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Dental Health Resource Center

Research shows there may be links between periodontal disease and some serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes and respiratory infection.1 Diseases such as diabetes can sometimes be detected through a dental exam. That's why it's important to have dental exams regularly.

Learn more about your dental health using the links below.

1 Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health.


Dental Exams

Dental Health and Other Conditions

Tips for brushing and flossing correctly

One of the best ways to keep your mouth and teeth healthy is by brushing and flossing well. It can help you avoid tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease.

Brushing tips
Brushing your teeth helps remove plaque – a film on your teeth that can cause cavities.
  • Each tooth has five surfaces: the top and four sides – all sides need to be cleaned well.
  • Take your time. It's best to brush for at least two minutes, but many people only brush for 30 seconds or less. If you don't spend enough time brushing, try an electric toothbrush that has a built in timer.
  • Use a brush with soft bristles. Tilt the brush about 45 degrees and make circular strokes while you brush.
  • Brush the inner and outer parts of your teeth, including the spots close to your gums.
  • Use the front tip of the brush for the inner parts of your teeth that are hard to reach.
  • Don't push too hard when you brush. Teeth are covered by a thin layer of enamel. If you brush too hard, the enamel wears down.
  • Brushing after meals is good. Brushing before bedtime is a must.
  • Don't share your toothbrush. It can spread germs.
Flossing tips
Brushing alone isn't enough to remove plaque from your teeth. Flossing cleans the areas between your teeth and the sides of your teeth where a toothbrush can't reach. The spaces between your teeth and below the gum line are two usual spots for plaque to build up. If plaque isn't removed, you're more likely to get cavities.
  • Use about 18 inches of floss. Wind most of it around your index fingers on both hands.
  • Guide about one inch of floss between the teeth using your thumbs and index fingers.
  • old the floss tightly against the teeth and use a gentle up and down motion to clean the space between the teeth. Gums can be bruised if the floss is "snapped" into place.
  • At the gum line, curve floss into a C-shape against the sides of both teeth. Then move it up and down.
  • Be gentle when flossing close to the gums. Flossing can hurt your gums if done with too much force.
  • Gums may bleed and be sore for the first few days. The bleeding should stop once all the germs are removed.
  • Floss between all teeth plus the backs of the last teeth.
  • Parents should watch their kids floss until they're old enough to do it on their own. Many kids can't floss the right way until age 10.
American Dental Association: ada.org

Tooth Decay Can Be Prevented

When sugar and starches are left on the teeth for 20 minutes or more, they fuel bacteria that can attack teeth. Cleaning teeth well and choosing healthy foods can prevent tooth decay, gum disease and possible tooth loss. There are things you can do to lower the risk of dental disease.

Tips for Healthy Teeth
  • Help children make good food choices and to eat regular, healthy and balanced meals.
  • Encourage children to have a healthy dinner or snack before they go to a holiday or birthday party.
  • Choose sugary foods less often. When you do eat sweets, try to do so during meals. More saliva is made during meals. This helps neutralize the acid produced by bacteria and rinse pieces of food from the mouth. The American Dental Association (ADA) has suggested that stickier things like raisins and gummy bears are more likely to be retained on teeth and less likely to be washed out from all surfaces on the teeth by saliva.
  • Drink tap water instead of sugary drinks. Water does a good job of rinsing the teeth, diluting the acids, and when fluoridated, can in fact aid the growth and development of stronger teeth. Bottled water often does not contain enough fluoride.
  • Limit drinks that contain sugar, such as soda, juice or sports drinks that are high in sugar.
  • Choose healthy snacks, such as fresh fruits and raw vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, meat and nuts.
  • Chewing sugarless gum increases the amount of saliva in your mouth.
Parents and caregivers should be sure that children's teeth are brushed twice per day, particularly before bedtime. ADA approved dental products are suggested.
  • Limit hard candies, which are high in sugar and stay in the mouth for a long time. They can also chip or crack teeth or cause children to choke.
  • Floss daily or use some other kind of dental cleaner to remove plaque from in between teeth.
  • Visit the dentist for regular exams. The number of dental visits should be based upon your personal needs and discussed with your dentist.
  • Have a daily dental health care routine, including brushing, flossing, and eating healthy food.
Parents and caregivers can help reduce the ghoulish effects that Halloween, holiday and birthday treats can have on children's teeth, while still letting them to enjoy the spirit of the event! Remember, tooth decay can be avoided by eating healthy foods and brushing and flossing each day. Encouraging good dental health habits is important because dental health impacts overall health.


Facts about fluoride

Fluoride is a naturally occurring element in the environment. In the U.S., the most common sources are fluoridated drinking water and fluoride toothpaste.

The success of water fluoridation in preventing and controlling tooth decay led to the development of products that contain fluoride, such as toothpaste, mouth rinse, dietary supplements, and professionally applied or prescribed gel, foam or varnish. Also, processed beverages and foods, which make up a growing part of the diets of many U.S. residents, can contain small amounts of fluoride, especially if they are processed with fluoridated water.

Here are answers to commonly asked questions about fluoride:

Q: How does fluoride work?
Fluoride works in three ways:
  1. It inhibits the loss of healthy minerals found in tooth enamel.
  2. It can also repair minor tooth decay by re-mineralizing parts of the tooth enamel that plaque has attacked.
  3. Fluoride lowers the ability of oral bacteria to make acid.

Q: Is fluoride just for kids?
No, both adults and children can benefit from fluoride. In fact, even older adults benefit from fluoride because of the added risks for tooth decay due to gum recession and medicines that reduce their saliva and cause dry mouth.

Q: What amount of fluoride is needed to reduce tooth decay?
Most people are at low risk of tooth decay because they drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste.

Q: Is all public drinking water fluoridated?
No, not all public water supplies have enough fluoride. To learn how much fluoride is in your tap water, talk with the water supplier, public health office or a dentist in your area. Private well water needs to be tested for fluoride. For bottled water, check with the bottler. Most bottled water does not contain enough fluoride.

Q: Does fluoride toothpaste help reduce tooth decay?
Fluoride is the only non-prescription toothpaste additive proven to prevent tooth decay. More than 90% of the toothpaste sold in the U.S. includes fluoride.

Q: What about using fluoride toothpaste on children
Parents and caregivers of children should follow the instructions on the label of fluoride toothpaste with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. Parents and caregivers should check with a dentist or other health care provider before using fluoride toothpaste for a child under the age of two. For children under the age of six who use fluoride toothpaste, place no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush, brush the child's teeth (recommended above all for pre-school aged children) or supervise the tooth brushing, and encourage the child to spit extra toothpaste into the sink to reduce the amount swallowed. Using too much toothpaste can result in accidentally swallowing more fluoride than is advised.

Q: Who needs fluoride treatment from a dentist?
Children and adults who are at high risk for tooth decay might benefit. People with low risk for tooth decay, especially those who drink fluoridated water and brush daily with fluoride toothpaste, probably do not need fluoride treatment from their dentist.

Risk factors
People who may be at increased risk for tooth decay include those who:
  • Have active tooth decay
  • Have a high level of infection with decay-causing bacteria
  • Wear braces or other tooth appliances, space maintainers or dental prostheses
  • Have older brothers and sisters or caregivers with a history of a high amount of tooth decay
  • Have gum recession to the point the tooth roots are exposed
  • Are not physically or mentally able to care for their teeth
  • Have malformed tooth enamel or dentin
  • Make less saliva due to medicine, radiation treatment or illness

Risk can increase if any of these things are combined with dieting habits that can promote tooth decay (such as eating sugary foods and drinks and other refined carbs often).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov

Prevent Cavities with Dental Sealants

What are dental sealants?
A sealant is a plastic film-like material that is put on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. The plastic material bonds to the pits and fissures of the teeth and acts as a barrier to protect the teeth from decay causing bacteria.

Who can benefit from sealants?
Sealants are most often recommended for children who have newly erupted permanent teeth. First and second permanent molars erupt into the mouth around ages 6 and 12 years. Having sealants put on these teeth shortly after they erupt protects them from getting cavities in areas that are hard to clean. Adults who have pits and grooves in the biting surfaces of back teeth may also benefit from sealants. Also, people who get frequent dry mouth may benefit from the extra protection of sealants since they don't have as much saliva to protect their teeth, making it easier for them to get cavities.

How are sealants put on teeth?
A dentist or hygienist must put on sealants, but the treatment is simple and quick with very little, if any, discomfort. First, the teeth to get the sealants will be cleaned and completely rinsed. An acid solution or gel will then be put on the tooth to help the sealant bond with the tooth. The sealant material will then be painted onto the teeth, much like nail polish on a fingernail, and allowed to dry and form a bond on the chewing surface of the tooth. Your dentist may use a special curing light to help the sealant material harden. It will take a dental professional only a few minutes to seal each tooth. Sealants can last from five to ten years.

