U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Take Care of Your Teeth and Gums

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

It’s important to take care of your teeth and gums. You can prevent most problems with teeth and gums by taking these steps:

  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day with fluoride (“FLOOR-ide”) toothpaste.
  • Floss between your teeth every day.
  • Visit a dentist regularly for checkups and cleaning.
  • Cut down on sugary foods and drinks.
  • Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
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The Basics: Why It's Important

Why do I need to take care of my teeth and gums?
Healthy habits, including brushing and flossing, can prevent tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease. Tooth decay and gum disease can lead to pain and tooth loss.

What causes tooth decay and gum disease?
Plaque (“plak”) is a sticky substance that forms on your teeth. When plaque stays on your teeth too long, it can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Brushing and flossing help get plaque off your teeth so your mouth can stay healthy.

Taking care of your teeth and gums is especially important if you:

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Take Action!

Take Action: Brushing Tips

Follow these tips for a healthy, beautiful smile.

Brush your teeth.
Brush your teeth 2 times every day. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and toothpaste with fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that helps protect teeth from decay.

  • Brush in circles and use short, back-and-forth strokes.
  • Take time to brush gently along the gum line.
  • Brush your teeth for about 2 minutes each time.
  • Don’t forget to brush your tongue.
  • Get a new toothbrush every 3 to 4 months. Replace your toothbrush sooner if it’s wearing out.
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Take Action: Flossing Tips

Floss every day.
Floss every day to remove plaque and any food between teeth that your toothbrush missed. Rinse your mouth with water after you floss.

If you aren’t sure how to floss, ask the dentist or dental assistant to show you at your next visit.

Proper way to hold floss
Flossing between upper teeth
Flossing between lower teeth


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Take Action: Dental Checkups

Get regular checkups at the dentist.
Visit a dentist once or twice a year for a checkup and cleaning. Get checkups even if you have no natural teeth and have dentures.

Check out these questions to ask when going to the dentist.

If you have problems with your teeth or mouth, see a dentist right away.

What if I don't like going to the dentist?
Some people get nervous about going to the dentist. Try these tips to help make your visit to the dentist easier:

  • Let your dentist know you are feeling nervous.
  • Choose an appointment time when you won’t feel rushed.
  • Take headphones and a music player to your next visit.

What if I don't have insurance?
Even if you don’t have dental insurance, you can get dental care.

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Take Action: Healthy Habits

Cut down on sugary foods and drinks.
Choose low-sugar snacks like vegetables, fruits, and low-fat or fat-free cheese. Drink fewer sugary sodas and other drinks that can lead to tooth decay. Get ideas for eating healthy.

Quit smoking.
People who use tobacco in any form (cigarettes, cigars, pipe, smokeless tobacco) are at higher risk for gum disease and oral (mouth) cancer. Check out these tips to help you quit smoking.

Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Drinking a lot of alcohol can increase your risk for oral cancer. If you choose to drink, have only a moderate amount. This means no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 drinks a day for men.

Take care of your children's teeth.
If you have kids, help them learn good habits for a healthy mouth. Start cleaning your child’s teeth as soon as they come in. Learn how to take care of your child’s teeth.

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