Are you on information overload when it comes to your oral health? There’s a lot of information out there—anything from how to brush your teeth properly to getting a set of dentures. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. What if you just want a simple guide that goes through each stage of life and what you can expect when it comes to your dental health? Well, we thought we would provide just that.
As your dental needs change with time, it’s important to know what to expect in the coming years and how to properly care for your teeth. Especially when you’re a parent, it’s good to know what to expect as your child ages.
Whichever age group you’re searching for, here are some of the things you can expect of your dental health at every age.
Although your child may only have one or two teeth at this point, children less than 1 year old experience critical development of their teeth and gums.
Even before their first tooth comes in, you should be brushing your baby’s gums with water on a baby toothbrush. Make sure the toothbrush has soft bristles though. If you would prefer not to use a baby toothbrush, you can also use a clean washcloth to wipe their gums.
Their first tooth typically comes in between 4 and 12 months. Once their first tooth has appeared, schedule your baby for a doctor’s visit. Your doctor will check your baby’s mouth. Then, if your doctor believes your child may be at high risk for tooth decay, you’ll want to make a dentist appointment for your baby.
As an extra precaution, if you usually put your child to bed with a bottle, fill it only with water. It’s better for their tooth and gums if they drink water before they go to bed to reduce the risk of tooth decay as their teeth come in.
Between the ages of 1 and 2, you should brush your child’s teeth twice a day with water, using a baby toothbrush with soft bristles. It’s best to brush their teeth after they eat breakfast and before they go to bed. Their teeth will be coming in at this point, so they may experience some discomfort, but all of their teeth should come in by the time they are two years old.
If your child has not had a dentist appointment by this point, schedule one so your dentist can look over your child’s teeth and gums. At the appointment, it would also be a good time to discuss any sucking habits, if they have any. Many toddlers like to suck on pacifiers too strongly, or they can get into the bad habit of sucking their thumb or fingers. Doing so can affect the shape of their mouth and their bite. Your dentist or doctor can help advise you on what you can do to get them out of these habits.
Another habit toddlers have at this time is drinking juice. As parents, it’s normal to want to give your child juice. It has vitamins and tastes good, but juice can also contain a lot of sugar, which is bad for your child’s teeth. If you give your child juice, make sure he/she doesn’t drink more than 1 small cup each day and drinks it only at mealtimes.
This age group needs a category of its own. When your child is two years old, they can switch to a child-sized toothbrush (with soft bristles), start brushing their teeth on their own (with supervision), use fluoride toothpaste to help prevent cavities, begin flossing and start going to the dentist at least once a year.
Here’s some more in-depth advice about each new change for your child:
- Using a Child-Sized Toothbrush. At this point, you have many more options to choose from when you switch to a child-sized toothbrush. Here are some good toothbrush options for your kids.
- Brushing on Their Own. If your child does not want to brush his/her teeth alone, try making it into a game. There are some fun phone apps that make brushing teeth fun for kids. Try one of those out, or create your own game.
- Using Fluoride Toothpaste. While it’s important for your child to start using fluoride toothpaste, make sure they know not to swallow it. To help them resist the urge to swallow it, use a pea-sized amount on their toothbrush, or less, so they don’t have too much in their mouth. You may need to try out different flavored toothpastes to find one your child likes, but getting them toothpaste they like is important for motivating them to brush their teeth.
- Flossing. Talk to your dentist about flossing your child’s teeth when they are two years old. Depending on the condition of their mouth, they may or may not need you to start flossing their teeth yet. If they don’t start flossing at this age, start flossing your child’s teeth when he/she is 4 years old.
- Going to Dental Checkups. Once they go to their first dental appointment, your dentist will recommend they come back at least once a year every year after.
Between the ages of 3 and 12 years old, your child’s baby teeth will begin falling out and their permanent teeth will start coming in. Here, you’ll be able to start playing the tooth fairy, but you’ll also need to find ways to motivate them to brush their teeth. We mentioned the phone apps earlier, but you can also make brushing teeth more fun by brushing your teeth along with your child. They’ll enjoy mimicking what you do.
This is also the age where they’ll begin taking over these responsibilities and won’t need as much supervision. Make sure before you leave them on their own that they are brushing their teeth twice a day with their toothpaste, they’re flossing daily and flossing properly and they’re eating a well-balanced diet (of which you’ll still have most of the control).
Make sure they’re using the proper brushing technique as you hand off this task to them. Then, continue flossing for them until you’ve seen them properly flossing on their own.
Your child will most likely learn the art of snacking at this age, too. Give them healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables and water or milk. If they have any of these snacks before bed, supervise them as they clean their teeth afterward. You don’t want any sugars or seeds to sit on their teeth overnight.
Some children are more adventurous than others, and that means a higher chance of a dental emergency—chipped, broken or knocked-out teeth. If this happens to your child, don’t panic! Visit your dentist immediately. He or she will be able to figure out a solution. And if your child’s tooth gets knocked out, place the tooth in a cup of water or milk until you can get to your dentist. Your dentist may be able to reimplant the tooth.
As your child becomes a teenager, they will have been fully responsible for the care of their teeth for several years, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, parents. There’s still a lot of work to do on their teeth and they need your help.
They can be tough on their teeth because they’re often in a hurry. They have school, homework, social activities, maybe an afterschool job, etc. Talk to them about the importance of taking care of their teeth properly. If you need suggestions on how to do this in a way that won’t upset your teen, see a previous post we did on the topic, Winning the Fight Against Teen Cavities.
