Keeping A Healthy Smile Throughout Life

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Did you know? Brushing for two minutes removes 26 percent more plaque than brushing for 45 seconds and removes 55 percent more plaque than brushing for 30 seconds!

Home oral care starts at birth. Here are some tips and recommendations to ensure a healthy smile from birth through old age.
Birth to 11 months

  • Practice good oral hygiene and seek dental care to avoid parental bacterial transmission.
  • Minimize exposure to foods that can lead to early childhood caries.
  • Hold the infant while feeding; never prop a bottle.
  • Do not allow the infant to fall asleep with a bottle that contains milk, juice, or other sweetened liquid.
  • Clean gums after every meal with a soft cloth or gauze.
  • Use a toothbrush twice daily as soon as teeth erupt.

1 to 4 years

  • Brush the child’s teeth twice daily as soon as they erupt.
  • At an appropriate age, give the children more freedom to do it on their own as they begin to do a more thorough job.  Few children can do an adequate job of cleaning their mouths by themselves before age 5, so proceed with caution.
  • For children younger than age 2, brush the teeth with plain water twice daily, unless advised by a dentist to use fluoride toothpaste.
  • For children ages 3 years and older, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste twice daily.
  • Ensure the child drinks fluoridated water or takes prescribed fluoride supplements.

5 to 10 years

  • Help with and supervise the brushing of a child’s teeth at least twice daily with flossing if recommended by a dentist.
  • Use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.
  • Ensure the child drinks fluoridated water or takes prescribed fluoride supplements.
  • Make sure nutritious foods are available to children, while continuing to emphasize healthy eating patterns and the moderation of snacks established in infancy and early childhood.  This reinforces the role of oral health within the greater context of overall health.

11 to 21 years

  • Continue vigilant oral hygiene as taught in early childhood.
  • The dentist should consider dietary analysis, topical fluoride, antimicrobial regimens, and dental sealants for high-risk patients.
  • Be aware that adolescents’ risk of caries can be increased by susceptible tooth enamel as a result of immature enamel in newly-erupted permanent teeth; indifference to oral hygiene; frequent and unregulated exposure to high quantities of natural and refined sugars; eating disorders, such as bulimia; use of certain drugs, such as methamphetamine; and frequent consumption of acidic drinks that can erode enamel.


  • Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride-based toothpaste that provides protection against decay of all ages.
  • Maintain a habit of thorough brushing and flossing to prevent gingivitis.
  • Avoid tobacco.  In addition to the general health risks posed by tobacco, smokers have four times the risk of developing periodontal disease.
  • Limit alcohol, a risk factor in oral and throat cancers.
  • Eat wisely.  Adults should avoid sugary and starchy snacks.  Limit the number of snacks throughout the day.  The recommended five-a-day helping of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables stimulates salivary flow to aid remineralization of tooth surfaces with early stages of tooth decay.
  • Visit the dentist regularly.  Checkups can detect early signs of oral health problems and can lead to treatments that will prevent further damage, and in some cases, reverse the problem.  Professional tooth cleaning (prophylaxis) also is important for preventing oral problems, especially when self-care is difficult.

Older adults

In addition to the adult home care practices mentioned above, older adults also should adhere to the following best practices:

  • Visit the dentist regularly, even if the patient is fully edentulous and has dentures.  Professional care helps maintain the overall health of the teeth and mouth, and provides for early detection of precancerous or cancerous lesions.
  • Caregivers should reinforce the daily oral hygiene routines of elders who are unable to perform these activities independently.
  • Sudden changes in taste and smell should not be considered signs of aging, but instead should be a sign to seek professional care.
  • If medications produce dry mouth, ask the prescribing doctor or dentist if there are other drugs that can be substituted.  If dry mouth cannot be avoided, patients should drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco and alcohol.

Source: Oral Health for Adults: Fact Sheet and FAQs.  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2006