By Angela Pirisi
DENTISTS HAVE A lot to smile about these
days. They’re seeing fewer cavities in kids, and
more adults are keeping their teeth for life.
As the aging population grows, however,
it becomes a challenge to maintain a healthy
mouth for longer. Unfortunately, one-third of
adults age 65 years or older have untreated
cavities and just over 40 percent have gum
disease, reports the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. Things such as
receding gums and cracked or worn old fillings create opportunities for tooth decay.
Plus, older people often take multiple
medications, some of which can decrease
saliva. Saliva is vital for washing away food
debris, neutralizing acid from plaque and
keeping tooth and gum surfaces slippery wet
so sugar and bacteria can’t get a foothold.
Much like a car, a mouth can fall into disrepair with age, so it actually needs more
maintenance over time, explains Dr. Richard
Price, a spokesperson for the American
Dental Association (ADA). Luckily, the
options for taking care of your teeth and
gums across your life span are numerous. In
fact, says Price, “There are so many products
that you need a Ph.D. these days just to navigate the oral hygiene aisle in stores.” At the
end of the day, though, common sense and
diligence should prevail.
Choose a soft-bristled brush. “It should
sit comfortably in your hand and in your
mouth—just as you’d choose flatware. If it’s
comfortable to use, you’re going to use it
more,” says Price.
People with arthritis or other dexterity
problems may benefit from using an electric
toothbrush to remove plaque. Using soft bristles and brushing gently can also help to prevent sensitive teeth. A recent U.S. survey of
nearly 800 adults found that one in eight
people suffers from sensitive teeth. Causes
included the dental enamel (the coating on
the tooth) or the cementum (the tissue at the
base of the tooth near the gum line) wearing
away and exposing the root. Price says that
people who do at-home whitening may
develop sensitive teeth too, but temporarily.
Stick with fluoride. These days, toothpaste
manufacturers make myriad claims for their
products: fighting cavities, removing stains,
preventing plaque buildup, freshening breath
and whitening teeth. The most important thing
is for your toothpaste to contain fluoride, says
Price. “Fluoride helps to fortify, or remineralize,
weakened tooth enamel and protect against
tooth decay,” he explains.
Also, check for the ADA Seal of Acceptance.
Products with the ADA Seal say what they do
and do what they say.
Floss—period. “You can’t vacuum a house
well without using attachments,” says Price.
That’s what flossing does—it helps you get into
all the tight corners and crevices to clean where
a toothbrush can’t reach.
The best kind of floss is whatever you like
enough to keep using regularly. Some people
prefer interdental cleaners and wooden dental
picks, while those with tightly spaced teeth
may need something that glides more easily.
Pre-threaded flossers may be easier to maneu-
ver than wrapping floss around your fingers.
Make mouthwash a maybe. Mouth
rinses can perform various functions, from
freshening your breath to protecting your
teeth and gums against plaque and cavities.
But basically they fall into two categories: cosmetic and therapeutic. Do you need one?
Not necessarily, says Price. Mouth rinses
finish off cleaning by rinsing out any missed
food debris, but they shouldn’t replace brushing or flossing. If you’re using a mouth rinse
to fight bad breath or tender gums on a regular basis, see your dentist about finding the
underlying cause, often a disease.
Chew sugarless gum. It can stimulate
saliva flow, which helps to remove some food
particles after eating. A dry mouth is a gilded
invitation to bacteria to come in and make
themselves at home. Some kinds of gum contain xylitol, a natural sweetener that fights
tooth decay. However, Price warns that if
you’re constantly chewing gum to tackle bad
breath or suffering from a dry mouth, get it
The take-home message, he says, isn’t
sexy—it’s simple, and the same thing dentists
have been drilling into our heads for years:
Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste,
floss daily, eat a balanced diet and see your
dentist regularly. C
Angela Pirisi is a freelance writer who has
been covering health topics for more than
on oral health
The Costco Connection
Costco members will find items to help keep
their teeth and gums healthy, including manual and electronic toothbrushes, floss, toothpaste, mouthwash, sugarless gum—including
Orbit, Extra or 5 in the new pantry pack—and
more, at Costco and on Costco.com.
Tablet or smartphone?
Scan or click here for oral-health tips from the
American Dental Association.
(See page 5 for details.)
for your health