Great oral hygiene can mean something different to everyone – maybe it means sparkling white teeth, having that squeaky-clean feeling, or fresh breath all day long. Whatever great oral hygiene means to you, oral hygiene from a practical perspective is always the same – brushing and flossing daily. When an effective oral health regimen is paired with routine dental exams, you’ve set yourself up for a lifetime of healthy smiles.
However, oral hygiene is about more than just a sparking and radiant smile – it’s about having healthy teeth, gums, and a healthy mouth overall. Most common oral health complications, like tooth decay, are easily preventable with proper oral hygiene and routine dental exams. Other oral health complications, like gum disease, are also preventable, and can result in tooth loss and infections which can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Oral health is a determinant of overall health in many regards, and complications and diseases in other parts of the body often manifest into oral health symptoms. The opposite is also true, meaning that poor oral health can result in complications in the rest of the body. This is why having great oral health is so important to overall health and quality of life.
Maintaining Oral Health
Routine visits to your dentist at least twice per year are central to any smart oral health regimen – these appointments give your dentist the opportunity to spot small oral health complications early on, before they turn into more severe complications. Your dentist will clean your teeth, examine them for any complications, and may take x-rays to view the underlying structure of your teeth and jaw. Your dentist may also take this time to give oral health advice, such as going over proper brushing technique.
Overall, a smart oral health regimen should contain these items:
Proper Brushing and Flossing Technique Brushing twice daily and flossing at least once daily are imperative to maintaining long-term oral health. This removes harmful plaque from your teeth and gums, which transform sugars into enamel-eroding acids. Be sure to brush and floss regularly to avoid tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.
The Right Amount of Fluoride Fluoride aids in oral health maintenance by protecting enamel, and is also vital for developing teeth. Be sure to use a toothpaste that contains enamel, and if your dentist believes that your teeth need to be receiving more enamel, they can provide you with these specialty toothpastes.
Careful Snacking Snacks that are packed with sugar can wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy smile – avoid these snacks to avoid tooth decay, plaque formation, cavities, and gum disease. Between meals, give your mouth a break from snacking to keep bacteria-forming acids off of your teeth, and limit sugary snacks overall. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t enjoy snacking – simply opt for more nutritious snacks that contain little to no sugar.
The Right Mouthwash — While many believe the purpose of mouthwash is to give you fresh breath, the right mouthwash can help protect your teeth from harmful bacteria and decay. Not all mouthwashes are made the same – some whiten, some strengthen enamel, some contain higher amounts of fluoride (usually ones given to you by your dentist) and some do all of the above. However, mouthwash generally serves the purpose of killing harmful bacteria in the mouth and therefore fighting cavities and infection. If you have sensitive teeth or other special circumstances, communicate this with your dentist and they’ll recommend the best mouthwash for you.
No Tobacco Products Regardless of the type of tobacco products you may consume, there are mountains of research confirming the harmful effects of tobacco products on oral health as well as overall health. These products can cause tooth decay, lung disease, heart disease, and tooth loss. If you use tobacco products of any form, be sure to quit to maintain optimal oral health, as well as maintain overall health.
Routine Dental Exams and Cleanings Dental exams and hygiene appointments are the bedrock of a healthy and bright smile. Be sure to get in and see your dentist every six months, so they can examine your teeth for small oral health concerns before they become anything more severe. Also, your dentist may request x-rays, which help them examine your underlying tooth structure and spot any complications.
The central goal of dental hygiene is to protect and maintain the health of your teeth and gums for life. If you create and stick to a smart oral health regimen, you better the chances of living a lifetime of healthy and bright smiles!
The cornerstone of any smart oral health regimen is brushing, more particularly brushing correctly. While you may have learned one way to brush since childhood and have been brushing this way since then, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to brushing technique. Follow these smart tips to brush more effectively, and rid your teeth and mouth of harmful bacteria:
Why is brushing so important? The process of brushing your teeth removes harmful plaque from your teeth – plaque clings to your teeth and is laden with bacteria. Plaque can wreak havoc on tooth enamel and aids in the formation of cavities, bad breath, gum disease, and many other minor and major oral health complications. In fact, the vast majority of oral health concerns are caused simply by the formation and build up of plaque. Not only does brushing feel great and leave you with that fresh, healthy feeling, but it leaves your mouth healthy! There is no single correct way to brush, but there are several techniques you can follow to brush as effectively as possible –
Effective Brushing Technique
- Use a brush with soft bristles and a small brush head and hold it gently. Use a small drop of toothpaste containing fluoride (about the size of a pea).
- Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle and brush in soft strokes near the gum line.
- Brush carefully and gently over your teeth and gums in gentle movements. The same goes for electric brushed.
- Divide your teeth into 6 sections – upper right, upper left, lower right, lower left, top front teeth, and bottom front teeth. Slowly move between these sections to ensure a full and complete clean.
- Tilt the brush upwards towards the gum line for all of these surfaces. To clean your chewing surfaces, move onto your molars and softly brush the top and sides of these teeth.
- To finish, gently brush your tongue to strip away bacteria and ensure fresh breath.
Take A Look At Your Teeth
Examine your teeth in the mirror to spot any bits of food left between your teeth or plaque accumulation. Run your finger or tongue over your teeth and feel for overall cleanliness and smoothness. Also, your dentist can let you know where to find special solutions that you place on your teeth that highlights areas of plaque formation. Use this solution to get an accurate picture of how well you’re brushing!
One of the most common issues amongst patients is simply that they don’t spend enough time brushing – you should always brush for at least two minutes, and a good way to ensure this is with the “song strategy.” Put on a great song you love that’s about two minutes long, and brush until the song ends. It’s that easy! You can also set a timer on your phone, another great way to ensure that you’re brushing long enough. This may seem a bit tedious, but there’s nothing more important than your health, and oral health is heavily to connected to your overall health.
Improving Comfort While Brushing and Flossing
Brushing and flossing your teeth should never be uncomfortable or painful, but a relaxing, soothing process that leaves your teeth, gums and mouth feeling great. If flossing using the two-finger method is difficult, you may want to try using flosser picks and flossing brushes. Your dentist can often provide one in your post-appointment goodie bag!
Whatever brushing and flossing technique works for you, always be sure that you enjoy the process of brushing, and that you achieve a cleaners and healthier smile every time you brush.
Equally important to brushing is flossing, which you should do at least once per day. If you skip flossing, over 30% of your tooth surface goes uncleaned, potentially leading to plaque formation and decay.
Again, you should always floss at least once per day, as this removes harmful decay-causing plaque from in between your teeth. Flossing allows you to clean the tooth surfaces that your toothbrush alone can’t reach, and also fights against tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health complications. While many patients don’t enjoy flossing, using a flosser or flosser brush can make flossing easy. Simply ask your dentist about these during your next appointment and they can provide you with one in your post-appointment goodie bag, or pick them up at your local grocery store.
Just as important as flossing itself is the technique that you brush with. Follow these simply steps to floss like a pro every time:
Effective Flossing Technique
- Pull off a strand of dental floss about a foot-and-a-half long, and wrap both ends around your index fingers. Use your thumbs and other fingers to properly navigate the floss around and in between your teeth.
- Avoid the common mistake of closing your lips while flossing, as this makes it much more difficult to place your fingers in your mouth, which is necessary during flossing. Relax and allow your mouth to remain open, and this will make flossing much easier and more relaxing.
- Carefully move the floss in between your teeth and gently push the floss against your tooth surface. Avoid snapping the floss down in between your gums and this can cause unnecessary bleeding and pain. Use a gentle back and forth movement, but be sure to also gently push the floss in between your teeth.
- Floss each side of each of your tooth’s surface, not just one side of the other. Bend the floss around the tooth to make a “U” shape.
- Only use a small amount of dental floss between your fingers, as this gives you more control over the direction and effectiveness of the floss.
If your floss is colorized after flossing, maybe a little but brown, this means that plaque is being removed! Roll up the used floss and move to a clean portion of the strand and continue down the rows of your teeth.
Improving Comfort While Flossing
Flossing and brushing should be relaxing, comfortable processes, and shouldn’t ever be painful or discomforting. If the index finger method doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, put your fingers in the same sized strand of floss and work it around your tooth surface.
While there are many different flossing-related products out there, it’s important to have good technique so that whatever flossing products you use, you get the best results from them. Have great flossing technique and know which flossing products work for you, and ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles!
Almost everyone understands the importance of regular brushing and flossing to their oral health. You’ve heard it many times before, at office visits and checkups: Proper oral hygiene is your first line of defense against tooth decay and gum disease. Yet, while most of us brush regularly, many people don’t floss as often as they should… or at all!
