The Importance of Baby Teeth

Why are baby teeth important? Your child needs their baby teeth to be healthy to chew their food, speak, and keep the space needed for their adult teeth to grow in properly.  Sometimes when a baby tooth is lost, the teeth next to it can move into the empty space. When the adult teeth try to grow in, there is not enough space.  This can cause teeth to be crooked and or crowded.

Your child’s baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they first appear, which is typically around six months. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries (cavities). It most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected. In some unfortunate cases, infants and toddlers have experienced decay so severe that the teeth could not be repaired and needed to be removed. The good news is that decay is preventable.

Tooth decay in infants generally begins when bacteria is passed from the mother to the baby.  When a mother (or primary caregiver) puts a spoon or pacifier in their mouth and then back in the baby’s mouth, the bacteria is passed.

Liquids that contain sugar are another reason for decay. These liquids include sweetened water, fruit juice, milk, breast milk and baby formula. A baby should never go to bed with a bottle. The longer the liquid stays on the mouth, the longer the acids that feed on the bacteria have a chance to attach to the teeth, leading to decay.

Fluoride is important because it can combine with the enamel and create a stronger tooth that is more resistant to decay.

Below are tips from the American Dental Association on how to prevent decay on your toddler’s baby teeth:

  • Lower the risk of the baby’s infection with decay-causing bacteria. This can be done two ways – by improving the oral health of the mother/caregiver, which reduces the number of bacteria in her mouth, and by not sharing saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers and giving them to babies.
  • After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth. This will remove plaque and bits of food that can harm erupting teeth. When your child’s teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child-sized toothbrush and water. (Consult with your kid’s dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.)
  • When your little one can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste (usually not before age two), begin brushing with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. The American Dental Association recommends fluoride toothpaste. Ask your dentist about your child’s fluoride needs.
  • Brush their baby teeth until he or she is at least six years old.
  • Place only formula, milk or breastmilk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
  • Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
  • If your toddler uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean — don’t dip it in sugar or honey, or put it in your mouth before giving it to the child.
  • Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday and discourage frequent or prolonged use of a training (sippy) cup.
  • Encourage healthy eating habits that include a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes.
  • Ensure that your child has adequate exposure to fluoride. Discuss his or her fluoride needs with your dentist or pediatrician.

Dr. Tim M. Verwest, DMD sponsors South Ft. Myers High School Band


FORT MYERS, Fla. (May 15, 2015) – Pediatric Dentistry of Ft. Myers, Dr. Tim Verwest, DMD made a donation to the South Ft. Myers High School band boosters. Proceeds donated support the care and maintenance of instruments and uniforms.

“We’re happy to have the South Ft. Myers High School Band as one of our main musical acts for our inaugural snow day on October 3rd,” said Dr. Tim Verwest, DMD. “Everyone is going to want to be there for this wonderful event”.

Pediatric Dentistry of Ft Myers, Dr. Tim Verwest, DMD, continues to provide pediatric dental care to children for over 25 years. Areas of service include comprehensive dental exams, cleanings, composite fillings, dental hygiene education, extractions, fluoride treatments, sealants, sedation dentistry, space maintainers, x-rays and tooth nerve treatment. For more information, visit or (239) 482-2722.





Jeffrey Shafer, Director of Marketing, (239) 482-2722 x 209,

Brace Yourself! Does My Child Need Braces?

For some children, getting braces is something they actually look forward to. For other children, there is a lot of fear and concern.

Making the decision to get braces for your child can be especially difficult.  You may be concerned about whether your child really needs them, if they are ready for braces, and how to afford them. Hopefully this article will shed some light on your concerns.

Why Get Braces For Your Child

There are several reasons why your child may need braces. Their teeth could be crooked, overcrowded, overlapping or have a malocclusion (when the upper and lower jaws are different sizes, resulting in an overbite or underbite).  These jaw and tooth issues can be a result of an accident, early tooth loss, decay or even habits like thumb sucking.

Your dentist may recommend that you take your child to see an orthodontist at one of their regular dental visits.  The orthodontist can then decide a treatment plan. The age that this may happen can vary from 6 up to adulthood. Once permanent teeth come in, your dentist will be able to determine if there is a need for braces.

