depend
on the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed.
Good oral hygiene at home is essential to keep periodontal
disease from becoming more serious or recurring. You don’t
have to lose teeth to periodontal disease. Brush, clean between
your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental
visits for a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Normal, healthy gums:
Healthy gums and bone anchor teeth firmly in place.
Gums are red, swollen and bleed easily.
Unremoved plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As plaque
and calculus continue to build up, the gums begin to recede
(pull away) from the teeth, and pockets form between the teeth
The gums recede farther, destroying more bone and the periodontal
ligament. Teeth — even healthy teeth — may become
loose and need to be extracted.
The good news is that you can help prevent gum disease by
taking good care of your teeth every day and having regular
How to Brush Your Teeth
- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the
- Move the brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide)
- Brush the outer tooth surfaces, the inner tooth surfaces,
and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- Use the tip top of the brush to clean the inside surfaces
of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your
should replace your toothbrush every three or four months — or sooner if the bristles become frayed. A worn toothbrush
will not do a good job of cleaning your teeth. Children’s
toothbrushes often need replacing more frequently than adults
because they can wear out sooner.
How to Floss Your Teeth
- Break off about eighteen inches of floss and wind a loop of it
around one of your middle fingers. Wind another loop around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger
will take up the floss as it becomes used. Hold the floss
tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
- Use your thumbs and forefingers to guide about one inch
of the floss between your teeth. Move the floss toward the
gum in a gentle rubbing motion. Never snap the floss into
- When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C
shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space
between the gum and the tooth.
- Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub
the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum
with up and down motions.
- Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth.
- Don't forget the back side of your last tooth.
who have difficulty handling dental floss may prefer to use
another kind of interdental cleaner. These aids include special
brushes, picks, and sticks. If you use interdental cleaners,
ask Dr. Wall about how to use them properly to avoid
injuring your gums.
Choosing Dental Products
When choosing any dental product, look for the American
Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, an important symbol
of a dental product's safety and effectiveness. Talk to Dr. Wall about what types of oral care products will be most
effective for you. The ADA Seal on a product is your assurance
that it has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness.
Look for the ADA Seal on fluoride toothpaste, toothbrushes,
floss, interdental cleaners, oral irrigators and mouth rinse.
By taking care of your teeth, eating a balanced diet, and
visiting Dr. Wall regularly, you can have healthy teeth
and an attractive smile throughout your entire life.