The Basics

Caring for Our Teeth

Our teeth are important for chewing our food, speaking clearly, and smiling. Caring for our teeth can be easy and affordable.

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Samita Gumber

Last Updated:

October 17th, 2022

Parts of Our Teeth

Enamel is the hard outer layer of our teeth. Enamel has no nerves The enamel has no living cells or nerves, so you can't feel pain when it's damaged.

Dentin: A hard layer of tubes between enamel and nerves. Material can pass straight through dentin.

Pulp: Soft tissue at the center of our teeth that has nerves and blood vessels.

Gum: A soft, pink layer of tissue that forms a seal around your teeth. Your gums keep teeth in place and block out harmful bacteria.

Basic Dental Care

When we eat snacks and meals, leftover food and a sticky white film called plaque build up over time. Plaque is filled with bacteria that produce acids, especially when they get sugar. This acid can break down enamel and damage your teeth.

Brushing Your Teeth cleans off the leftover food and plaque on the surface.

Flossing cleans the spaces between your teeth, where a toothbrush can't reach.

Brushing and flossing twice a day are equally important.

Brushing Your Teeth: Key Points


Toothbrush & Toothpaste

Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months to protect your teeth from wear.

Use a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens your enamel and removes acid from bacteria.



Option A) Turn the toothbrush to a 45 angle from your teeth. Move the toothbrush back and forth in short, gentle strokes.

Option B) Move the bristles in small circles against your teeth.


Brush Everywhere

Everywhere. This includes the:

Outer surface (what people see)

Chewing surface (that breaks food)

Inner surface (behind your teeth)

Molars (at the far corners of your mouth)

Tongue: brushing your tongue removes bacteria—protecting your mouth and keeping your breath smelling fresh.



Brush twice a day. Two minutes each.

Flossing: Key Points


The Floss

Take out 18 inches (roughly the distance from your shoulder to your hand) from a floss canister.

Twirl each side around your index (pointer) finger until the space between is 1-2 inches (3 fingers wide).

You can also use floss picks. Floss picks don't need fine movement, so they're easier to use.



Slide the floss into a gap between your teeth and gently push toward your gums.

Then, wrap the floss in a C-shape around the base of your tooth.



Gently move the floss from the base of your teeth to the top of your teeth, and back down. Repeat 2-3 times.

Never saw your floss back and forth. It risks snapping the floss or cutting your gums.


Floss Everywhere

Everywhere. This includes tight gaps and between molars at the back.

It's okay to bleed a little during the first few times you floss. But, reach out to a dentist if the problem continues.

Protect Your Teeth with a Healthy Lifestyle

You can protect your teeth with just a few points from your day-to-day life.

Stop Smoking - In the short term, smoking can stain your teeth yellow and cause bad breath. In the long term, smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes puts you at risk for gum disease, tooth loss, and oral (mouth) cancer.

Watch Sugary Foods - When you eat sugary foods and drinks, some sugar gets left on your teeth. Plaque bacteria use that sugar to produce acids that break down your enamel.

Drink Lots of Water - It's hard to brush and floss after every snack and meal. Drinking water is an easy way to wash down leftover food, sugar, and acids during the day.

Sensitive Teeth

Normally, we don't feel pain when we chew because our teeth's outer layer (enamel) has no nerves.

But, when our enamel breaks down or gums pull away, the next layer (dentin) is exposed.

Hot, cold, and acidic foods can pass through the dentin and touch our nerves. It hurts.



Brush Gently- Brushing your teeth too hard or using a toothbrush with stiff bristles can wear down your enamel and gums. This wear exposes the dentin and leaves your nerves vulnerable. Instead, brush gently using a toothbrush with soft bristles.


Professionals - If the problem continues, go see a dentist.


Meanwhile - In the meantime, try to eat fewer cold, hot, and acidic foods if it hurts.


Cavities (also called caries or tooth decay) are a hole in the outer layer (enamel) of our teeth. Cavities happen when acids from bacteria break down enamel.

