Good oral health through life
Oral health and pregnancy
During pregnancy, the mouth can be affected by hormonal changes, so it is important to pay special attention to oral health at this time to help keep you and your baby healthy. A good oral hygiene routine, regular dental check-ups and a healthy lifestyle will help protect your mouth and body.
Practice good oral health for your child
A child’s oral health begins in utero. Poor maternal oral health and malnutrition during pregnancy may lead to disruptions in enamel formation and a predisposition to early childhood caries. Despite being preventable, dental caries is the most common chronic childhood disease globally.
Visit the dentist regularly
The possible hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect gums, causing swelling or tenderness as well as bleeding. This condition is called pregnancy gingivitis. If tenderness, bleeding or gum swelling occurs at any time during your pregnancy, tell your dentist or periodontist as soon as possible, as they may recommend more frequent cleanings to prevent this. If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into more serious gum disease, which may be associated with a higher risk of preterm and low-birthweight babies.
Work together with your dentist for a healthy mouth
Just like other major diseases, prevention, early detection, and treatment are important in keeping your teeth and mouth healthy, and to stop any potential negative effects on the rest of the body and on the baby. Tell your dentist if you are pregnant and if you are taking any medications, or about any other special advice from your medical doctor. If your pregnancy is high-risk or if you have certain medical conditions, your dentist and your doctor may recommend that some treatments be postponed.
Protect your mouth during morning sickness
Morning sickness can affect some women. Gastric reflux (regurgitating food or drink) or vomiting can increase the amount of acid your mouth is exposed to, which can damage tooth enamel and increase the risk of decay. If vomiting, rinse the mouth out with water and either rub toothpaste onto the teeth using a finger or use a fluoridated mouthwash. Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing teeth.
Eat a healthy low-sugar diet
Eat a healthy diet, with limited snacking of foods and drinks high in sugar. Adults should not have more than 6 teaspoons of sugar daily. Beware of sugars added to foods and drinks by manufacturers. Consuming protein and calcium-rich foods are beneficial to both you and your developing baby. These include foods such as lean meats, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grain products as well as dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt etc.).
Oral health and children
Children need to understand the importance of good oral care as early as possible. Poor oral health can negatively affect how a young mouth develops. It can also affect a child’s confidence, social skills as well as potential for success later in life. Oral health is, therefore, essential to a child’s general health and well-being.
How to clean a baby’s mouth
It is important to begin caring for a child’s mouth as soon as they are born. A newborn may not have any teeth, however, the gums will protect the bone and roots of their teeth when they do. Wipe the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth, especially after feedings and before bedtime.
Bottle-feeding tips and pacifiers
- Place only breast milk, formula, milk, or water in bottles.
- Refrain from adding sugar to the milk or filling the bottles with sugary drinks such as sugar water, fruit juice and soft drinks.
- Babies should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed. Try and avoid letting babies sleep with a feeding bottle in their mouths.
- Sucking on a pacifier or a thumb for too long affects the development of your child’s teeth and mouth. Discourage thumb-sucking and extended use of the pacifier, and never dip the pacifier in sugar or honey.
- Wean your child off their pacifier by the age of two-and-a-half years.
First tooth, first birthday milestones
- Clean the mouth twice a day when the first baby tooth starts to come in. It is especially important to clean your baby’s teeth before bedtime. Smear a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) on their toothbrushes.
- Regular dental check-ups are important to keep your child’s teeth and gums healthy. Take your baby to the dentist after the first tooth comes in and no later than his or her first birthday.
- Encourage drinking from a cup by their first birthday. An open cup will help your baby learn to sip and is better for your baby’s teeth.
- Make sure children brush for two minutes, twice a day: children between the ages of 3 and 6 should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, younger children need just a smear. Brushing teeth for two minutes, twice daily is an essential skill for a child’s long-term oral and overall health.