Going to the Orthodontist

The orthodontist will conduct exams that will asses the child’s bite and teeth. He or she may ask questions about popping jaws or problems with chewing and swallowing.  Impressions and x-rays may also be taken at this time. The orthodontist will then come up with a treatment plan that is right for your child.


Braces work by applying pressure on the teeth and moving them into a straighter position. You have choices when it comes to the type of braces used: metal braces, clear or white ceramic braces, and lingual braces that are attached behind the teeth. There are also clear removable braces that use plastic trays, but these are usually only used when there is no malocclusion present. Headgear may also need to be worn at night to push teeth back to make more room.

After the braces are applied, your child will need to go back often for adjustments and to monitor the progress. Only your orthodontist will be able to tell how long your child will need to wear their braces, but 2 years is the average. After the braces are removed, your child may need to wear a retainer.

How to Care For Braces

Your child will be given a special flosser to help keep the braces free of food that can easily get stuck in them. Flossing should be conducted daily if not several times a day. Regular dental visits should also be made for cleanings and to check for cavities. Foods that are hard and sticky should be avoided because they could damage the braces. If a bracket does become loose or a wire pops out of place, you should call your orthodontist immediately.

Can I Afford Braces

The average cost of braces is $5,000. It is possible that insurance will not cover this amount.  There are some ways to reduce the cost. Your dentist may be able to work with you to set up a payment plan. There are also state insurance companies that may be able to help you with the cost. Smiles Change Lives is a program that can get your child in braces for a drastically reduced amount. Your child must be between the ages of 11 and 18. Income and the condition of your child’s teeth will also determine eligibility.pediatric-dentistry-logo

Common Dental Health Questions

  1. Are dental x-rays safe?

Exposure to any source of radiation isn’t ideal, but fortunately the dose of radiation you get from taking x-rays is extremely small.  You can thank the wonderful engineers and scientists in the dental industry for that.  New, digital x-ray machines limit the beam of radiation to just the small area being x-rayed, higher speed x-ray films require shorter exposure time, film holders keep the film in your mouth from slipping and avoiding repeat x-rays, and full-body aprons protect the body from stray radiation.  Federal law requires x-ray machines to be checked for accuracy and safety every two years, and some states even increase the frequency of checks.

  1. What can you tell me about dental sealants?

Dental sealants are a thin, plastic coating that covers the chewing surfaces of the teeth to fill in fissures and grooves.  Because these are the hardest areas to reach, bacteria tend to live here and cause cavities and decay.

Sealants are becoming a go-to solution for kids who have even more trouble brushing the hard-to-reach areas, such as their molars.  However, sealants work for adults too.

Typically, they protect teeth for up to 10 years but should be checked regularly for chipping and excessive wear.

  1. How close are we to drill-less dentistry?

Also known as air abrasion and microabrasion, drill-less dentistry can remove tooth decay, remold old composite restorations, prepare a tooth surface for bonding or sealants, and remove superficial stains and discolorations.  Air abrasion works put shooting a fine stream of particles at the tooth surface to clean away decay and stain, much like a mini sandblaster works.  Remaining particles can then be suctioned away.

  1. Are silver-colored fillings, or amalgams, safe?

Amalgams contain mercury, leading many people to think that they are causing a number of diseases, including autism, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.

The American Dental Association (ADA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as numerous public health agencies, have confirmed multiple times that amalgams are safe and that there is no link between the fillings and these diseases.  Although mercury is toxic on its own, when mixed with other metals such as silver, copper, tin, and zinc, they form a stable alloy that dentists have actually used for over 100 years.

  1. What is the most effective way to whiten my teeth?

ALL toothpastes help to remove surface stains with the help of mild abrasives.  Whitening toothpastes, however, contain gentle polishing or chemical agents that provide additional removal.  Most over-the-counter whitening toothpastes contain peroxide – either carbamide or hydrogen.

The difference between whitening methods is due to the percent of peroxide.  Store-bought solutions, such as strips, trays, and toothpastes, typically contain a maximum of 7% peroxide, while whiteners that a dentist uses contain up to 45% peroxide. Just one hour in the dentist’s chair can result in a dazzling smile, while at-home treatments kick in about 4-6 weeks later.

Both ways work well, but the biggest discrepancy comes with the costs.  Chair-side treatments will costs around $500, while store-bought kits range from $25 to $100.

