Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(6):806-807

See related article common dental infecitons.

What is dental caries?

Dental caries (CARE-eez) is an infection caused by certain bacteria (germs) in your mouth. It destroys the enamel (the hard outer layer) and dentin (the bone-like tissue under the enamel) of your teeth. More common names for dental caries are cavities and tooth decay.

How can I prevent dental caries?

Taking care of your mouth is important. You and your family should visit a dentist each year, starting at one year of age.

You should brush and floss twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride (FLOORide). You can start teaching children to brush with a small amount of low-fluoride toothpaste when they are two years old. After six years of age, children can use regular fluoride toothpaste.

Your dentist may suggest putting fluoride gel on your teeth to make them stronger and prevent decay.

What is pulpitis?

Pulpitis (puhl-PIE-tiss) is when the tooth pulp (the soft tissue inside the tooth that has nerves and blood vessels) gets inflamed (hot, red, and swollen). This happens when tooth decay is not treated.

What is a periodontal (PAIR-ee-oh-DON-tal) infection?

It is an infection of the gums (the soft tissue at the base of the teeth) caused by a buildup of bacteria. If the gums are inflamed for more than six months, it can cause bone loss around the teeth.

How can I avoid gum disease?

You can prevent it by brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash every day.

Where can I find more information?

Your dentist

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Dental Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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