Updated on March 6, 2024
6 min read

Oral Health Basics for Adults

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Good oral health is vital for all ages. From infancy to old age, caring for our natural teeth and getting replacements when needed is vital for overall well-being.

While children’s dental care focuses on cavities and orthodontic treatment, adults have additional issues to be aware of. For instance, adults are more prone to gum disease, failed fillings, TMJ disorders, and mouth cancer.

These problems can often be treated. However, proper care becomes more complex and expensive as time progresses.

This article will discuss these common oral health issues facing adults. We’ll also share some tips on maintaining healthy teeth and gums throughout your adult life.

8 Ways to Maintain Oral Health as an Adult

With modern dental care and good oral hygiene, you can greatly reduce your risk of the above conditions. Here are some ways you can maintain good oral health throughout your life:

  1. Brush your teeth — Brush twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride or hydroxyapatite. These ingredients are crucial for remineralizing tooth enamel.
  2. Floss daily — Whether using traditional string floss or investing in a Waterpik, it’s best to floss your teeth at least once daily.
  3. Visit your dentist — You should see your dentist at least twice yearly for regular cleanings and checkups. This helps address potential oral health issues before they become serious.
  4. Eat a balanced diet — A diet high in vitamins and minerals and low in ultra-processed foods will benefit your immune system and provide less fuel for harmful oral bacteria.
  5. Stay hydrated — It’s important to maintain adequate water to support saliva flow, especially if you take medications that cause dry mouth. Saliva helps remineralize your teeth, counteracting oral bacteria. 
  6. Avoid tobacco products — Smoking, dipping, and related habits increase your risk of oral cancer. They also contribute to dry mouth.
  7. Limit alcohol — Heavy drinking can also contribute to dry mouth, as well as a host of other health issues.
  8. Take care of your overall health — While the above pertains more directly to your teeth and gums, oral health and overall health are connected. Don’t neglect good sleep, regular exercise, and good overall hygiene.

Common Oral Health Conditions for Adults

Common oral health problems that affect adults include:

1. Untreated Tooth Decay

Tooth decay starts small but can become a serious problem if left untreated. In the early stages, a cavity may appear as a small black or brown dot on the surface of a tooth. But over time, the cavity can grow larger and deeper, penetrating the inner part of the tooth.

If this happens, complications can result. The bacteria causing the decay may infect the sensitive pulp inside the tooth or cause an abscess. This can be extremely painful.

cavity NewMouth

Cavities can be treated with dental fillings before the affected teeth become heavily decayed. But if the decay is more advanced, the tooth may require a root canal or even complete removal (followed by replacement with a denture or implant).

Many adults suffer from untreated tooth decay. According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 adults (ages 20 to 64) has an untreated cavity.1 It’s best to see your dentist before it gets worse.

2. Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease (PD) is a severe form of gum disease that damages the gums, teeth, and jawbone. While mild gum disease (gingivitis) can be reversed, PD becomes more difficult and eventually impossible to fully reverse. It can also contribute to other health problems.

The gums recede (pull back) from the teeth, and the underlying bone and connective tissue are gradually lost. If left untreated, this can result in tooth loss. One study found that 35 percent of adult tooth extractions were due to PD.2

gum disease NewMouth

Periodontal disease is mainly the result of poor oral hygiene, but this can be compounded by:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Certain medications (especially those that cause dry mouth)
  • Age (risk of PD increases with age)
  • Genetic factors
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stress
  • Chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease

You should seek treatment for gum disease as early as possible, especially if you have another medical condition, such as diabetes. Eventually, it becomes impossible for gum grafts and other treatments to restore your gums fully.

3. Breakdown of Dental Fillings

Cavity fillings can last for years, but they eventually need to be replaced. After a long enough period of chewing, drinking, and clenching, fillings wear down and don’t serve their purpose as well. They may fall out entirely.

3d render of cavity filling procedure 1

Fillings that have chipped, cracked, or fallen out may leave gaps in the teeth where bacteria and food particles can enter. The gaps allow the process of decay to begin again, which can lead to tooth loss or contribute to gum disease if left untreated.

Regular dental checkups can help you avoid leaving a broken filling for too long.

4. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs or TMJDs) involve pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. Between 5% and 15% of people may be affected by TMDs.

Many people experience minor jaw pain from time to time, which is generally nothing to worry about. However, some develop long-term symptoms that occur more frequently, which may result in a TMD diagnosis.

TMDs may be caused or worsened by:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Jaw injury
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints
  • Excessive gum chewing

See your doctor if you have frequent jaw pain accompanied by earaches, headaches, pain when opening or closing your mouth, or jaw locking. These symptoms may indicate an underlying TMD.

5. Oral Cancer

Oral cancer appears as growths or sores in the mouth that do not disappear on their own. The disease is life-threatening if it isn’t diagnosed or treated early.

Oral cancers include cancers of the cheeks, lips, tongue, gums, the mouth’s floor, hard palate, soft palate, sinuses, and throat.

It typically remains undiagnosed until the cancer cells spread to another part of the body, such as the lymph nodes of the neck. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are common treatment options, depending on the stage of cancer.

Oral cancer in adults may be caused or affected by:

  • Tobacco use
  • Genetic factors
  • Long-term excessive alcohol use
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Sun exposure (in the case of lip cancer)
  • Age
  • Long-term poor oral health

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), oral cancer is responsible for about 3% of cancer diagnoses yearly. Let your doctor know as soon as possible if you notice an unusual growth in or near your mouth.


Oral health is vital for well-being at every stage of life. The need to see a dentist doesn’t end once we have all of our permanent teeth.

While adults and children are both at risk of untreated tooth decay, some oral health concerns are more common for adults. These include gum disease, filling breakdown, jaw (TMJ) disorders, and oral cancer.

Proactive oral hygiene and regular dentist visits can help prevent these issues or get them early treatment to minimize complications.

Last updated on March 6, 2024
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on March 6, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Adults (Age 20 to 64).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 2022.
  2. Passarelli, Pier Carmine, et al. “Reasons for Tooth Extractions and Related Risk Factors in Adult Patients: A Cohort Study.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020.
  3. Li, Dion Tik Shun, and Yiu Yan Leung. “Temporomandibular Disorders: Current Concepts and Controversies in Diagnosis and Management.” Diagnostics, 2021.
  4. Cappelli, David P., and Connie C. Mobley. Prevention in Clinical Oral Health Care. Elsevier, 2007.
  5. Conquest, Jennifer Hanthorn, et al. “Oral Health Profiling for Young and Older Adults: A Descriptive Study.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2021.
  6. Tooth Loss in Adults (Age 20 to 64).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 2022.
  7. Nazir, Muhammad Ashraf. “Prevalence of Periodontal Disease, Its Association with Systemic Diseases and Prevention.” International Journal of Health Sciences, 2017.
  8. Syrbu, John. The Complete Pre-Dental Guide to Modern Dentistry. 2013.
  9. Herbert, Cornelia. “Oral health and mental health in healthy adults, a topic of primary prevention and health care, empirical results from two online studies.” Current Psychology, 2023.
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