How well do sealants work?
Because sealants act as a barrier to decay causing bacteria, sealants are nearly 100% effective in protecting teeth from cavities in pits and fissures if put on the right way. Studies have shown that children's molars without sealants are 22 times more likely to get cavities than those with sealants.

Dental sealants are also cost effective. Having sealants put on cost less than having a cavity filled. Prevention is the key to keeping your mouth and teeth healthy. Be sure to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, clean between your teeth daily with floss, eat healthy foods, and visit your dentist regularly. Ask your dentist if you or your children would benefit from the added protection of dental sealants.

American Dental Association: www.ada.org
Academy of General Dentistry: www.agd.org
Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/nohss

Early Childhood Tooth Decay

By spending a few minutes each day to care for your baby's teeth, you can help ensure a healthy start for your baby's teeth and smile.

How serious is early childhood tooth decay?
  • Babies and young children who nap or sleep at night with a bottle containing anything but plain water are at risk of early childhood tooth decay.
  • Even liquids that are good for the baby, such as milk, formula and fruit juices, all contain natural sugars that can promote decay.
  • Early childhood tooth decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may be affected as well.
  • Toothaches caused by decay can affect the child's eating and chewing.
  • By the time a parent notices the decay, it may be too late to save the teeth.
  • Baby teeth are important placeholders in the jaw for the adult teeth.
  • If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth next to it may drift into the empty space and adult teeth may come in crooked or crowded.
  • Remember that giving a child a bottle of sweetened liquid many times a day, and especially at naptime or nighttime, can harm your child's teeth.

How can you prevent early childhood tooth decay?
  • Starting at birth, clean your baby's gums with a soft cloth or gauze pad after each feeding.
  • Start brushing your baby's teeth with a small soft toothbrush as soon as the first tooth erupts, usually around six months. Continue cleaning gums in the toothless areas.
  • Resist the temptation to let a child to fall asleep with a bottle containing a sweet liquid. Pass this advice along to grandparents and other caregivers.
  • If the child needs comforting between regular feedings, at night or naptime, fill a bottle with cool water or give the child a clean pacifier. Never give your child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet.
  • Encourage your child to drink from a cup by their first birthday. Start regular dental visits when the child's first tooth erupts, or not later than the child's first birthday. If you think there might be a dental problem, see a dentist right away.

Decay-fighting fluoride in the water supply is important for teeth throughout one's lifetime. If your local water supply does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist if your child should be given a dietary fluoride supplement.
Baby your baby's teeth. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew and speak, and for a nice smile. Protecting your child's baby teeth can also help make sure they have a good-looking adult smile.

American Dental Association: www.ada.org
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry: www.aapd.org

The Best Medicine for a Sick Toothbrush Is a New One

Your toothbrush comes in contact with millions of germs in your mouth and can transfer cold and flu viruses if it comes in contact with other toothbrushes or if you share your toothbrush with others.
Proper care of your toothbrush means:
  • Replace your toothbrush when the bristles are bent or look worn (every three to four months).
  • Don't share your toothbrush, mouthwash or disinfecting solutions with other people.
  • Rinse and air-dry your toothbrush after each use. Store upright and away from other toothbrushes.
  • Don't use a multi-toothbrush holder.
  • Don't clean your toothbrush in the microwave or dishwasher – this can damage the toothbrush preventing it from cleaning the teeth completely.
  • Don't touch the toothpaste tube to your toothbrush.

By following these simple precautions, you can help prevent the spread of cold or flu viruses.

Your child's first visit to the dentist

Regular dental exams are an important way to keep your child healthy. Early exams and preventive care will help protect your child's smile now – and the in the future.

The first visit should happen at a young age
Experts suggest that a child's first dental exam should be soon after the first tooth comes in. That usually happens between six and 12 months of age. To help make the exam go smoothly, try to plan it for a time when your child is most often well rested and relaxed. You can even bring along a favorite toy or blanket.

It's important to start taking your child to the dentist at a young age because dental problems can start early in life. Your dentist will tell you how often to have follow-up visits for your child. It depends on the child's needs. Kids who have a higher risk of tooth decay, unusual growth patterns or poor dental hygiene may need to go to the dentist more often.

