November 17th, 2008
01:39 PM ET

Caring for your teeth at every age

By Linda Saether
CNN Medical Producer

I am not a great dental patient. For that, I blame an encounter I had as a teen with a Scandinavian dentist. Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against the idea of socialized medicine and dental care, but to this day I wonder whether this guy really had a license to practice dentistry. I won't go into details, but imagine it somewhere in the realm of that scene in the movie "Marathon Man" where Dustin Hoffman is tied to a dental chair.

Ok it wasn't torture but to a 13-year-old it came close.

So it probably explains why I don't have my dental appointments neatly filed in my Outlook calendar months a head of time (much to the dismay of my extremely kind dentists). And more crucial than not wanting to disappoint my dentist, who understands my fears and still treats me very well, I really need to see a dentist regularly because I’m among the many people with a family history of periodontal disease.

My teeth might be strong, but my gums are weak.

That, plus the fact that I am growing older means I have two strikes against me, says Susan Estep, a cosmetic dentist. She cautions that women, especially those with a family history of oral issues and who are going through hormonal changes, from pregnancy to menstruation to middle age, probably need to see the dental hygienist more often. Those women need to go from an annual visit to possibly semiannual or maybe even more if other symptoms arise.

Otherwise, mouth care as we age is a unisex issue. Estep says another reason to make sure you are getting to the dentist often enough is for an overall health checkup. “Our gum health might be an oral snapshot to our overall health,” she says, “indicating bigger issues like heart disease and other internal problems."

And finally a new name has cropped up on the oral fear factor list: toxic mouth. Sounds creepy, right?

Well, it is and it isn't; basically some dentists think that if you are getting older and walking around with a lot of old silver filings in your mouth, you might want to chat with your dentist about replacing them.

They might be just fine and your dentist can tell you that, or they could just might be leaking toxics or breaking down your teeth. Neither of these options is good, but they are usually easily fixed, so don't be afraid to broach this topic with at your next dental appointment. (Because you have already one scheduled, right?)

Well if not, do so! And in the mean time don't forget those standard oral health guardians: the toothbrush and dental floss.

Estep has one final word of advice in protecting your teeth and gums: Don't forget that sugar-free gum!

It can protect teeth from cavities, and many have other dental benefits such as whitening teeth or building stronger teeth, and better yet they make your breath smell great!!! Now that's one weapon I am happy to employ.

What about you? Got any healthy dental care secrets to share?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Lauren Conley

    Linda, I have the opposite problem of you. Ug. My gums are Ok, but my teeth–not so good. (What I wouldn't give to work at CNN and have your dental insurance!) As for dental tips, well, I do use a mouthwash containing xylitol, and it really does seem to help protect my cavity-free teeth, for now. I think it works by "starving out" the bacteria, as xylitol is not a sugar they can digest.

    I also read that eating sharp cheddar cheese helps keep bacteria from adhering to the enamal, that microwaving your toothbrush for 10 seconds keeps your toothbrush germ-free, and that chewing cranberries also keeps bacteria from sticking to your teeth.

    I miss having nice healthy teeth, and wish I had had my teeth coated as a teen when I had my braces on. A mugging I got a few years ago cracked several of my teeth, and as I was living in a domestic violennce shelter and as a result of that was unemployed at the time, I had to let my teeth take second place to other priorities. I have a job with dental coverage now, but it maxes out at $1000 a year....that's like, maybe enough to save two teeth...what I would not give to be able to smile again.

    November 17, 2008 at 19:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. joan martin

    This article was very enlightening. I have my regular biannual visits to the dentist. they would always comment about the good upkeep of my dental hygiene. 25 years ago i read an article about brushing one's teeth with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. It has become a ritual for me since then. Like i have said, previous and present dentists would comment "If all their patients were like me, they wouldn't make a profit.

    November 18, 2008 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Bob Ledsome

    try a water pic with a splash of listerine in the water,don't stop until the white stuff stops coming out.

    November 19, 2008 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Marianne Brannon

    I can't believe that you did not talk about how important flossing is! Flossing is very important for gums and you should try it if you have gum issues. Ask your dentist how to do it correctly. My husband used to never floss and he always had gum problems. I finally convinced him to floss regularly. His last dentist checkup was the first one after he had started flossing regularly and the dentist told him he showed excellent improvement in gum health.

    November 21, 2008 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Janet A

    I agree that we should Dental Care a priority. How about adding dental care to Medicare and Medicaid? Only a few states make mandatory.
    All states should have be so!!!!
    Moving from one state that did have the coverage and to one that does not makes me worry about how am I going to take care of my teeth.

    December 5, 2008 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Amanda Wu

    Brush, floss and see your dentist regularly and you can still have gum disease, as I found out last week. Admittedly, I have not kept up in the last year and a half with the appointments. There were also a few years in there with no insurance and as a single mom, trying to put my kids dental care first. I am grateful to have insurance, but it is not going to pay out much in comparison to oveall costs of surgery and implants. I too had a miserable experience at age 16, which helped to set the stage for bone loss, as I lost two molars, and have never been able to have the spaces filled. Be that as it may, I am counting my blessings that I have an excellent periodontist and have been able to find a way to cover the cost of the surgery, at least. When the economy gets better, I will see what I can do about the implants.

    December 6, 2008 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sonya Armfield

    Great article!!

    Sonya Armfield

    December 8, 2008 at 05:05 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.