Regular dental visits play a critical role in maintaining your oral health — not only to find and remedy any problems with teeth or gums, but also to assess the general condition of your oral health, point out potential trouble spots, and offer suggestions for preventive care. In between visits, the best way to keep your teeth clean and free of disease, your gums pink and healthy, and your breath fresh, is a program of daily oral hygiene.
How to Brush
Brushing is an effective way to remove plaque — a sticky, bacteria-laden biofilm that clings stubbornly to your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids, which erode the tooth's enamel and may lead to tooth decay. Plaque can also cause gum disease and bad breath. In fact, it's believed that over 90% of dental disease is caused by plaque accumulation alone.
Besides removing plaque, the fluoride in toothpaste strengthens tooth enamel and makes teeth more decay-resistant. Plus, brushing makes your mouth feel cleaner and your breath smell fresher. While there is no single “right” way to brush your teeth, there are a number of techniques that can help you get them squeaky-clean. So why wait — let's take a refresher course in brushing right now!
To begin, select a small-headed, soft-bristled toothbrush, grasp it gently with your fingers (not your fist), and squeeze on a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste.
Hold the bristles gently against the outside of your top teeth, near the gum line, at about a 45-degree angle upward.
Sweep the brush gently back and forth over teeth and gums in soft strokes — or, if you prefer, use a circular motion to clean the teeth.
Be sure to clean the spaces between teeth: You can use a sweeping motion to brush food particles away from the gums.
When you have done one brush-width, move to the adjacent area of your teeth and repeat. Keep going until you have finished cleaning the outside of the whole top row of teeth.
Move to the bottom teeth. Repeat the same motion, tilting the brush down toward the gum line at about 45 degrees. Finish cleaning the outside of the bottom teeth.
Go on to the inside of the top teeth. Tilting the bristles up toward the gums, clean the inside of the top teeth with gentle but thorough strokes.
Move to the inside of the bottom teeth. Tilt the brush down and repeat the procedure.
Now it's time for the chewing surfaces: Holding the bristles flat against the molars, clean the ridges and valleys of the back teeth. Do this for all the top and bottom teeth.
Finally, brush your tongue gently to remove bacteria and freshen breath.
One common error is not brushing for long enough: two minutes is about the minimum time you need to do a thorough job. If you have music in the bathroom, you could try brushing along with a pop song; when the song's over, you're done!
Flossing is probably your single most important weapon against plaque, the clingy bacterial biofilm that sticks to the surfaces of your teeth. Plaque is the principal cause of tooth decay; but it is also the cause of periodontitis (gum disease), bad breath, and other maladies. Brushing is a good start — but flossing removes plaque in places a brush can't reach, like the small gaps between teeth and under the gums. It also polishes tooth surfaces and decreases the risk of gum disease.
Some people may think they don't have time to floss, but once you get the hang of it, flossing only takes few minutes. If you are going to floss only once a day, it's best to do it at night just before going to sleep. That's because there is less saliva present in your mouth when you are sleeping, so plaque is more concentrated and potentially more harmful.
Oral Hygiene During Childhood
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.
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 and 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.
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.