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Dentistry Through the Ages

As we age, our dental needs change and the type of dental treatment also changes. A good understanding of this cycle is important to prevent problems as we get older.

Early childhood: primary teeth begin to erupt when a child is about 6 months old and usually finish at about 2 years of age. For young children just getting their first teeth, the easiest way to clean their teeth is to use a 2×2 inch piece of gauze to wipe each tooth. If you want to use a toothbrush to clean the teeth, use it with only water. If you want to use toothpaste, only use a “pea” size amount of toothpaste until the child is old enough to understand not to swallow toothpaste. At age 3 or 4, the dentist can clean a child’s teeth and apply fluoride to strengthen the enamel and reduce the chances of the child getting tooth decay.

Ages 6 to 12: At this period in a child’s life, there is a mixture of primary (baby) and permanent teeth. There is a lot going on: permanent teeth are erupting, and the remaining primary teeth are acting as space maintainers so there will be room for additional permanent teeth. Dental exams are particularly important at this time along with regular cleaning and fluoride treatments. Sealants are placed on the erupting first molars to reduce chances of decay. For children with certain types of irregular growth patterns, orthodontic treatment may be started.

Teenagers: This is the time to continue the cleanings and fluoride to prevent cavities from forming and to treat small cavities. Flossing is important because gingivitis (gum disease) can start. If a child is involved in sports, remember to use mouth guards. The combination of the timing of the growth phases of the child and the eruption of the permanent teeth makes this the time for an orthodontic evaluation and the start of orthodontic treatment if necessary. This is also when a dental professional can tell if there is enough room for wisdom teeth to erupt and if they should be removed.

College Age: There is often a major change in life style for this age group. We often see more gingivitis and the formation of decay between teeth, perhaps from irregular eating habits and irregular schedule of brushing. This is the time when a dental professional can spot evidence of eating disorders from a chemical erosion of the teeth. The dentist and the dental team can also see the beginning of permanent damage to the inside gum tissue and cracked teeth that result from of tongue piercings.

20’s & 30’s: At this point in the life cycle, we still see decay forming between teeth as well as on the biting surface of teeth. Old fillings begin to break down and have to be replaced, sometimes with crowns and perhaps root canals as well. This is when gum disease tends to change from gingivitis to periodontitis, which can lead to permanent bone loss.

Middle Age: People in this stage of their life do not normally have decay forming in teeth that have no prior decay or fillings, but older fillings are rapidly breaking down and have to be replaced. Unfortunately, when fillings do break down or decay forms adjacent to the existing fillings, the size of the new replacement fillings is usually larger, resulting in the need for crowns and possibly root canals. Teeth that are badly decayed below the gum level may have to be removed. To avoid the spaces from missing teeth, there are choices of having bridgework, implants or partial dentures. Periodontal problems often increase, so flossing becomes an ever-important part of the daily routine.

Senior Citizens: As people age, they tend to get cavities forming around the roots of teeth, rather than in other parts of the tooth. At this stage, it is important to brush very well around the gums, not only to prevent the root cavities but also to prevent periodontal disease. This is also the time when root canals, periodontal treatment, bridgework, implants, and full and partial dentures are commonly seen. People who have taken care of their teeth during their lifetime tend to have less problems at this stage of their life.