Proper dental care and oral hygiene are an important part of overall health—beginning before our very first tooth erupts in infancy—and continuing throughout our lifetime. Good oral care helps keep your teeth and gums healthy, prevents problems that can lead to tooth loss, and helps you hold on to your natural teeth—and your smile.
Dental problems, including cavities (tooth decay), bad breath (halitosis) and gum disease (gingivitis, periodontitis) can largely be prevented with good oral hygiene and proper dental care.
To keep your teeth and gums healthy, it’s important to reduce the build-up of plaque and tartar. Plaque is a sticky combination of food particles and bacteria that forms in the mouth after eating. Over time, plaque that sticks to the teeth (often at the gum line) hardens into tartar, which must be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.
Ask your dental health care provider for tips on caring for your teeth and gums at home. Your dentist can identify any specific problem areas, demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques, and make recommendations about which tooth brush, tooth paste and mouth rinse are right for you. Talk to your dentist or hygienist about the potential benefits of using an electric tooth brush or special device, like a water irrigation system, to help care for your teeth and gums.
General recommendations for preventing dental problems in adults include the following:
- Consume a nutritious diet and limit between-meal munchies.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary beverages.
- Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride tooth paste (preferably after every meal)
- Floss at least once a day
- Have a regular dental exam and professional cleaning every 6 months (more frequently if you have a high risk for dental problems due to a chronic condition)
- Properly care for any dental appliance (e.g., retainer, mouth guard, plate, partial, bridge, dentures)
When buying dental products and devices for use at home, look for the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance to make sure the product or device is safe and effective.
Adult Dental Exams
A professional dental exam and cleaning may involve:
Taking a medical history—Your dentist or dental hygienist may ask about your medical history and your current health status, including your overall health and dental health, recent or chronic illnesses or injuries, medications and supplements.
Performing a thorough evaluation of the teeth, gums and other structures in the mouth—This exam includes an oral cancer screening of the lips, cheeks, tongue, roof and floor of the mouth, jaw and neck. Your dental health care provider also will check your bite, determine your risk for dental problems, evaluate previous dental work such as fillings and crowns, and check the fit of plates, bridges and dentures. In some cases, your dentist will take a dental impression.
Scaling and polishing—Your dentist or dental hygienist will loosen and remove stains and deposits using special instruments, and then polish your teeth.
Demonstrating proper techniques for brushing, flossing and caring for dental appliances and/or devices
Taking dental x-rays—A number of x-rays may be used to produce detailed images of oral structures. Common types include bitewings, periapical, occlusal and panoramic views. Talk to your dentist if you’re concerned about radiation exposure from dental x-rays. (The risk is generally very low.)
Adult Dental Procedures
In some cases, dental procedures other than routine exams and cleanings are necessary—or are chosen for a variety of reasons, including cosmetic concerns. These procedures may be performed by a dentist, an orthodontist or another oral health specialist. Some may be performed in children as well as adults.
There are 9 dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association, including periodontics, prosthodontics, endodontics, and oral and maxillofacial surgery. Each of these specialties involves additional training and certification.
Dental care procedures include the following:
- Braces (including “invisible” types)
- Cosmetic dentistry (inlays/onlays, bonding, whitening, veneers)
- Dental fillings
- Mouth guards and other appliances
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery
- Root canal treatment
- Tooth extraction
Common Dental Concerns in Adults
Our teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Although untreated dental disease causes problems for many adults, solutions for most concerns are available, so talk to your dentist.
Here are some dental concerns that are common in adults:
- Bad breath (caused by improper hygiene, certain medical conditions)
- Crooked teeth (caused by shifting or overcrowding)
- Discolored teeth (caused by stains or certain medications)
- Dry mouth (may be caused by certain medical conditions or medications; increases the risk for tooth decay)
- Gum disease (periodontal disease)
- Mis-spaced teeth (overcrowding or large spaces between the teeth)
- Mouth sores (canker sores, fever blisters, cold sores, thrush)
- Oral cancer (may affect any structure in the mouth or surrounding areas)
- Problems causes by oral (tongue or lip) piercings
- Sensitivity (causes pain, usually when eating or drinking something hot, cold or sweet)
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Tooth decay (also called cavities, dental caries)
- Tooth erosion (loss of tooth enamel due to acids in food or saliva)
- Tooth loss (due to advanced gum disease or injury)
- Temporomandibular joint disorders (also commonly called TMJ, TMD or TMJD)