  1. How can I change the shape of my teeth?

There are several different options to change the shape, close gaps, or repair chipped teeth.

  • Dental bonding applies a tooth-colored resin to the tooth surface and bonds it to the tooth with a special light.
  • Dental crowns are tooth-shaped caps that are placed over teeth to fully cover the entire visible portion of the tooth.
  • Veneers are extremely thin, custom-made shells that cover the front surface of your teeth.
  • Reshaping your teeth (also called odontoplasty, enameloplasty, stripping, or slenderizing) removes small amounts of tooth enamel to change the length, shape, or surface.
  1. I have a terrible fear of the dentist. How can I overcome this?

You’re not alone.  Between 5% and 8% of Americans avoid the dentist completely out of fear, and almost 20% will only schedule an appointment if it’s absolutely necessary.

The first step is talking to your dentist.  Many dentists assume that all patients have the same level of fear and pain tolerance.  Alerting them that yours might be a special case will allow them to take special consideration.

Other solutions include medications, use of lasers instead of drills, and anxiety-reducing techniques such as guided imagery, biofeedback, deep breathing, acupuncture, and other mental health therapies.

  1. How do I know which toothpaste my child should use?

There are a couple rules of thumb here, and the answer is a little tricky.  It really depends on the age of your child.  Fluoride is an important mineral proven to prevent cavities. However, swallowed in large doses, fluoride can be toxic.  Once your child learns to spit and not swallow the toothpaste, you can transition them to using toothpaste containing fluoride.

The American Dental Association also grants their Seal of Acceptance to certain products that meet their criteria for safety and effectiveness.  When in doubt, pick toothpaste with the ADA seal.  They’ll do all of the research and work for you.

  1. I can’t afford regular dental care. Are there some resources available to me?

Yes, there are thousands of dentists across the US that offer their services at a reduced rate or free of charge through dental society sponsored assistance programs. Contact your local dental society for more information about where you can find the nearest assistance programs (such as public health clinics and dental school clinics).

The ADA’s website also links to state dental associations and dental schools.

  1. I recently moved and need to find a new dentist. How can I find one?

Over 80% of people rely on recommendations from friends and family to find a new dentist.  If you’re moving nearby, your current dentist may be able to make a recommendation as well.

How to Prevent Tooth Decay During the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of year! For both your child and the cavity-causing bacteria in their mouth.

It’s hard to find a child who doesn’t love the holidays, and almost all of the holidays come with heaps of sweets and sugary candy.  You want your kids to be able to indulge a little in the holiday festivities, but you also want to keep their teeth healthy.

When we eat sugar, the bacteria in our mouth feed on the sugar and create a byproduct of acid.  In turn, the acid strips our tooth enamel and erodes our teeth.

To combat any tooth decay that might occur during the holidays, try these solutions:

  • Save treats like candy, cookies, and pies for after mealtime, when the amount of saliva in the mouth is greater and will better protect your child’s teeth.
  • Dairy actually acts as a buffer to the acid created by the bacteria in your mouth.  Consider serving milk or cheese with candies and treats.
  • Flossing can help get rid of sticky particles that get lodged between the teeth.  Make sure to have your child floss extra well during the holidays.
  • To help pace the amount of candy your child consumes around holidays like Halloween and Easter, store the excess candy in a sealed container and place it out of sight.  Establish set times when your child can have a treat.
  • Encourage your child to drink more water, and make sure that this water has fluoride in it


Top 10 Myths About Children’s Teeth

  1. Baby teeth aren’t important. They’re just going to fall out anyway.

It is true that none of your child’s 20 baby teeth will survive into their teenage years.  But if you want those 32 permanent teeth to come in shiny and straight, it’s absolutely essential to take care of their predecessors.

Baby teeth aren’t here to stay, but they’re extremely important while they are here. They serve as natural spacers for the permanent teeth.  If one is lost too early, before the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, the other teeth could come in crooked or cause crowding.  Additionally, if a baby tooth has decay, it can pass the bacteria to the permanent tooth below, causing it to decay before it even breaks the surface.

Not only does it spread to the permanent tooth, but it can also spread to the rest of the body via saliva and their gum tissue, causing a slew of long-term health consequences.