You might notice a cavity if a tooth hurts, especially when you're chewing. Or, you might see a black stain on your tooth.

Cavities are pretty common. 90% of Americans over 20 years old have had a cavity.


If you have a cavity, go to your dentist immediately. It’s always better to notice and treat a cavity early.

If the cavity just formed, they may help you treat it with just a fluoride mouthwash—no procedures. Most times, your dentist will just fill the cavity with resin, protecting your tooth.

But, if you leave a cavity untreated, it might progress to severe tooth decay and pain. That’s when you may need extensive procedures like crowns, root canals, and extractions.

You can prevent cavities by eating well and cleaning your teeth.

Dentists can apply a transparent covering (sealant) to your teeth to prevent cavities. And, dentists can check for early warning signs of cavities to save you from treatment.

Gum Disease

Gum disease describes when your gums swell and bleed.

The Process

When bacteria infect your gums, they can form a film called plaque.

Over time (72 hours), this film hardens to tartar (sometimes called calculus).

This buildup can lead to sore, swollen, and bleeding gums. Sometimes even tooth loss.

Stages of Gum Disease

Swelling (Gingivitis) - Gingivitis describes when your gums are swollen, or inflamed. A dentist can easily treat gingivitis and stop it from progressing.

Gum Disease (Periodontitis) - If untreated, the gums can pull away, allowing for bone damage and tooth loss. Periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

A dentist should be able to remove bacteria and save your teeth from severe damage.


Kids need to take care of their teeth, just like adults. Since kids are growing and their teeth are forming, we can take extra steps to protect children.

Ages 0-2

As soon as your baby's teeth start to come in, clean their teeth and gums with plain water and a clean cloth. Clean especially after feeding.

Do not put your baby to bed with a bottle. The milk or formula may stay on their teeth and cause decay.

Ages 2-3

When your child turns 2-3 years old, You can start using a toothbrush and toothpaste to clean your child's teeth.

Start with a pea sized amount of toothpaste. Brush their teeth for two minutes. Make sure they spit out the toothpaste—never swallow.

Don't worry if your child wants to chew too much. Their teeth are coming in (teething). Chewing helps ease their pain. Just give your baby something cold and clean to chew on.

Swallowing Toothpaste

Swallowing toothpaste can upset your child's stomach in the short term. This happens because toothpaste has fluoride, which is healthy, but causes problems in excess.

If your child swallows a small amount of toothpaste, try feeding them foods with calcium: like yogurt and milk. The calcium binds to the fluoride in toothpaste, calming their stomach.

But be careful—regularly swallowing tothpaste can lead to long term health problems.

If your child swallows a large amount of toothpaste, call poison control immediately: (800) 222-1222

Age 6: Losing Teeth

When your child turns 6, their baby teeth (also called primary teeth or deciduous teeth) might start to fall out. This is completely normal.

Let their teeth fall out naturally, and let your child wiggle their baby tooth with a clean hand.

Your child may continue to lose teeth until all their baby teeth are replaced. Usually, this ends when your child is around 13 years old.

Affording Dental Care

Dental care is expensive. But, seeing a dentist for regular checkups can save you from severe damage and expensive procedures. In the long run, it's cheaper to prevent teeth problems.

There are a few places where you can get free or discounted dental care.


Safety Net (Emergency)- Some states, like Massachusetts, have a Health Safety Net. They offer free or discounted care for certain emergency procedures, even if you don't have insurance. Find a clinic here:


Dental Schools - Dental students will treat or clean your teeth at a lower cost. Experienced, professional dentists closely supervise these students. Find some here:


Community Health Centers (CHCs) - Some community-run health centers offer free or low-cost dental care. Find a clinic here:


Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) - CHIP is a government program that provides free or low-cost dental care to children up to age 19. They can be citizens or certain immigrants. Learn more here:


ADA's Give Kids a Smile-The American Dental Association (ADA) provides free dental care for kids with no insurance or insurance that doesn't cover what they need. Call 1-844-490-GKAS (4527) to learn more.