Your teenager may also struggle to care for his or her teeth if braces are put on. Braces require a different brushing routine than what is usually required because of the brackets and wiring. Your teenager will need to brush in the morning, at night and after every meal. Teenagers with braces also need to use multiple toothbrushes to make sure every part of their teeth and gums are reached. Encourage your child as he/she learns a new brushing technique to accommodate the braces.
Finally, help your teenager eat a balanced diet. It’s easy to want to eat junk food when all of your friends are doing it, but encourage them to eat healthy foods that will benefit their oral and overall health. Too much candy or sugary drinks can cause tooth decay, and they definitely need to be avoided when wearing braces.
For more parenting tips on caring for your child’s teeth, check out our Mom’s Guide. It’s also a great guide to caring for your child’s teeth at every stage of life.
20s and 30s
With your 20s and 30s come a lot of changes. You may be finishing out college, moving to a new city, getting a new job, getting married, having kids, etc. All the while, your teeth still need taking care of.
Here are a few dental-related issues that commonly occur in your 20s and 30s:
Wisdom Teeth Removal
If you didn’t have your wisdom teeth removed in your teens, you may need to have them removed in your twenties. Keep in mind, not everyone needs to have their wisdom teeth removed—sometimes they come in just fine—but there are many people that do.
This is another reason why your regular dental checkups are so important. Your dentist will be able to keep an eye on how your wisdom teeth are coming in and tell you if you need to have them removed. Even if they aren’t causing you any pain, there could still be a problem. Your dentist will be able to see any potential problems with your wisdom teeth through an x-ray of your mouth.
Gingivitis during Pregnancy
Women are more vulnerable to getting gingivitis when they’re pregnant than at any other time so it’s important you are taking care of your teeth properly before, during and after your pregnancy. You need to see your dentist during pregnancy so he/she can make sure everything is still okay and can help you keep your teeth clean. For more information about when to go to the dentist during pregnancy and what else you should do for your dental health during this stage of life, see our Ultimate Guide to Dental Care for Pregnant Women.
Teeth Whitening for Special Events
Whether you think about teeth whitening on a regular basis or just for certain events—like your wedding, for instance—there are several options to choose from. These include home treatments, store-bought kits and visiting your dentist for professional treatment. There are pros and cons to each, but having a whiter smile is desired by most.
Wanting to Eat a Healthier Diet
Finally, most men and women in their 20s and 30s are more conscious about what they’re eating. Is this good for me? Will this help me lose weight? Will I have more energy if I start eating healthier? Often not thought or spoken of is whether or not what you’re eating is good for your teeth. Luckily, many healthy foods that are good for your overall health are also good for your oral health. And for those foods that are healthy but bad for your oral health, there are ways to continue to eat them and still keep your teeth clean.
40s and 50s
For adults, even in your 20s and 30s, it’s important to keep up with your dental routine—brushing twice a day, flossing daily, watching your diet and visiting your dentist regularly. As you age, your teeth age with you and they become more susceptible to gum disease and cavities and can become more sensitive. Luckily, for each problem, there’s a solution.
If caught early, gum disease is reversible through treatment. Look for red, swollen or tender gums that bleed when you brush your teeth. If you notice any of those symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist. Gum disease, if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss and affect your overall health.
The best way to prevent gum disease is by following your daily dental routine and visiting your dentist for professional cleanings every six months. Your dentist is able to clean areas you may have missed.
If you have had fillings before, it’s possible you could acquire more cavities around your existing fillings. This becomes more common as you age. For prevention, make sure you are flossing, brushing your teeth properly and visiting your dentist on a regular basis. Also, make sure you’re using fluoride toothpaste.
The risk of having sensitive teeth increases with age. As your gums recede—as they typically do when you age—your teeth aren’t as protected by enamel. Despite this commonality, there could be a number of reasons you have sensitive teeth. If you experience any sensitivity, try using an anti-sensitivity toothpaste. If the sensitivity worsens, talk to your dentist about what you can do.
With the wear and tear on your teeth over the course of time, there’s bound to be some damage. To strengthen your damaged teeth, dentists will use crowns to cover the tooth to help protect it.
For decayed teeth, a root canal may be needed. While you definitely don’t want to get a root canal—because it means you have a decayed tooth—they aren’t as bad as they sound. Check out our Root Canal Myth Series if you’re worried.
As a senior, you may be wondering what oral health problems you can expect to deal with. Seniors are more susceptible to dental diseases than any other age group. There are a number of oral health problems you may have to deal with as a senior, but there are solutions to every one of them.
In the meantime, do what you’ve always done: watch what you eat, brush twice a day, floss daily and visit your dentist regularly. And as a senior, you may also want to talk to your dentist about what you are taking to see if they will have any effect on your oral health.
Whatever age group you fall into, keep up with your daily dental routine and visit your dentist regularly. The key to dealing with dental health problems as they come your way is good communication with your dentist and those around you. Keep informed about your oral health and never stop learning. There may be dental health issues you’ve never heard of before, but if you continue to learn about them as they come, you’ll know what to do.
How have your dental practices changed with age?
I can use all the help I can get when it comes to helping my 4 boys with brushing as our oldest is 8 years old. Good brushing habits start now!