  1. My child has cavities because he has soft teeth.

We’re not exactly sure where this one started, but there is no such thing as “soft teeth.”  Everyone’s teeth are coated in enamel, the hardest substance in the human body.  Cavities occur when bacteria eat away at the teeth to create little holes.  Once a hole is formed, it becomes infinitely harder to reach the bacteria hiding out in the hole, so the problem increasingly worsens.

  1. My child can brush their own teeth.

We all can’t wait for the day that our child can get ready for bed on their own (and hopefully do so willingly!).  Unfortunately, that day is a long way off.  It’s not a matter of intelligence or how gifted your child is.  It’s simply because kids lack the manual dexterity needed to brush all of their teeth thoroughly until about age 6 or 7.  As a general rule, children don’t develop this dexterity until they can write in cursive.  Until then, the primary responsibility for their clean teeth falls to the parents.

  1. I don’t need to take my child to the dentist. He only has 2 teeth!

How can he have bad oral hygiene when he’s all gums?!  Believe it or not, oral hygiene begins almost immediately after birth.  Even before you see a sign of their first tooth, you should be wiping their gums with a wet piece of gauze.  After that, it’s on to a wet toothbrush and then fluoridated toothpaste.

A child’s first visit to the dentist should be right around their 1st birthday.  More than likely – if you’ve been doing a good job with their oral hygiene so far – it’ll just be a short and informal dentist appointment.  The dentist will take a look around, warn you about any potential problem areas, possibly clean their teeth, and answer any questions you may have.

Habits form early, so it’s better to get your child into the twice a year routine from the very beginning.

  1. My child won’t drink plain water.

They will, and they should.  It’s tempting to add flavor or hand them an “all-natural” juice box, but any drink other than water is likely to contain some amount of sugar – the favored meal of cavity-causing bacteria.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends young kids should drink no more than 4 to 6 ounces (or the equivalent of one cup) per day.  It’s also better for your child to drink the juice with a meal and opt for water between meals.

  1. My child needs a bottle to go to sleep.

Not only is sugar bad for their teeth in general, but the consequences worsen the longer their teeth are exposed to the sugar.  If a child falls asleep with a bottle, their teeth are being attacked by the bacteria that feed on sugar for the entire time they’re sleeping, likely leading to Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.

If they absolutely need a bottle at bedtime, fill it with water.  The better alternative, though, is to let them cry it out for a few nights and adjust to falling asleep without the bottle.

  1. Bottled water is just as good for my child’s teeth as tap water.

You’re a step in the right direction! Water is the best choice for your child.  But if you’re opting for the easy-to-grab, convenient option of bottled water, you might just be missing out on one important ingredient – fluoride.

Fluoride is a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel and makes teeth more resistant to acids and bacteria.  Most bottled water doesn’t contain a trace of fluoride, but there are some options that do.

  1. My child doesn’t need to bother with flossing until his permanent teeth come in.

As soon as your child has two teeth that are touching, he needs to start flossing.  The areas that are harder to reach with a brush are the areas that bacteria prefer to live in.  By simply relying on brushing, he’s missing out on cleaning almost 35% of the tooth’s surface.

  1. It’s okay for my child to suck his thumb.

It is – until about kindergarten.  Then it’s time to break free from the habit.  Around this time, the front permanent teeth will be coming in, and you don’t want any added pressure to the teeth forcing them out of their natural positions.  It’ll be a battle, but it’s well worth it.

  1. My child is prone to cavities because of his genetics.

Too often parents assume their children just inherited their bad teeth, and there’s nothing they can do about it.  Genetics does have some influence on dental health, but it’s relatively small.  In fact, almost 100% of cavities can be prevented.

Pediatric Dentistry FAQs

What should I use to clean my baby teeth?

Before your baby’s teeth erupt, you should clean their gums with a wet piece of gauze or cloth.  Once a tooth comes through, switch to a soft-bristled, child-sized toothbrush with water.  Once your child can spit, you can switch to fluoridated toothpaste.  When two teeth come through that are touching, it’s time to break out the floss! But hold off on the mouthwash until around 6 years old.

When should I take my child to the dentist for their first appointment?

Your child should first visit the dentist around their 1st birthday.  For a full guide on what to expect at the first appointment, click here.

What is the difference between a pediatric dentist and a family dentist?

