1. Home
  2. How To Take Care of Your Oral Health
  3. Oral Health for Adults

Oral Health for Adults

“Oral health” is the health of your mouth, including your teeth, gums, throat, and the bones around the mouth.

The importance of oral health

Oral health is an important part of your overall health. Maintaining good oral health affects your well-being and quality of life in many ways.

  • A healthy mouth helps you enjoy your food, chew better, eat healthy foods, maintain fresh breath, and avoid pain and tooth loss.
  • It can affect your physical and mental health and your financial and social life.
  • Oral conditions can be painful and annoying, and can lead to other problems.
  • Most oral health problems are preventable and easily treated if they are found early. If not found early, oral health problems can be expensive to treat, and treatments can be more complicated and invasive.
  • Many studies have found a link between poor oral health and health conditions in other parts of the body.
    • These conditions include diabetes, heart disease, pulmonary (lung) issues, certain cancers, pre-term birth, and even Alzheimer’s disease.1
    • Many studies have also found that gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) is associated with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy-related problems, and dementia. The exact connection between these conditions and gum disease isn’t understood yet.1

Nearly 18% of working-age adults report that the appearance of their mouth and teeth has affected their ability to interview for a job.2

The importance of brushing

Brushing removes dental plaque: a sticky, colorless film of bacteria on the surface of your teeth. If plaque remains, it can harden below the gumline and irritate your gums.

The importance of flossing

Flossing removes dental plaque between teeth where a toothbrush cannot reach. If dental plaque remains, it can build up and cause tooth decay and gum disease.

What if it’s hard to floss?

You can use several other flossing tools if you need to:

What is the best way to floss?

  1. Use a string of floss about one foot long. Wrap that piece around the middle finger of each hand.

  2. Grip the floss between your thumb and index finger on each hand.

  3. Ease the floss gently between your teeth until it reaches your gumline. Don’t “snap” or force the floss into place—that could harm your gums.

  4. Curve the floss like the letter “C” around each tooth, keeping it in contact with the side of the tooth. Slide the floss up and down under your gum.

  5. Do this for both sides of every tooth, one side at a time. Adjust the floss as you move from tooth to tooth so that the floss is clean for each one.

  6. Floss all your teeth, including the backs of the last teeth on each side.

Be sure to floss regularly!

The importance of regular visits to the dentist

You should have regular dental appointments and check-ups.

Professional cleanings:

  • Are as important as brushing and flossing at home.
  • Can help you avoid treatment that costs more.

A dentist or dental hygienist can:

  • Identify any problems early, when needed, before they cause unnecessary pain or infection.
  • Review your medical history and suggest an oral-care routine that may make it easier for you.
  • Recommend a special toothpaste or mouthwash to help prevent tooth decay and to fight germs that cause gum disease. Follow the dentist’s instructions on how to use these items.

Oral cancer

  • Oral cancer includes cancers of the mouth and pharynx (the back of the throat). Oral cancer accounts for about 3% of all new cancers diagnosed every year in the United States.3
  • Doctors/dentists diagnose approximately 54,000 people with oral cancer each year, and about 11,230 people die from the disease.4
  • It’s important to identify oral cancer as early as possible. Then doctors can treat it more successfully.

For more information about oral cancer, talk to your dentist or visit:

1. Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges (PDF - 34 MB). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, December 2021.

2. Disparities in Oral Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 5, 2021.

3. Ellington, Taylor D et al. “Trends in Incidence of Cancers of the Oral Cavity and Pharynx — United States 2007–2016.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report vol. 69,15 (2020): 433-438.

4. Key Statistics for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers. American Cancer Society, January 2022.

5. HPV and Cancer. National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 2022.

6. Head and Neck Cancers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, July 2022.

Date Last Reviewed: