Dental Hygiene: How to Keep Your Teeth

Dentists extract millions of teeth every year that could have been saved, if their owners had only practiced better dental hygiene.

| March/April 1983

  • dental hygiene - illustration of discolored tooth and healthy tooth
    Proper dental hygiene will keep your teeth in your mouth where they belong, looking more like the healthy fellow on the right than the dingy specimen on the left.
    Illustration by Fotolia/mmmg
  • Dr. Tom Ferguson
    Dr. Tom Ferguson is the regular author of the Medical Self Care column.
    Richard Allen

  • dental hygiene - illustration of discolored tooth and healthy tooth
  • Dr. Tom Ferguson

A staggering proportion of Americans lose their teeth. Every year, in fact, dentists extract over 60 million precious ivory "choppers" from mouths all across the country. And at last count, one in every eight Americans was completely toothless!

Worse yet, the problem remains widespread despite decades of holding educational dental hygiene programs in U.S. schools. In fact, many people still know little or nothing about why tooth loss occurs. And in a lot of cases, what they do know is heavily shrouded in myth.

Myth 1: Only old people lose their teeth.

It is true that nine out of ten Americans over 60 no longer have any teeth, but this fact doesn't mean that such loss is an unavoidable aspect of aging or that younger people are immune to the problem! Statistically speaking, by the time you turn 35, there's a 30% chance that all of your pearly whites will have been removed!

Myth 2: Tooth decay is the major cause of tooth loss.

Wrong. The average American loses "only" six to ten teeth to cavities. The rest are destroyed by gum disease, which causes 90% of all tooth loss after age 40.

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