Pediatric dentists are specialized in treating kids, and even go through 2 more years of training for it!  With these two years of additional training, they’re better equipped to deal with the not-so-cooperative young patient, to administer the specialized treatment common in kids, and to teach kids how to take care of their own teeth.

Are baby teeth really that important?

YES! An emphatic yes!  Baby teeth are extremely important.  It’s easy to disregard baby teeth because they’re eventually going to fall out anyway. But during their short lives, they help your child learn to speak clearly and chew naturally, as well as serve as a place holder for the permanent teeth to follow.

What should I do if my child has a toothache?

If your child is experiencing pain, have them rinse their mouth out with warm salt water and place a cold compress on their face over the pain area.  You can also give them child’s pain medicine, but do not place the aspirin directly on the tooth or gums. Schedule a dentist appointment as soon as possible.

Is sucking on their thumb or pacifier harmful to my child’s teeth?

Generally, sucking habits only become a problem if they continue for a prolonged period of time.  Once a child’s permanent teeth start to come in, if they have not yet quit the sucking habit, it could cause their teeth to be pushed forward.

Can nursing cause decay in my child’s mouth?

Decay occurs when teeth are exposed to sugar and acid for a prolonged period of time. Because of this, you should avoid nursing children to sleep or putting them to bed with a bottle.  If they have to take a bottle to bed, only put pure water in it.  Make sure to clean your child’s mouth twice a day, even before the first teeth erupt.

How often does my child need to see the dentist?

After the initial dentist appointment at 1 years old, your dentist will advise you on how often your child should come back to the office.  As with adults, it will most likely be twice a year, unless your child is prone to cavities and experiences decay at an early age.

When should my child start using toothpaste?

When your child reaches the age of 2, you can start to use fluoridated toothpaste in a pea-sized amount. Supervise your child and make sure that they are spitting out the toothpaste rather than swallowing it.

How do dental sealants work?

Sealants fill in the grooves and crevasses on the chewing surface of the tooth that are notoriously hard to brush, and even moreso for kids.  This reduces the areas that bacteria can get into and cause cavities.

How do I know if my child is getting enough fluoride?

Fluoride prevents cavities and strengthens tooth enamel. Most cities in the US have fluoride in their drinking water. Consult your pediatric dentist to confirm whether this amount is sufficient.  If it’s not, they can prescribe a fluoride supplement.  Additionally, if your child drinks mostly bottled water, check to make sure the brand contains fluoride in it.

How can I protect my child’s teeth during a sporting event?

Most dental emergencies occur during a sporting event.  To prevent these as best as you can, ask your dentist to make a custom-fitted mouthguard to protect your child’s teeth, lips, cheeks, and gums.

What should I do if my child’s permanent tooth gets knocked out?

If you can, find the tooth and hold it by the crown rather than the root. Insert it back into the socket and head to the nearest dentist or emergency room.  If the tooth won’t fit back into the socket, put it in a glass of milk and take it with you to the emergency appointment.

Are dental x-rays safe for my child?

There is very little risk associated with dental x-rays.  The amount of radiation to your child is limited by the lead apron and high-speed film.

How can I best help prevent tooth decay in my child?

Until your child is old enough to have the manual dexterity to brush their own teeth well, you’re responsible for their dental care. From day 1, you need to be vigilant and insistent on keeping their mouth clean and healthy with regular brushing and flossing, as well as visiting the dentist twice a year.

Best Mouthwash For Kids

Mouthwash comes in a close 3rd when it comes to keeping your mouth healthy – right behind brushing and flossing daily.  Here are 4 health benefits from using mouthwash:

  1. Freshens breath. Mouthwash kills the bacteria that causes bad breath.
  2. Prevents plaque build-up. Mouthwash can easily reach the places that toothbrushes cannot, like on your gums, between your teeth, and the grooves and craters on the surface of your teeth.  However, while mouthwash can prevent the build-up of plaque, it cannot reduce the plaque that already exists on your teeth.
  3. Removes particles. People tend to swig mouthwash after their finish brushing, but you could benefit even more by using mouthwash prior to brushing. It rinses out any loose particles in your mouth and makes brushing and flossing more effective.
  4. Stops cavities from forming. Choose a mouthwash that contains fluoride to further reduce the chances of getting cavities and to strengthen your enamel.

