Brushing and flossing daily are critical in maintaining a healthy smile and keeping your mouth free from disease and tooth decay. Developing good dental hygiene is extremely important in fighting against dental problems such as dental caries, gum disease and halitosis, which are mostly the result of an accumulation of dental plaque and dental calculus.
Good dental hygiene means getting into the routine of thoroughly cleaning the mouth at least once or twice a day, though preferably after every meal. The following discussion considers some important aspects of keeping teeth clean such as brushing, flossing, mouthwashes, and other adjuncts to maintaining good dental health.
Why brushing and flossing are necessary?
Reasons why proper brushing and flossing are essential:
- Prevention of tooth decay – Tooth decay is one of the leading causes of tooth loss, and its treatment often requires complex dental procedures. Tooth decay occurs when the acids found in plaque erode the natural enamel found on the teeth. This phenomenon can easily be prevented by using proper home hygiene methods.
- Prevention of periodontal disease – Periodontal disease is a serious, progressive condition which can cause tooth loss, gum recession and jawbone recession. Periodontal disease is caused by the toxins found in plaque, and can lead to serious health problems in other parts of the body. Removing plaque and calculus (tartar) from the surface of the tooth using a toothbrush, and from the interdental areas using dental floss, is an excellent way to stave off periodontal problems.
- Prevention of halitosis – Bad breath or halitosis is usually caused by old food particles on or between the teeth. These food particles can be removed with regular brushing and flossing; leaving the mouth healthier, and breath smelling fresher.
- Prevention of staining – Staining or the yellowing of teeth can be caused by a wide variety of factors such as smoking, coffee and tea. The more regularly these staining agents are removed from the teeth using brushing and flossing techniques, the less likely it is that the stains will become permanent.
Brushing teeth for two full minutes with fluoride toothpaste and a brush that is small enough to manoeuvre around the inside, outside and top of every tooth in the mouth is considered necessary. Consider listening to an entire song whilst brushing teeth – this will be the appropriate time needed to clean teeth. When buying a manual toothbrush, use one with soft bristles as this will protect gums from damage to a greater extent. Studies have shown that brushing harder will not remove more dental plaque. Consider investing in an electric toothbrush if more help is needed and it is difficult to use a manual toothbrush. The novelty of a fancy new toothbrush is motivation alone to brush more.
How to brush;
- Press gently at a 45-degree angle. Scrub the side closest to the cheek (of the tooth and gum) for a few seconds using a small circular/vibratory motion. In the same manner, move slowly around your mouth until you get to the other side. Pay particular attention to the gum line.
- Once on the other side of the mouth, rotate the brush so that it rests against the tooth and gum (on the side closest to your tongue), and use the same angle and same circular scrubbing motion to return to the first tooth.
- Next, briskly brush along the top surface of the teeth.
- Then repeat the entire process on the upper or lower set of teeth (depending on start position).
- Do not neglect the roof of the mouth and tongue, as these places also harbor bacteria.
- Try to only spit out the toothpaste, rather than rinsing it all out after brushing, as this will reduce the effect of the fluoride in toothpaste.
Important considerations when brushing;
- Keep a routine and do not rush! It is important to keep routines with oral hygiene; otherwise it is easy to miss areas of the mouth. Unfortunately, the same areas are missed EVERY time and these areas get gum disease. If you start on the top, don’t rush the bottom teeth as these will tend to be worse than the top if this is the case.
- Make sure every tooth surface is cleaned! With the brush, it is possible to clean the top of your teeth, and the sides that are closest to your cheek and tongue! Make sure for every tooth, these surfaces are cleaned.
When should I brush my teeth?
Brush your teeth for about 2 minutes last thing at night before you go to bed and on 1 other occasion every day. Your dentist or hygienist may give you more advice based on your own dental health and needs.
