By the time we reach middle age, most of us have had a few root canals, some extractions and fillings. By age 65 less than 10% of us will have all our natural teeth. Years of use can make our teeth weaker and more vulnerable to decay and breakage. “Can we keep our teeth for life?” Maybe not forever but we can still have them in to our 70s and beyond. I have almost all of my teeth and I’m 70. The American Dental Association estimates that over 90% of the population have some type of dental disease that takes on the form of mild tooth decay to complete tooth loss and bone destruction in the jaw.

Your teeth are hard calcified structures that attach to the upper and lower jaw. The primary function of your teeth is chewing food. Your teeth are directly involved in speech, bracing other teeth and making certain sounds. The human tooth consists of an external portion, called the crown and a root that is embedded within the jaw. The outer layer of the crown is composed of calcified tissue known as enamel, which is the hardest substance in the body. Inside the enamel is the dentin, which is a bone like substance extending from the inner surface of the enamel into the jaw to form the root. Covering the dentin of the root is a thin layer of a hard tissue called cementum. The roots are held in place by elastic fibers that make up the periodontal membrane, which extends from the cementum to a thickened layer of bone. The dentin protects the innermost part of the tooth, the pulp. The pulp contains your tooth’s nerve endings. When you’re tooth feels pain it’s your pulp that hurts. The pulp also contains the tooth’s blood vessels that feed the tooth and keep them alive and healthy.

You have different types of permanent teeth in your mouth. Each one has its own function. Your two front teeth and the teeth on either side of them are incisors. There are four on the top and four on bottom. Incisors are shaped like chisels, with flat ends that are sharp. These teeth are used for cutting and chopping food.

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The pointy teeth beside your incisors are called canine teeth. There are four of them, two on top and two on bottom. These teeth also help tear food.

Next to your canine teeth are your premolars. Premolars are also called bicuspid teeth. You have eight premolars in all, four on top and four on the bottom. Premolars are completely different from your incisors and canines. Premolars are bigger, stronger than your incisors and canine teeth. The ridges on these teeth make them perfect for crushing and grinding food.

Your molars are your strongest teeth. You have eight of these, four on the top and four on the bottom. They are wider and stronger than premolars, and have more ridges. Molars work with your tongue to help you swallow food. The tongue sweeps chewed-up food to the back of your mouth, where the molars grind it until it’s mashed up and ready to be swallowed.

The last teeth a person gets are wisdom teeth. These are also called third molars. They are the last teeth in the back of the mouth, one in each corner. Wisdom teeth sometimes cause problems and may have to be removed.

One of the best things we can do for our teeth is to brush them regularly.

Brushing helps to remove plaque and germs that cause the plaque. Doctors recommend a soft brush. All doctors agree brushing should be regular. When you brush, you should brush every tooth as well as the gum line and your tongue. Dr. Debra Irvin, a local Philadelphia dentist, suggests you brush your teeth at least twice a day. The best times are morning and right before bed. The best brushing pattern is after each meal. The damage that can happen to the teeth is directly proportional to how much food is left on your teeth. When you brush in the morning it helps to break up the plaque and the germs that cause plaque that were built up during the night. The next best brushing time is before bed. This will get rid of the germs that cause plaque and plaque that builds up during the day. According to Dr. Thomas McGuire author of “Tooth Fitness” you should never let more than eight hours pass without brushing your teeth.

If brushing is king, flossing is queen comments Dr. Carven. Flossing removes food from between the teeth breaks up plaque and massages the gum. There are many types of dental floss. None of the different types of floss offer any advantage. Just as with brushing you should floss after each meal. If you cannot floss after each meal, floss twice a day when you brush.

There are a few other cleaning tools that can be used to help clean your teeth and prevent tooth decay and gum disease. A disclosing agent is one of those other cleaning tools. It is used to color the plaque on teeth. This will help you see what your brush didn’t brush away. You should brush until all the disclosing agent is brushed away.

When you cannot brush you should rinse and gargle. Rinsing will remove food and plaque from your teeth. Gargling will remove any food that is stuck in the back of the throat that may find it’s way back into the mouth. Rinsing and gargling also removes excess bacteria from your mouth that may cause bad breath.

Even if you brush, floss, rinse and gargle, you will still need to see a dentist on a regular basis. You should pick a dentist before you are forced to see one because of an emergency. Dr. McGuire suggests asking the following questions about your dentist office:

Does your dentist have an active prevention program?

Do you trust him or her and have confidence in their program?

Is he or she concerned about you?

Does the doctor explain things in a way that you can understand?

Can you ask them questions without being offended?

Is the office staff pleasant and courteous?

Have you had any problems with the work your dentist has done for you?

Do you honestly like your doctor or would you rather be going to someone else?

Is the office neat, clean and comfortable?

Does the dentist do a thorough oral examination?

Do they wash their hands and wear clean gloves for each patient?

Other questions you might want to ask your doctor is how does the doctor clean the equipment. They should be following OSHA, CDC, EPA and ADA guidelines for preventing the transmission of all infectious diseases. These guidelines include the heat sterilization and disinfection of all instruments and equipment that come in contact with the hands or with the blood or other body fluids. Both Dr. Craven and Dr. Irvin suggest heat sterilization rather than cold sterilization to clean instruments. The doctor should also be willing let you tour the office.

If a permanent tooth is knocked out intact, there is a good chance it can be replanted if you can get to a dentist within thirty minutes to two hours. The chances of success decrease with time. You should gently pick the tooth up by the crown and rinse the tooth off. Then place the tooth in a cloth moistened with water or milk. If possible you should call your dentist or the hospital emergency room to let them know that you have a dental emergency.

Taking care of your teeth should not be a struggle. Just think about the 13 million Americans who wish they had teeth to take care of.

If you have a fitness question or concern you would like addressed write to: “Tips to be Fit,” P.O. Box 53443, Philadelphia, PA 19105 or tipstobefit@gmail.com. If you’ve missed an article of “Tips to be Fit” just search for “Tips to be Fit.”

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