What the dentist looks for
At your child's first visit, the dentist will:
  • Check for signs of tooth decay
  • Check your child's dental growth and development
  • Teach you how to clean your child's teeth the right way
  • See if your child needs fluoride
  • Look for the results of harmful habits such as thumb sucking

The dentist also looks for something called early childhood tooth decay. It's also known as baby bottle tooth decay. This type of tooth decay can occur in babies and young children who sleep with a bottle that has anything but plain water. Even liquids that are good for the child – like milk, formula and fruit juice – contain natural sugars that can cause tooth decay.

There are some things you can do to help prevent this. Starting at birth, clean your baby's gums with a soft cloth or gauze pad after each feeding. And encourage your child to drink from a cup as they come close to their first birthday.

The benefits of early dental care
Kids with healthy teeth chew food easily, learn to speak clearly and smile confidently. When children start going to the dentist at a young age, they're less worried during normal exams as they get older. Routine exams during childhood can help make sure of good dental health later in life.

Help keep your child's smile beautiful. Start your child now on a lifetime of good dental habits.

American Dental Association: www.ada.org
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry: www.aapd.org

Diabetes and Dental Health: Take Extra Care of Your Mouth

If you have diabetes you should know that you are at increased risk for oral infections and gum disease. Many people who have diabetes do not know they have it. A routine dental exam might show the presence of diabetes because the mouth can offer clear-cut signals that the disease is there. Finding out early is important because, when left untreated, diabetes can also make it easier to get other mouth problems, including fungal infections, poor healing and dry mouth. You can do a lot to prevent or slow down diabetes problems. Good dental hygiene at home and preventive dental health care is important to slow the progression of periodontal disease and other dental health problems. Regular professional cleanings and dental exams are a must. And let your dentist know if you have diabetes.

Common Problems
  • Periodontal (gum) disease and delayed healing
  • Tooth decay
  • Diminished salivary flow and feeling of burning mouth or tongue
  • Dry mouth may also increase tooth decay
  • Fungal infections such as thrush make painful white (or sometimes red) patches in the mouth or on the tongue that may become sore or ulcerated
  • Impaired taste
  • Those with poorly controlled blood sugar (glucose) may lose more teeth due to periodontal disease than those who have good control of their diabetes
  • Periodontal disease may make it harder to control your blood sugar levels

Common Signs
See your dentist right away if you notice:
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Pus between the teeth and gums when gums are pressed
  • Bad breath or bad taste in mouth that does not go away
  • Permanent teeth that are loose
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures

What to Expect at the Dental Office
  • To prevent problems with bacterial infections in the mouth, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics, medicated mouth rinses and more frequent cleanings.
  • It is advised that you make morning appointments with your dentist because blood sugar levels tend to be under better control at these times.

Take Extra Care at Home
  • Start by controlling your blood sugar levels to help keep teeth and gums strong.
  • Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss every day.
  • Look for early signs of dental disease.
  • Get regular exams and professional cleanings.

American Dental Association: www.ada.org
American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org
Academy of General Dentistry: www.agd.org
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov

Dental Treatment While You are Pregnant

Prevention is priceless
Good dental health care is important while you are pregnant. You should continue with your regular dental cleanings and exams to avoid dental infections that can harm your baby. Dentists suggest that if major dental services are not urgent, that you wait to have them until after your child is born. The first trimester, the stage of pregnancy in which most of the baby's organs are formed, is the most important to a baby's development. That is why it is best to have any needed services performed during the second trimester to lower the risk of problems.

Services to avoid while pregnant
There are some services that you should have performed after the birth of your child, if possible, to avoid potential risks while you are pregnant. These services include:
  • Teeth whitening and other cosmetic services
  • X-rays
  • Other services where you need to sit for a long time

The bottom line
The healthier you are, the healthier your baby will be. If you stick to your daily dental routine at home and visit your dentist for regular exams, you will clearly have something to smile about!

Academy of General Dentistry: www.agd.org
American Academy of Periodontology: www.perio.org
American Dental Association: www.ada.org
Journal of Periodontology Online: www.joponline.org/loi/jop
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research/National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse: www.nidcr.nih.gov
Parenting Weekly: www.parentingweekly.com/pregnancy/pregnancy_health_fitness/dental_care.htm
Pregnancy-Info.net. Dental Care During Pregnancy. www.pregnancy-info.net/dental_care.html