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Healthy teeth and gums make it easy for you to eat well and enjoy good food. Several problems can affect the health of your mouth, but good care should keep your teeth and gums strong as you age.
Teeth are covered in a hard, outer coating called enamel. Every day, a thin film of bacteria called dental plaque builds up on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids that can harm enamel and cause cavities. Brushing and flossing your teeth can prevent decay, but once a cavity forms, to avoid further damage, a dentist must fix it with a filling.
Use fluoride toothpaste to protect your teeth from decay. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of a condition you have or medicines you take), you might need more fluoride. Your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment during an office visit or may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.
Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and under your gum line. Plaque causes an infection that hurts the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place. A mild form of gum disease may make your gums red, tender, and more likely to bleed. This problem, called gingivitis, can often be fixed by brushing and flossing every day.
A more severe form of gum disease, called periodontitis, must be treated by a dentist. If not treated, this infection can lead to sore, bleeding gums, painful chewing problems, and even tooth loss.
To prevent gum disease:
There is a right way to brush and floss your teeth. Every day:
People with arthritis or other conditions that limit hand motion may find it hard to hold and use a toothbrush. Some helpful tips are:
See your dentist if brushing or flossing causes your gums to bleed or hurts your mouth. If you have trouble flossing, a floss holder may help. Ask your dentist to show you the right way to floss.
Sometimes, false teeth (dentures) are needed to replace badly damaged teeth or teeth lost because of gum disease. Partial dentures may be used to fill in one or more missing teeth. Dentures may feel strange at first. In the beginning, your dentist may want to see you often to make sure the dentures fit. Over time, your gums will change shape, and your dentures may need to be adjusted or replaced. Be sure to let your dentist handle these adjustments.
Be careful when wearing dentures because it may be harder for you to feel hot foods and drinks or notice bones in your food. When learning to eat with dentures, it may be easier if you:
Keep your dentures clean and free from food that can cause stains or bad breath. Avoid small crunchy foods that can get trapped under the dentures and hurt your gums. Brush dentures every day with a denture-care product, and soak them in water or a denture-cleansing liquid at night. Be sure to leave them out of your mouth while you sleep to prevent swollen gums.
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