With that being said, is it safe for your child to use mouthwash? It depends on their age.

According to the American Dental Association, children under the age of 6 should not use mouthwash because it is still difficult for them to spit it out.  Swallowing mouthwash poses health hazards to young kids, especially if they are swallowing adult mouthwash with alcohol in it.

At the age of 6, start teaching your child how to use mouthwash but make sure to supervise them heavily in the beginning. Only use mouthwash that is designed for children since they don’t contain alcohol and pose less of a health risk if they’re swallowed.

So which mouthwash should you choose? Here are a few options currently on the market:

10 Tricks to Improve Your Kids Brushing Habits!

Many parents of young children wrestle with the nightly challenge of getting their kids ready for bed and settled down to sleep. And one very important part of that battle includes convincing kids to brush their teeth the right way.


Dental hygiene should be a priority for families, since training kids to take care of their health develops good habits later in life. Protecting your kids’ teeth against cavities early on will also save you money and trouble in the future.

But if you’re stumped as to how to get your kids to learn how to brush their teeth, check out these easy tricks to try before bedtime (and the next morning, too!)…

How to Get Your Kids to Brush

1. Use toddler or training toothpaste  that’s okay to swallow. Toddlers may not understand how to spit out their toothpaste at first, so use a non-fluoride toothpaste that’s safe to swallow.

2. Use toothpaste in fun colors and flavoring. Make the teeth brushing routine more exciting by letting your children use toothpaste that comes in a decorated tube, is a fun color or sparkles, and maybe even tastes like gum or candy.

3. Use a small amount of toothpaste so their mouths don’t get filled up with froth. Your kids’ mouths are smaller than yours, so they won’t need as much toothpaste as you do, either.

4. Keep kids on a regular schedule. Make it easier for your kids to remember to brush their teeth every morning and before bed by setting a regular routine, such as brushing teeth after eating and before washing their faces or changing clothes.

5. Try flossers  when teaching kids how to floss. Use the little hand-held floss sticks until kids understand how to floss properly.

6. Take your kids to the dentist at an early age. Around the age of three, take your child to the dentist to teach them about dental hygiene and to make sure they don’t have any oral health problems.

7. Try an electric toothbrush  for older kids: Older kids who get bored brushing their teeth may find an electric tooth brush cool and exciting to use, especially if you use the brushes that light up or play music. If your kids are responsible enough, consider trying one out.

8. Read picture books about brushing with younger kids.

9. Monitor their brushing habits. Don’t just tell your kids to go to the bathroom and brush their teeth: they could be standing in the bathroom playing with the toothpaste to avoid doing it!

10. Encourage them to look at their teeth in the mirror. Get very young children used to the idea of caring for their teeth and touching their teeth by teaching them to look at the inside of their mouths in the mirror

The Who’s, What’s, and Why’s of Taking Care of Your Teeth

Dentists say that the most important part of tooth care happens at home. Brushing and flossing properly, along with regular dental checkups, can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

If you’re like most people, you don’t exactly look forward to facing a dentist’s drill. So wouldn’t it be better to prevent cavities before they begin?

Giving Plaque the Brush-Off

To prevent cavities, you need to remove plaque, the transparent layer of bacteria that coats the teeth. The best way to do this is by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once a day. Brushing also stimulates the gums, which helps to keep them healthy and prevent gum disease. Brushing and flossing are the most important things that you can do to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Toothpastes contain abrasives, detergents, and foaming agents. Fluoride, the most common active ingredient in toothpaste, is what prevents cavities. So you should always be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride.

About 1 person in 10 has a tendency to accumulate tartar quickly. Tartar is plaque in a hardened form that is more damaging and difficult to remove. Using anti-tartar toothpastes and mouthwashes, as well as spending extra time brushing the teeth near the salivary glands (the inside of the lower front teeth and the outside of the upper back teeth) may slow the development of new tartar.

If you have teeth that are sensitive to heat, cold, and pressure, you may want to try a special toothpaste for sensitive teeth. But you’ll still need to talk to your dentist about your sensitivity because it may indicate a more serious problem, such as a cavity or nerve inflammation (irritation).