Why not? Sometimes, it’s because we don’t have the manual dexterity to handle the floss, or because braces or partial dentures get in the way; or, perhaps we just never got in the habit. Yet proper cleaning of the interdental areas (the small spaces between teeth) is crucial — and here’s why:
Consistent brushing with fluoride toothpaste has been proven effective at removing dental plaque from the tooth’s surfaces and making them more resistant to decay. But regular toothbrushes simply can’t get into the small gaps between teeth, or the tiny crevices where teeth meet gums. Unfortunately for our oral health, that’s exactly where tooth decay and gum disease starts — and that’s where the tools called “interdental cleaners” can help.
There are several different types of interdental cleaners available, including special brushes and irrigation devices (commonly called “water picks”). None of them, by themselves, are a substitute for brushing and flossing. However, as part of a regular program of oral hygiene, they can be effective at fighting plaque and reducing the incidence of tooth decay and gum disease.
The Interdental Brush
This specially designed toothbrush (sometimes called an interproximal brush or proxabrush) can be successfully utilized to clean the small gaps between teeth, as well as the gums and the areas around braces, wires, or other dental appliances. Because it has a handle not unlike a standard toothbrush, many people with limited dexterity find it easy to use. Plus, numerous clinical studies have demonstrated its effectiveness at reducing plaque and controlling gingivitis (gum inflammation).
The cleaning surface of an interdental brush is similar in shape to a small, conical pipe cleaner. Its short bristles radiate from a thin central wire, which is small enough to pass through a very tight space. The brushes are available with both coated and uncoated wire, and come in different widths to accommodate an individual’s particular dental anatomy. When needed, they can also be used to apply antibacterial or desensitizing agents to certain areas of the teeth or gums.
Oral Irrigation Devices
Available to consumers for over 50 years, these devices (sometimes known as water jets or water picks) can also play a role in interdental hygiene. While their popularity has gone up and down over the decades, many studies have shown that they provide a safe and effective method of diluting the acids produced by plaque. Irrigation devices typically use pulsed or steady jets of pressurized water to remove food particles from the hard-to-clean interdental spaces, as well as in some subgingival (below the gum line) pockets.
Proper brushing and flossing is still generally considered the gold standard of at-home oral hygiene. But if you have trouble flossing regularly — or if you’re at increased risk for developing dental or periodontal disease — then using these interdental cleaners might be right for you.
Numerous studies have shown that using an appropriate mouthrinse, in conjunction with regular brushing and flossing, is an easy and effective way for you to improve your overall oral health. As part of a regular program of oral hygiene, mouthrinses (which are sometimes called mouthwashes) can be effective at reducing plaque, controlling bad breath, and helping to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. There are a myriad of mouthrinses lining the drugstore shelves, and they are available in both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) formulations. Which one is best for you? That depends on what benefit you expect to get from using it.
It’s important to keep in mind that many off-the-shelf mouthrinses are primarily cosmetic: That means, they may (temporarily) make your mouth taste or smell good, but they don’t offer any lasting benefit to your oral health. There’s nothing wrong with that — as long as you weren’t expecting anything more. But if you’ve been told that you are at risk for tooth decay or gum disease, you’ll want to use a mouthrinse that has proven clinical benefits.
Mouthrinses that offer oral-health benefits are considered therapeutic. These fall into two general categories: anti-cariogenic rinses, which are designed to prevent tooth decay (and thus dental caries, or “cavities”); and anti-bacterial rinses, which help control the buildup of plaque bacteria in your mouth. Some products may even offer both types of protection.
To help prevent tooth decay, anti-cariogenic mouthrinses use an ingredient you’re probably already familiar with: fluoride. This is often in the form of a .05% sodium fluoride solution. Because it’s a liquid, the rinse can get all around your teeth — even into spaces the smallest brush can’t reach.
Fluoride has been consistently proven to strengthen tooth enamel, which protects against decay; it can even reduce tiny lesions on teeth where a cavity may form. There’s hardly anyone who couldn’t use some extra help in the fight against cavities — but if you’ve been told you may be at a higher risk for tooth decay, or if you have difficulty brushing and flossing, then an anti-cariogenic rinse is a good choice for you.
Anti-bacterial mouthrinses generally contain ingredients (like triclosan, essential oils, or the prescription medication chlorhexidine) that help to control the microorganisms found in plaque. Plaque, a sticky, bacteria-laden biofilm, occurs not only on the surfaces of the teeth, but also in other parts of the mouth. Rinsing with an anti-bacterial solution has been shown to provide a greater reduction in plaque than brushing and flossing alone. As tools in the fight against gum disease (gingivitis) and tooth decay, anti-bacterial mouthrinses may be a good step toward improving your oral hygiene.
Choosing A Mouthrinse
If you’re shopping for an over-the-counter therapeutic mouthrinse, look for the ADA (American Dental Association) seal on the label; it means that the product has been evaluated and proven effective by an independent panel of dental experts. If a mouthrinse has been prescribed for you, you should carefully follow the usage instructions. (Note, however, that due to labeling rules, prescription mouthrinses may not be eligible for the ADA seal.) Mouthrinses can benefit most people, but they generally aren’t recommended for children under the age of six, who may swallow them.
Teeth can last a lifetime if you take care of them right — and the best time to start is just as soon as they begin appearing. By establishing good oral hygiene routines for your children right from the start, you’ll give them the best chance of keeping their teeth healthy — forever.
Tooth decay, the major cause of dental trouble that can eventually lead to tooth loss, is actually an infectious disease caused by bacteria. If it takes hold, it can form a cavity in the enamel and then progress deeper into the tooth — causing discomfort, difficulty eating and speaking, and a need for fillings or root canal treatment. The good news is that tooth decay (also called caries) is completely preventable.
The primary route to good dental health is plaque removal. Plaque is the sticky, whitish film that builds up on teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. Decay-causing bacteria thrive in plaque, where they break down any sugar that lingers in the mouth. In the process, they produce acid byproducts that erode teeth. This is how a cavity begins. What are the most effective techniques for plaque removal and decay prevention? That depends on the age of your child.
Babies can develop a form of tooth decay known as early childhood caries. This occurs when they are allowed to go to sleep with a bottle that’s filled with anything but water. The sugars in formula, milk (even breast milk) and juice can pool around the teeth and feed decay-causing bacteria. When it comes to bedtime soothing, a pacifier or bottle filled with water is safer for developing teeth — that is, until about age 3. At that point, sucking habits should be gently discouraged to prevent orthodontic problems from developing later on.
Brush your baby’s first teeth gently with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush, using just a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste, at least once a day at bedtime. Before a tooth is fully erupted, you can use a water-soaked gauze pad to clean around the tooth and gums.
Make sure your child has his or her first dental visit by age 1. There, you can learn proper hygiene techniques; have your youngster examined for signs of early decay; and get a recommendation for fluoride supplements if needed.
Starting at age 3, you can begin teaching your child to brush with a children’s toothbrush and no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. But remember, children will need help with this important task until about age 6, when they have the fine motor skills to do an effective job themselves.
It’s also extremely important to start encouraging healthy dietary habits at this time. Your child will have less plaque buildup and decay if you place limits on soda and sugary snack consumption. As a parent, you can model this behavior to instill it in your child. After all, monkey see, monkey do! Any sugary treats that are allowed should come at mealtimes, not in between. This will ensure your child is not creating favorable conditions for oral bacteria to grow around the clock.
At your child’s regular, twice-yearly dental checkups and cleanings, topical fluoride can be applied to strengthen tooth enamel and make it more resistant to erosion and decay. If necessary, dental sealants can be applied to the back teeth (molars) to prevent food particles and bacteria from building up in the tiny grooves where a toothbrush can’t reach.
At this point, your children have the primary responsibility for maintaining their day-to-day dental health — but you can continue to help them make good dietary and behavioral choices. These include drinking plenty of water and avoiding soda, sports drinks and energy drinks, all of which are highly acidic; avoiding tobacco and alcohol; and continuing to visit the dental office regularly for cleanings and exams. This is particularly important if your teen wears braces, which can make it more difficult to keep teeth clean.
Remember, it’s never too soon to help your child develop good oral hygiene habits that will last a lifetime.