- Teach the correct bushing technique: as they grow older, teach children how to brush their teeth properly – in circular motions – and supervise them as they learn to do it more independently. Remind them to brush all surfaces of their teeth, including the outside, inside, and chewing surfaces.
- Promote healthy low-sugar diets: nutrition and oral health are closely related. Sugar, in particular, has a direct impact on oral health. Limit your child’s intake of sugary snacks and drinks. Having sugar throughout the day increases the risk of developing tooth decay.
Oral health and older adults
Whatever your age, taking care of your mouth is crucial for your general health and well-being. Conditions such as dental caries (tooth decay), periodontal disease (gum disease), tooth loss, dry mouth or oral cancer can affect your chewing function and nutritional intake. They can also impact your ability to interact socially and enjoy a good quality of life. Take control of your oral health – practice good oral hygiene, have regular dental check-ups and manage your risk factors – to protect your mouth and body.
Visit the dentist regularly
The best way to protect your mouth is by going to the dentist for regular check-ups and dental cleanings. Older adults are often at increased risk of developing certain oral health problems, as well as difficulties with dentures and poor nutrition. The dental team will remove any build-up of plaque, which if not managed, can lead to tooth decay or gum disease. If you wear dentures, they also need to be checked regularly. The dentist can also advise on how regularly you need to book an appointment, depending on your specific needs.
Do something about a dry mouth
A dry mouth can be a problem as you age; it happens when you do not have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Saliva helps you carry out a number of functions and also cleanses your mouth, which lessens the effect of acids that can cause tooth decay. Causes of dry mouth include tobacco and alcohol, as well as certain medications and other diseases.
To relieve symptoms of a dry mouth, try:
- Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies to stimulate salivary flow.
- Drinking water with meals to help chew and swallow food, and wet your mouth with water regularly throughout the day.
- Using alcohol-free mouth rinse; a moisturizing mouth spray/gel, or artificial saliva.
- Avoiding carbonated drinks (like soda), caffeine, tobacco and alcohol.
- Using a lip balm to soothe cracked or dry lips.
Look after your dentures
- If you wear removable dentures, they still need to be cleaned daily, using a specialist denture cleaner or soap and water as recommended by your dentist.
- If a tooth becomes loose, or if your dentures no longer fit properly, go and see your dentist as soon as possible. The joint of your jaw contributes to preserving your balance. Tooth loss without replacement and loose or overused dentures may increase the risk of falls.
Practice good oral hygiene
- Brush for two minutes, twice a day: use a fluoride toothpaste and brush every surface of your teeth – inside, outside and chewing surfaces – using circular motions. Spit but do not rinse your mouth with water straight after brushing as that can wash the protective fluoride.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months: the average life of a toothbrush is about three months. Change any toothbrushes with splayed, worn-looking or missing bristles. Brushing with an old, frayed toothbrush will not clean your teeth and mouth properly.
- Floss at least once a day: floss and interdental cleaners help reach those difficult areas between your teeth. Regular cleaning helps to dislodge food and may reduce gum disease and bad breath by removing plaque that forms along the gum line.
- Protect your mouth while you’re on the go: when brushing is not possible, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash or chew sugar-free gum after meals and snacks.
Eat a balanced low-sugar diet
Too many sugary foods and drinks are bad for everyone, they are the number one cause of tooth decay. Eat a well-balanced diet that is low in sugar and high in fruit and vegetables. Adults should not have more than 6 teaspoons of sugar daily. Beware of sugars added to foods and drinks by manufacturers.
Tobacco in any form, smoking or smokeless, is unsafe. Tobacco increases the risk of gum disease and oral cancer, and causes teeth staining, bad breath, premature tooth loss, dry mouth and loss of taste and smell.
Limit alcohol consumption
Drinking too much alcohol is a major risk factor for a lot of health conditions, including oral diseases. It can also cause a dry mouth. The acid and high sugar content of most alcoholic drinks can erode your teeth or cause dental caries.