Oral hygiene at different life stages

It is important to understand the differences and similarities of caring for your teeth and gums at different ages and stages of life. Age does affect oral hygiene, and with many families living with multiple generations under one roof, it is handy to have an all-in-one guide to the different life stages of oral hygiene. This can be especially true for adult responsible for both young children and teens, as well as ageing parents.

In the Beginning: Birth to Teen years

Your child’s first teeth will usually start growing out when they are between 4 and 7 months old. All their teeth will have arrived by around 2 1/2 – 3 years old (though every child’s timing is slightly different, according to the South African Pedodontics Society).

Permanent teeth can appear when a child is as young as 6, and all milk teeth will have usually fallen out by around 12 years old.

For more detailed information on oral hygiene in children and teens, please take a look at our previous smile school post. It is important to remember that milk teeth need good care for the sake of your child’s overall health, and in order to protect the adult teeth growing underneath them.

The key differences between later teen and adult oral hygiene and children’s oral hygiene are in the type of toothbrush and toothpaste you use for little children. Otherwise the basics are the same: brush twice a day, and when brushing at night, wait until after all eating and drinking (except water).

A healthy diet, low in sugary foods and drinks, is essential for oral hygiene at all ages. When it comes to children, a natural preference for sweeter foods and our association of sweet foods with childhood treats, rewards and fun, means we need to pay extra attention to how sugars affect our children’s teeth. For more information on food that will keep your smile bright, read our previous post here.

In babies and toddlers, we also need to be aware of ‘bottle mouth’ or ‘baby bottle tooth decay.’  This is caused by allowing the baby to go to sleep sucking on a bottle. Liquids pool behind the teeth, causing tooth decay. This can happen even with ‘healthy’ smoothies and pure fruit juice or milk (vegan nut milks included), which all contain natural sugars and acids.

The teen years

The teen years are often when corrections are made to crooked teeth or uneven bite, usually by fitting some form of braces. Straightening the teeth and correcting bite issues not only improve the appearance of teeth and the teen’s long-term social confidence, they can also improve the long term health of the teeth, gums and jaw. This is because the pressure of the bite is spread evenly around the mouth, and food and plaque are less easily trapped in straight teeth.

Talk to your dentist about whether your child might need braces, and who they recommend for this next step.

Other oral health concerns that can crop up in the teen years, and which parents might need to discuss with teenagers, are the bad effects of smoking, drinking and illegal drugs on your oral health and the appearance of teeth. So you can add this to all the other reasons teenagers should avoid starting these bad habits. Apart from greatly increasing the risk of mouth cancer, the acids and sugars in alcoholic drinks are very bad for tooth enamel and gum health, and smoking, drugs and alcohol discolour teeth over time.

There are also fashion issues to consider if a teenager is keen on a tongue or other mouth piercings. These can cause chipping of the teeth on metal mouth jewellery, as well as increase the risk of infection. Mouth jewellery can also make some dental treatments more complicated to perform.

Tooth jewellery, where jewels are glued to the teeth, can increase the risk of plaque build up around the jewel, require special care in cleaning, and would need to be professionally removed by a dentist. It is worth weighing the benefits of a fun fashion statement today against the long-term problems it can cause your overall health and the appearance of your smile.

The teen years are often a time of adventure-seeking and competitive contact sports, which can be a real danger for breaking or otherwise damaging teeth. Speak to your dentist at Loock dental practice about getting a mouth guard fitted to protect your teeth properly if you are a keen rugby player, martial artist, or participate in any other contact sports in high school or beyond.

Young adults: age 17-25

At some point between ages 17 and 25, a third set of molars called ‘wisdom teeth’ can come in (though they can emerge in adults up to about 30 years). Human jaws have gradually become smaller over time, and some people do not grow wisdom teeth, or the wisdom teeth do not emerge from the gum at all. Loock dental can perform an X-ray to determine if you have wisdom teeth in your gums, if they have still not emerged by the time you are a young adult.

Wisdom teeth can simply grow without any problems. However, they often need to be removed because the teeth are too crowded for them to fit in, or because they become impacted. Your jaw has usually finished growing by the time you are 18, but the wisdom teeth may emerge afterwards, causing problems.  These problems can include crooked, crowded teeth, jaw pain, increased risk of tooth decay, and cysts under the gums.

Your dentist at Loock dental practice can assess and advise wether or not you need to have your wisdom teeth removed.

In other ways oral hygiene needs and tooth care routines remain the same as in the rest of your life, with twice daily brushing, daily flossing and regular annual visits to your dentist. You should make regular visits to an oral Hygeinist for thorough cleaning and polishing as well, and take note of the continuing importance of a good diet to your oral health and the appearance of your smile.

At this age, it is possible to discuss whitening treatments with your dentist, to help keep your smile looking its best.

Adults’ oral hygiene

As you get older, the effects of bad oral hygiene habits, or other health conditions, such as diabetes, start to impact your teeth more. The good news is that it is never too late to quit smoking and reduce or stop drinking alcohol, which will improve your oral health and the appearance of your teeth. You can adopt a healthier lifestyle by improving your diet, and this will not only help manage conditions such as diabetes, it will also help keep your smile healthy and attractive.

If your teeth are stained from smoking or drinking things like tea, coffee and wine, you can gain a more youthful, bright smile with a professional whitening treatment performed by your dentist. Broken and missing teeth can be replaced much more quickly now than in the past thanks to technology like the CEREC machine at Loock Dental.

If your teeth have become sensitive, it is important to see your dentist quickly. Tooth sensitivity can be a sign of tooth decay or worn enamel, among other things. For more information on teeth sensitivity, please read our previous post.

Remember that regular annual checkups at the dentist are essential, even if you have no teeth and have dentures or implants. Your oral health, including your gum health, impacts your overall health in really important ways. If you suffer from heart conditions or diabetes in particular, you have any chronic medication that makes your mouth feel dry, you need to pay even more careful attention to your oral hygiene routines.

Oral cancer is also much more common in adults over 40, and your annual dental checkups are important because this is also something your dentist will check for.

It is easy for parents to focus on their child’s dental visits and oral hygiene routines at the expense of their own oral care. Just remember how important it is to set an example to your children on how to care for their teeth, and how important your health, and your smile, are to them!

Oral hygiene for the elderly (including ageing parents in care)

Oral hygiene in the form of regular brushing and flossing, and regular checkups with your dentist, should remain the same as for adults. Special concerns for the aged, can be those with arthritis needing assistance or special tools for brushing and flossing, and those who need a carer or family member to assist with daily brushing and flossing.

For people with arthritis, which makes holding tooth brushes and floss difficult, an electric toothbrush can be a great help, or even a toothbrush with a larger handle. You can also attach your toothbrush handle to your hand with a large elastic band, to make it easier to hold. You can buy floss on an easier to grip handle.

If you have dentures, these also require cleaning and brushing, as do the gums underneath. It is important to keep your gums clean and healthy, as this affects overall health, while implants and dentures need brushing to prevent bad breath and stains.

If you have an elderly person you need to help with their oral hygiene, you will need to brush their teeth and gums twice a day, and also floss between teeth. Remove any dentures at night, when gums can swell. The gums will need brushing with a soft brush, and the dentures need to be cleaned and stored for the night in special fluid. Accompany your elderly relative or care patient to regular dental checkups, so that you know what the dentist has picked up on, and you receive help with any oral hygiene tips the elderly person requires.

At Loock dental practice, we are always happy to help you and your family with any stage of your oral health journey, from the emergence of your child’s first milk teeth all the way through to your old age.

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Marguerite MacRobert

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