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:
1. 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 buildup.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Schedule regular checkups. Visit the doctor regularly (every 6 months) for professional cleanings and oral exams.
5. Ask the doctor about dental sealants, a protective plastic coating that can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay often starts.
6. Wear mouth protection such as a mouthguard when you play contact sports or extreme sports