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Have the Best Oral Health at Every Age

Not all pearly whites are the same. How to keep your mouth healthy at each stage in your life.

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Infants and Toddlers

The most common chronic infectious disease for children under the age of six is Early Childhood Caries, or ECC, says Dr. Ross Anderson, chief of dent­istry at the IWK Health Centre in
Halifax. Defined as the presence of one or more decayed teeth, dental caries is five times more common than asthma and can cause pain and affect normal overall growth and development. How to prevent it? A healthy diet, proper brushing as soon as the first tooth appears, and flossing. And don’t forget the dentist. “The first visit should be within six months of the eruption of the first tooth or
by one year of age, whichever comes first,” says Anderson.

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Equipping children with mouthguards for high-contact sports, such as hockey and football, is a no-brainer for most parents. But we should also consider them for any sport in which there is a risk of hitting one’s head, according to Dr. Gerald Smith, the president of the Ontario Dental Association, who is based in Thunder Bay. “Mouthguards will help cushion a blow to the face and minimize the risk of broken teeth and injuries to your
associated soft tissues, like the lips and tongue,” he says.

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“About 20 per cent of the population has sensitive teeth,” says Dr. Euan Swan, manager of dental programs for the Canadian Dental Association in Ottawa. Tooth sensitivity is the result of the root surface becoming exposed and can be caused by brushing too vigorously, using a hard-bristled toothbrush, gum disease, acidic foods and receding gums that come with aging. To minimize the effects, use specially formulated toothpastes that include ingredients like potassium nitrate, which will help seal microscopic holes in your teeth and protect sensitive spots. And don’t neglect your daily oral hygiene: use mouthwash and a tongue scraper, in addition to fastidious brushing and flossing.

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As we age, or when we take certain medications, our bodies can slow down the production of saliva. Enter xerostomia, or dry mouth. The lack of saliva can damage teeth because it is important in keeping the mouth moist, washing away food and neutralizing the acids produced by plaque. To treat the condition, maintain your usual regimen and consider other courses of action. “It might be as simple as drinking more water, using an over-the-counter oral moisturizer or chewing gum with xylitol,” says Smith. Xylitol, a diabetic sweetener often found in sugar-free candies and gums, helps stimulate saliva. “In some instances, dry mouth can be treated pharmacologically.”