Tips on Proper Brushing

Dentists say that the minimum time you should spend brushing your teeth is 2 minutes twice a day. Here are some tips on how to brush properly:

  • Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle against your gumline. Gently brush from where the tooth and gum meet to the chewing surface in short (about half-a-tooth-wide) strokes. Brushing too hard can cause receding gums, tooth sensitivity, and, over time, loose teeth.
  • Use the same method to brush all outside and inside surfaces of your teeth.
  • To clean the chewing surfaces of your teeth, use short sweeping strokes, tipping the bristles into the pits and crevices.
  • To clean the inside surfaces of your top and bottom front teeth and gums, hold the brush almost vertical. With back and forth motions, bring the front part of the brush over the teeth and gums.
  • Using a forward-sweeping motion, gently brush your tongue and the roof of your mouth to remove the decay-causing bacteria that exist in these places.
  • Use an egg timer or play a favorite song while brushing your teeth to get used to brushing for a full 2 to 3 minutes. Some electronic toothbrushes have timers that let you know when 2 minutes are up.

Facts on Flossing

Brushing is important but it won’t remove the plaque and particles of food between your teeth, under the gumline, or under braces. You’ll need to floss these spaces at least once a day.

The type of floss you choose depends on how much space you have between your teeth. Dentists usually recommend unwaxed floss because it’s thinner and easier to slide through small spaces. However, studies have shown that there is no major difference in the effectiveness based on the type of floss used.

With any floss, you should be careful to avoid injuring your gums. Follow these instructions:

  • Carefully insert the floss between two teeth, using a back and forth motion. Gently bring the floss to the gumline, but don’t force it under the gums. Curve the floss around the edge of your tooth in the shape of the letter “C” and slide it up and down the side of each tooth.
  • Repeat this process between all your teeth, and remember to floss the back sides of your back teeth.

Going to the Dentist

The main reason for going to the dentist regularly — every 6 months — is prevention. The goal is to prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and other disorders that put the health of your teeth and mouth at risk.

Your first consultation with a dentist will probably consist of three main parts: a dental and medical history (where the dentist or dental hygienist asks you questions about your tooth care and reviews any dental records), a dental examination, and a professional cleaning.

The dentist will examine your teeth, gums, and other mouth tissues. He or she may also examine the joints of your jaws. The dentist will use a mirror and probe (a metal pick-like instrument) to check the crown (visible part) of each tooth for plaque and evidence of looseness or decay. The dentist also will check your bite and the way your teeth fit together (called occlusion).

Your dentist will examine the general condition of your gums, which should be firm and pink, not soft, swollen, or inflamed. He or she (or an assistant) will use the probe to check the depth of the sulcus, the slight depression where each tooth meets the gum. Deep depressions, called pockets, are evidence of gum disease.

After examining the visible parts of your teeth and mouth, your dentist will take X-rays that might reveal tooth decay, abscesses (collections of pus surrounded by swollen tissue), or impacted wisdom teeth.

Professional cleaning is usually performed by a dental hygienist, a specially trained and licensed dental professional. Cleaning consists mainly of removing hard deposits using a scaler (a scraping instrument) or an ultrasonic machine, which uses high-frequency sound waves to loosen plaque deposits. The particles are then rinsed off with water.

After cleaning, the dental hygienist will polish your teeth. The process cleans and smoothes the surfaces of the teeth, removing stains and making it harder for plaque to stick to the teeth. Finally, the hygienist may treat your teeth with a fluoride compound or a sealant to help prevent decay.

At the end of your visit, the dentist will let you know if you need to return to fill a cavity. Your dentist also may refer you to an orthodontist if he or she thinks you may need braces or have other issues.

More Dental Problems

Dental caries (tooth decay) can attack the teeth at any age. In fact, 84% of 17-year-olds have the disease. Left untreated, caries can cause severe pain and result in tooth loss. Losing teeth affects how you look and feel about yourself as well as your ability to chew and speak. Treating caries is also expensive. So prevention and early treatment are important.

It may surprise you to know that 60% of 15-year-olds experience gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. Gingivitis, which involves the gums but not the underlying bone and ligament, is almost always caused by an accumulation of plaque. As with caries, treatment can be expensive.

If you remove plaque regularly and follow good oral hygiene habits, your gums usually will return to their healthy state. However, more serious gum disease can cause gums to swell, turn red, and bleed, and sometimes causes discomfort. How dentists treat gum disease depends on the extent of the disease