Selecting the proper toothbrush
Like any task, selecting the right tools will positively influence the outcome. Dental professionals recommend a soft-bristled toothbrush to remove dental plaque safely. On the other hand, a hard-bristled brush, coupled with vigorous brushing, can result in recession of the gums and the abrasion of tooth enamel and exposed root surfaces. Highly effective bristle designs include those that are tapered to very fine endings that can reach and clean under the gumline or have micro-feathered bristle tips. The size of the toothbrush head is also important for effective brushing. Toothbrush head sizes are typically full, compact or sub-compact. The compact size is ideal for most adults. A toothbrush head that is too large will not easily reach between the cheeks and the sides of the upper back teeth.
Should I use an electric or manual toothbrush?
It doesn’t matter whether you use an electric or manual toothbrush. They’re both equally good, as long as you brush all the surfaces of all your teeth and you use fluoride toothpaste. But some people find it easier to clean their teeth thoroughly with an electric toothbrush.
Should I use mouthwash?
Using a mouthwash that contains fluoride can help prevent tooth decay, but don’t use mouthwash (even a fluoride one) straight after brushing your teeth or it’ll wash away the concentrated fluoride in the toothpaste left on your teeth.
How should I choose a toothpaste?
First, you should use a toothpaste that’s right for you. The right toothpaste for you makes for a pleasant and enjoyable experience, leaving your mouth feeling clean and fresh. If you do not like using a particular toothpaste because of its flavor or ‘mouth feel,’ you will never give your mouth the care and attention it needs with regular and thorough brushing.
Other factors to consider are that the toothpaste should contain fluoride to help prevent cavities and that it should not be too abrasive to avoid wearing your teeth. Secondary benefits of toothpaste include anti-gingivitis, whitening, anti-tartar, and anti-sensitivity. If in doubt, ask your dentist or dental hygienist which toothpaste may be right for you.
Change your toothbrush at least every three months
Over time, the bristles on the toothbrush exhibit signs of wear, which reduces their plaque-removing abilities. The rate of wear will depend on a number of factors and will be unique to each person. However, as a guideline, replace your toothbrush every three months. Additionally, the mouth harbors a lot of bacteria and it is possible for it to be transferred to your toothbrush during use. Therefore, not only is replacing your toothbrush every three months recommended, but also rinsing your brush thoroughly following each use to remove any remaining toothpaste and debris. When storing your toothbrush, it is recommended that it be in an upright position, off the countertop, with the ability to be air dried between uses. If more than one brush is stored in a holder, it is recommended that they be separated to avoid cross contamination. As a further point, at no time should toothbrushes be shared. This could result in the transference of bacteria from one individual to another.
The Proper Way to Floss
Flossing is a great way to remove plaque from the interdental regions (between the teeth). Flossing is an especially important tool for preventing periodontal disease and limiting the depth of the gum pockets. The interdental regions are difficult to reach with a toothbrush and should be cleansed with dental floss on a daily basis. The flavor and type of floss are unimportant; choose floss that will be easy and pleasant to use.
Here is a basic guide to proper flossing:
- Cut a piece of floss to around 18 inches long.
- Wrap one end of the floss around the middle finger of the left hand and the other end around the middle finger of the right hand until the hands are 2-3 inches apart.
- Work the floss gently between the teeth toward the gum line.
- Curve the floss in a U-shape around each individual tooth and carefully slide it beneath the gum line.
- Carefully move the floss up and down several times to remove interdental plaque and debris.
- Do not pop the floss in and out between the teeth as this will inflame and cut the gums.
Other tips to have good oral hygiene
Regular dental check-ups
Maintaining good oral hygiene involves going to the dentist every 6-12 months for check-ups. The dentist is able to:
- Recommend cleaning techniques and products;
- Clean plaque and calculus from the teeth;
- Fill cavities that could lead to further tooth decay;
- Administer fluoride treatments;
- Treat mild gingivitis before it turns into periodontitis;
- Take radiographs; and
- Reinforce oral hygiene instruction over long term.