Although your dentist has the delicate task of taking care of your mouth and monitoring your oral health, most of what will be done in your life to maintain your smile comes down to oral hygiene.
It’s true that oral hygiene can be confusing with lots of conflicting opinions about what is effective and what is not. Here are some of the straight facts:
Brushing prevents tooth decay and gum disease. These two are the leading causes of lost teeth in adults and have both been linked to heart attacks and strokes.
When sugars from the foods we eat contact plaque, that sticky substance that surrounds the teeth, they combine to produce an acid that can attack tooth enamel and cause decay.
Not only is plaque bad for your teeth, but it can irritate the gums and lead to gum disease. Gum disease will cause the teeth to pull away from the gums, this allows bacteria to get in the new home created and destroy the bone supporting the teeth.
So you can see how important regular brushing is. Here are some tips to make sure plaque doesn’t stand a chance:
- Brushing should be done at least twice a day.
- Brush either before meals or 30-minutes afterward.
- Use a soft bristled toothbrush with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Gently brush the inside, outside and biting surfaces of the teeth with short back and forth motions.
- To keep bad-breath germs at bay, brush the back and sides of your tongue.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or as soon as the bristles become frayed.
A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet from a comedian joking that she didn’t know which was more difficult, quitting smoking or starting flossing. While both are extremely beneficial to oral health, flossing can seem like a tedious, impossible-to-start habit.
Contrary to what the mouth rinse commercials would have you believe, flossing is truly the best way to reach the interdental spaces (between your teeth).
It is also the only way to remove tartar and bits of food that can lodge in these areas and flossing can save your gums from gingivitis (a forerunner to lose-your-teeth gum disease characterized by red swollen gums).
“Only floss the teeth you want to keep,” has become a running joke among dentists and for good reason. Here are some ways to make your flossing count:
- Floss before you brush, at least once a day.
- Take a foot-and-a-half of dental floss and wrap it around your forefingers.
- Pinch the floss between your thumb and forefinger and slide it gently up and down between each tooth.
- Never snap the floss. This can damage your gums.
- If traditional dental floss is uncomfortable, see about using a flossing device or pick. Your dentist should be able to recommend the best.
When it comes to good oral health, brushing and flossing are generally considered to be the Batman and Robin, the Tango and Cash, the Murtaugh and Riggs…you get the idea. What’s unfortunately often left out, is the role of a good mouth rinse in holistic oral health.
A 2013 study by the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) followed 139 adults with mild to moderate levels of plaque and gingivitis for six months. Half of them used a bacteria-killing mouthwash in combination with their brushing, while the other half were given a placebo rinse.
At the end of the study, the group that used the bacteria-killing mouthwash reduced their plaque buildup by 26% and gingivitis by 20%. Adding to that, 100% of the participants who used the bacteria-killing mouthwash had a reduction in gingivitis, compared with only 30% of the placebo group.
Mouthwash works well because it covers 100% of the outer surfaces on the interior of the mouth.
What should you look for in a mouthwash? Here a few things:
- Only use mouthwashes with the ADA seal.
- Use mouthwash after brushing to prevent water washing away the important fluoride that needs to stay on your teeth.
- Check your mouthwash to make sure it is “anti-bacterial,” “anti-microbial,” “anti-plaque,” “anti-gingivitis,” or any number of other antis. Some mouthwashes exist primarily for cosmetic purposes such as whitening and these will provide little benefit to overall oral health.
- Also, see if you can find the word fluoride or fluoridated anywhere (or it may say “anti-cavity”).
- Most mouthwashes will state on the bottle how long to swish the fluid around your mouth, but a good rule of thumb is anywhere from 45 seconds to 1 minute.
Understanding the straight facts on oral hygiene will put you in a spot to build habits to preserve not only your smile, but your wallet as well.