When you get your picture taken, everyone says, "Say cheese! Smile!" So you do — you open your mouth and show your teeth. When you see the picture, you see a happy person looking back at you. The healthier those teeth are, the happier you look. Why is that?
It's because your teeth are important in many ways. If you take care of them, they'll help take care of you. Strong, healthy teeth help you chew the right foods to help you grow. They help you speak clearly. And yes, they help you look your best.
How does taking care of your teeth help with all those things? Taking care of your teeth helps prevent plaque (say: PLAK), which is a clear film of bacteria (say: bak-TEER-ee-uh) that sticks to your teeth.
After you eat, bacteria go crazy over the sugar on your teeth, like ants at a picnic. The bacteria break it down into acids that eat away tooth enamel, causing holes called cavities. Plaque also causes gingivitis (say: jin-juh-VY-tis), which is gum disease that can make your gums red, swollen, and sore. Your gums are those soft pink tissues in your mouth that hold your teeth in place.
If you don't take care of your teeth, cavities and unhealthy gums will make your mouth very, very sore. Eating meals will be difficult. And you won't feel like smiling so much.
We're lucky that we know so much now about taking care of our teeth. Long ago, as people got older, their teeth would rot away and be very painful. To get rid of a toothache, they had their teeth pulled out. Finally, people learned that cleaning their teeth was important, but they didn't have toothpaste right away.
While you're swishing that minty-fresh paste around your mouth, think about what people used long ago to clean teeth:
It was only about 100 years ago that someone finally created a minty cream to clean teeth. Not long after that, the toothpaste tube was invented, so people could squeeze the paste right onto the toothbrush! Tooth brushing became popular during World War II. The U.S. Army gave brushes and toothpaste to all soldiers, and they learned to brush twice a day. Back then, toothpaste tubes were made of metal; today they're made of soft plastic and are much easier to squeeze!
Today there are plenty of toothpaste choices: lots of colors and flavors to choose from, and some are made just for kids. People with great-looking teeth advertise toothpaste on TV commercials and in magazines. When you're choosing a toothpaste, make sure it contains fluoride. Fluoride makes your teeth strong and protects them from cavities.
When you brush, you don't need a lot of toothpaste: just squeeze out a bit the size of a pea. It's not a good idea to swallow the toothpaste, either, so be sure to spit after brushing.
Kids can take charge of their teeth by taking these steps:
It's also important to visit the dentist twice a year. Besides checking for signs of cavities or gum disease, the dentist will help keep your teeth extra clean and can help you learn the best way to brush and floss.
It's not just brushing and flossing that keep your teeth healthy — you also need to be careful about what you eat and drink. Remember, the plaque on your teeth is just waiting for that sugar to arrive. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and drink water instead of soda. And don't forget to smile!
Reviewed by: Kenneth H. Hirsch, DDS
Date reviewed: October 2012
|American Dental Association (ADA) The ADA provides information for dental patients and consumers.|
|MouthPower This site was created by the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland. Through games and other activities, kids can learn how to take care of their teeth and mouth.|
|Healthy Teeth Produced by dentists, Healthy Teeth is designed for elementary-age students curious about oral health.|
|How Does Fluoride Work? Fluoride fights cavities. Find out how in this article for kids.|
|Taking the Bite Out of Bruxism Bruxism is another word for grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. It usually happens without you knowing you're doing it, but it can be noisy at night. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Going to the Orthodontist An orthodontist prevents and treats mouth, teeth, and jaw problems using braces, retainers, and other devices.|
|What's a Cavity? Cavities are small holes in your teeth that need to be filled. Find out what causes tooth decay and how dentists handle it.|
|Bad Breath How does your breath smell? Find out how to keep it smelling sweet in this article for kids.|
|Going to the Dentist What happens when you go to the dentist? Find out in this article for kids.|
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