In addition to keeping your smile beautiful and your breath fresh, oral hygiene is closely tied to overall health. Periodontal disease (gum disease) and tooth decay are both caused by bacterial plaque, a colorless film that is constantly forming on teeth. This disease is linked to a number of other health issues, including heart disease and diabetes. The best way to control bacteria is by practicing correct oral hygiene on a daily basis, in addition to having regular dental cleanings.
The Best Way to Brush
Doctors recommend using a soft- or medium-bristled toothbrush. Position the brush at a 45-degree angle where your gums and teeth meet. Move the brush in a circular motion several times over each area using small, gentle strokes on both the outside and inside surfaces of your teeth. Don’t use so much pressure that you feel any discomfort.
To clean the inside surfaces of the upper and lower front teeth, hold the brush vertically while making back-and-forth strokes. Gently brush the surrounding gum tissue as well.
Use short strokes on the biting surfaces of your teeth, changing the position of the brush often to reach all surfaces. Watch yourself in the mirror to make sure you reach each surface. Rinse vigorously afterward to remove the loosened particles.
How to Floss
Most toothbrushes can’t reach between the teeth, so this is where periodontal disease usually appears. Flossing daily is a very effective in removing plaque from this area. Start with a piece of floss (waxed types are easiest to use) about 18″ long. Lightly wrap most of it around the middle finger of one hand. Wrap the rest of it around the middle finger of the other hand.
Gently wiggle the floss down between the teeth with a back-and-forth motion—don’t force it. Bring the floss to the gum line, then curve it into a C-shape against the tooth. Slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth until you feel light resistance. Move the floss up and down on each side of the tooth. Be gentle so that you don’t cut the gum tissue. As the floss becomes soiled, turn from one finger to the other to get a fresh section. Switch to using the forefingers of both hands to get between the bottom teeth. Remember to get the far side of the last teeth in the rear of the mouth.
Your gums may be light soreness or bleeding during the first week of flossing; don’t be alarmed. If your gums continue to hurt while flossing, you might be applying too much pressure or pinching the gum. As you continue to do it daily, your gums will heal and any bleeding and pain should stop.
Caring for Sensitive Teeth
Teeth may be sensitive to hot and cold, especially after dental treatment. If your mouth is kept in good condition, this should not last long. Without good oral hygiene, though, the sensitivity may remain and could become more severe. Consult your doctor if your teeth are especially sensitive; he or she may recommend a medicated toothpaste or mouthrinse.
Choosing Oral Hygiene Products
There are so many products on the market that it can be difficult to know which are worth investing in.
Here are some recommendations:
- Electric toothbrushes are safe and effective for the majority of people. If you have arthritis or other difficulties with movement, they can help you maintain oral health more easily than a standard toothbrush, and some have extra options such as a built-in timer to encourage you to brush for the correct amount of time. They are more expensive than manual toothbrushes, though, and the heads need to be replaced periodically.
- Oral irrigators (water-spraying devices) will rinse your mouth thoroughly, but will not remove plaque, so keep in mind that they do not replace brushing and flossing. Using an oral irrigator can help ease inflammation, so they are helpful for those with gingivitis and gum disease. Use daily for the best results.
- Gum stimulators with rubber tips can be used to massage the gums after brushing and flossing. This helps dislodge food particles and plaque, and also increases blood flow to the gums. They are excellent for promoting gum health.
- Interproximal brushes are tiny brushes that clean between your teeth. They can be used as an alternative for flossing to remove plaque from between teeth, and are available in many sizes and designs for ease of use. If they are used improperly, though, you could injure the gums, so discuss proper use with your dentist.
- Fluoride toothpastes and mouthrinses can reduce tooth decay as much as 40% if used in conjunction with brushing and flossing, but can’t prevent periodontal disease, which starts below the gum line.
- Anti-plaque rinses that are approved by the American Dental Association contain agents that may help bring early gum disease under control. Again, these should be used in addition to brushing and flossing, and not to replace them.
Good oral hygiene will keep calculus (hardened plaque) to a minimum, but a professional cleaning will remove calculus in places your toothbrush and floss have missed. You should get a professional prophylaxis at least twice per year. Since some people accumulate plaque more quickly, though, speak to your dentist to determine how regularly you should schedule cleanings.