Cavities are little holes in teeth that can eventually cause big problems. They form when tooth-eroding acid attacks a tooth’s protective outer covering (enamel). This acid mainly comes from two sources: your diet, and certain oral bacteria that thrive in the absence of effective oral hygiene. If cavities are not treated promptly, decay-causing bacteria can get further into the tooth, leading eventually to root-canal problems and even tooth loss. The good news is that cavities are completely preventable — meaning it is truly possible to keep all of your natural teeth for life! Here are our top three tips to keep decay away:
Brush & Floss Every Day
Cavity prevention starts with a good oral hygiene routine. This will remove dental plaque — a sticky film that harbors food particles and harmful bacteria. Flossing is particularly important because a toothbrush can’t reach in between the teeth the way floss can. Make sure to floss both sides of every tooth, including the back molars, at least once each day. Brush your teeth at least twice each day, using a toothpaste that contains fluoride — a mineral that can become part of your tooth enamel and actually repair tiny cavities that are starting to form.
Pay Attention to Your Diet
Certain foods and beverages are no friends to your teeth, and soda tops the list. Soda, sports drinks, and so-called “energy drinks” are all acidic — even the sugar-free varieties. The acids they contain attack tooth enamel and make your teeth more prone to decay. Fruit juices can also be very acidic. Drinking water is much better for your dental health, not only because it has a completely neutral pH (is non-acidic), but also because it helps replenish your saliva — which has natural cavity-fighting properties. Sugary and starchy foods (cookies, candy, donuts, and chips) are also a problem — especially when they are not promptly cleaned from your mouth. They nourish the oral bacteria that cause cavities and raise the acidity level in your mouth.
See Your Dentist Regularly
Routine professional cleanings and exams are a great way to maintain excellent oral health. Your dental hygienist can clean areas of your mouth that you can’t reach with your toothbrush or even with floss. We can check for early signs of tooth decay and take prompt action. What’s more, we can recommend specific preventive treatments if you are particularly prone to cavities. These include in-office fluoride treatments and dental sealants, both of which are quick, easy and effective procedures. Special mouthrinses might also be recommended. Working together, we can make sure your oral hygiene routine is all it should be and that decay is kept at bay.
Toothpaste: It’s something most people use every day, but rarely give much thought to — except, perhaps, when choosing from among the dozens of brands that line the drugstore shelf. Is there any difference between them? What’s toothpaste made of… and does it really do what it promises on the box? To answer those questions, let’s take a closer look inside the tube.
The soft, slightly grainy paste that you squeeze on your brush is the latest in a long line of tooth-cleaning substances whose first recorded use was around the time of the ancient Egyptians. Those early mixtures had ingredients like crushed bones, pumice and ashes — but you won’t find that any more. Modern toothpastes have evolved into an effective means of cleaning teeth and preventing decay. Today, most have a similar set of active ingredients, including:
- Abrasives, which help remove surface deposits and stains from teeth, and make the mechanical action of brushing more effective. They typically include gentle cleaning and polishing agents like hydrated silica or alumina, calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphate.
- Detergents, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, which produce the bubbly foam you may notice when brushing vigorously. They help to break up and dissolve substances that would normally be hard to wash away, just like they do in the laundry — but with far milder ingredients.
- Fluoride, the vital tooth-protective ingredient in toothpaste. Whether it shows up as sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride or sodium monofluorophosphate (MFP), fluoride has been conclusively proven to help strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay.
Besides their active ingredients, most toothpastes also contain preservatives, binders, and flavorings — without which they would tend to dry out, separate… or taste awful. In addition, some specialty toothpastes have additional ingredients for therapeutic purposes.
- Whitening toothpastes generally contain special abrasives or enzymes designed to help remove stains on the tooth’s surfaces. Whether or not they will work for you depends on why your teeth aren’t white in the first place: If it’s an extrinsic (surface) stain, they can be effective; however, they probably won’t help with intrinsic (internal) discoloration, which may require a professional whitening treatment.
- Toothpastes for sensitive teeth often include ingredients like potassium nitrate or strontium chloride, which can block sensations of pain. Teeth may become sensitive when dentin (the material within the tooth, which is normally covered by enamel, or by the gums) becomes exposed in the mouth. These ingredients can make brushing less painful, but it may take a few weeks until you really notice their effects.
What’s the best way to choose a toothpaste? The main thing you should look for is the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance on the label. It means that the toothpaste contains fluoride — and that the manufacturer’s other claims have been independently tested and verified.
But once you’ve chosen your favorite, keep this bit of dental wisdom in mind: It’s not the brush (or the paste) that keeps your mouth healthy — it’s the hand that holds it. Don’t forget that regular brushing is one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay and maintain good oral hygiene.
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