Strategies to Help Improve Your Smile Throughout Your Life

During February’s Children’s Dental Health Month, it’s an opportune time to talk about dental health habits that can improve the oral health of kids and people of all ages.

While everyone wants a sparkling smile, maintaining and improving your oral health – starting at birth all the way through our golden years – is crucial. In fact, research showsoral health may contribute to various diseases and conditions, including pneumonia, heart disease and pregnancy and birth complications.1 

To help encourage a healthy smile and healthy mouth for people of all ages, it’s important to brush and floss daily – and see your dentist at least every six months for preventive care that most dental plans cover with no cost sharing.  

Here are additional strategies to consider:

Babies and toddlers. While some parents may assume that cavities in baby teeth aren’t a concern because they aren’t permanent, dental decay in baby teeth may negatively affect permanent teeth and lead to other issues, like pain, infection and issues with speaking.2

Despite being largely preventable, dental decay ranks as the most common chronic condition among children, with nearly 50% of kids having at least one cavity by age eight.2 The American Dental Association recommends:

  • Cleaning your baby’s gums with water and a soft cloth from birth to 1 year.
  • Once teeth start to emerge, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a small dab of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice), to brush twice a day.
  • For children four and older, help your child floss and continue brushing their teeth twice a day, increasing to a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, until you’re comfortable with them brushing on their own. 

Teenagers and adults. We all know to brush during the morning and at night and to floss daily, but there are a few other strategies for people to keep in mind.

First, make sure to brush for a full two minutes, using short, gentle strokes and keeping the head at a 45-degree angle to the gums. These proper techniques are important both to help prevent cavities and to support gum health. 

Second, if you are still using a manual toothbrush, consider upgrading to an electric one. These can offer several advantages, with some synching to an app to provide personalized feedback, such as brushing duration, intensity and tooth/gum coverage. 

Finally, take note of the bristles on your toothbrush. Once those begin to fray, usually every three to four months, it’s time for a new one.

Older people. As people age, it is important to focus on gum health, especially to avoid developing periodontal disease. This chronic condition causes inflammation of the gums, and if left untreated, can make it painful to chew, eventually lead to tooth lose, and may contribute to an array of other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and dementia.3

Nearly half of adults 30 and older have some form of gum disease, and this increases to 70% of people 65 years and over.4 Daily flossing is key, and people can also use a water flosser, which shoots a stream of water between the teeth and can help reduce bacteria below the gum line.5

It’s important to avoid tobacco, as smokers are at twice the risk of gum disease as non-smokers6, and limit alcohol use, which has been linked to an increased incidence of oral health issues.7  

By considering these tips, you may help maintain or improve your oral health as you age, and also contribute to your overall well-being too.

1 Mayo Clinic, Oral Health: A window to your overall health,

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Oral Health,

3 NHS, Gum disease,

4 NIH MedlinePlus, Gum disease by the numbers,

5 Mayo Clinic, Is it more effective to floss teeth with a water flosser or with standard dental floss?,

6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Smoking, Gum Disease, and Tooth Loss,

7 Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, Impact of Alcohol Dependency on Oral Health,

Dr. Paul J. McConnell
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Dr. Paul J. McConnell is Dental Director for UnitedHealthcare.