Oral hygiene should be a part of your daily life. While you might not think that much about the health of your teeth and gums, doing what you can to keep them in great shape is crucial for the overall health of your body. Gum disease is connected to other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Doing what you can to minimize the chance of developing gum disease can help reduce your chance of developing other problems.
But, what exactly is involved in a good oral hygiene routine? It’s more than just brushing your teeth. If you haven’t thought much about the state of your teeth or if it’s been a while since you’ve really thought about your teeth and gums, read on for a refresher course.
The Basics of Oral Hygiene: Brushing, Flossing, Rinsing
You know what they say: Great oral hygiene starts at home. When it comes to keeping your teeth healthy and clean, much of the work you need to do is done at home. Depending on your needs, oral hygiene at home is a two or three-step process.
Step one is brushing your teeth at least twice a day, using a toothpaste that contains fluoride. While there are toothpastes that don’t contain fluoride available, only those that have it get the stamp of approval from the American Dental Association. That is because fluoride is a mineral that not only helps protect your teeth from decay, it can also reverse decay in its early stages. Toothpastes without fluoride will help get your teeth clean by removing bacteria and food bits, but they won’t actually protect your teeth.
When you brush, hold the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle and use short, circular strokes. Make sure you get the top, sides, and back of the teeth to really get your mouth clean. Although using a lot of pressure and force might seem like a good idea, it’s actually better to be gentle. Too much pressure can cause the enamel of your teeth to wear away and can contribute to receding gums.
Step two is flossing your teeth, either before or after brushing, at least once a day. While your toothbrush and toothpaste will clean the outside areas of your teeth, they usually can’t reach the crevices between your teeth or around your gums. But, floss can.
It can be difficult to remember to floss or to get in the habit of flossing. If you’re struggling with it, you can try setting a reminder on your phone or putting a post-it note by your bed, so that you don’t fall asleep without flossing.
Step three is rinsing your mouth out with mouthwash. While not as essential as brushing and flossing, rinsing with mouthwash can help freshen your breath, kill any lingering bacteria and if it contains fluoride, strengthens your teeth and further protect against tooth decay.
Seeing a Dentist
While you can take pretty good care of your teeth at home, it’s still important to see your dentist regularly for a thorough teeth cleaning and exam. Although daily brushing and flossing remove plaque buildup, it doesn’t remove tartar, which is the hardened form of plaque and which can only be removed by your dentist. Left alone, tartar buildup can increase your risk for gum disease, as it gives bacteria a place to hang out and hide.
Regular dental exams also help you detect and treat gum disease and other issues before they have a chance to become big problems. For example, in the earliest stages, gum disease is reversible and can be cleared up with a deep cleaning by your dentist. In the later stages, it’s more difficult to treat and might require surgery to correct.
Watching Your Diet
A good oral hygiene routine at home and regular dental appointments are essential to good mouth care. But, so is keeping an eye on what you eat. If your diet is full of sugary foods, such as candy, starchy salty snacks, and soda, you’re making it more difficult to keep your mouth in good shape, as the bacteria that cause decay and gum disease thrive on sugary foods.
A poor diet also has a negative effect on your overall health, which can affect your dental health. For example, if you’re eating a lot of junk food, you might not be getting the nutrients you need to fight of infection or to keep your teeth’s enamel strong.
Your dentist can give you specific tips about what foods are best to eat for the sake of your teeth, but a general rule to follow is to avoid or limit sugary snacks, sticky foods, and foods that are very crunchy (as these can increase your risk for chipping or cracking a tooth). A diet full of vegetables, lean protein and whole grains will help your mouth stay in great shape.
Protecting Your Mouth
Along with keeping your mouth clean, part of caring for your oral hygiene involves protecting your mouth. The teeth are somewhat delicate, even though they are made from some of the hardest materials in your body. If you play a sport, remember to always wear a mouth guard to protect your teeth from flying elbows or balls.
Another way to protect your mouth and improve oral hygiene is to quit smoking. Tobacco users have a dramatically increased risk for gum disease and other oral problems compared to non-smokers. Plus, smoking makes your breath smell bad and yellows your teeth.
Make Sure You’re Not Making These Mistakes
You care about the health of your teeth and gums and make every effort to brush twice a day and floss daily. You see your dentist when you can, but are still a bit concerned about gum disease or other oral health problems. It turns out that no one’s perfect, especially when it comes to dental health. There are a few pretty common mistakes that people make, even if they’re otherwise a stellar patient. Check your dental habits and make sure you’re not making the following mistakes.
Brushing Too Hard
After a long day, your teeth feel a bit gritty, and you can feel the plague, or sticky film, developing on the surface. So, you head to the bathroom, put some toothpaste on your toothbrush and proceed to scrub. It might be that the scrubbing is doing more harm than good. While you might associate gum recession with gum disease, it can also be caused by too vigorous brushing. Using too much pressure when you brush can permanently damage the soft tissue of your gums, causing the root of the teeth to be exposed.
There are a few ways you can learn to brush more gently. Some electric toothbrushes have built-in sensors and will make a buzzing noise if you press too hard with the brush. If you don’t want to switch to electric, try relaxing your arm when brushing and focus on making gentle circular motions instead of sharp, straight strokes. You might also want to switch your toothbrush to one with softer bristles if you are using a medium or firm brush.
Using an Old Toothbrush
Toothbrushes get worn out with time and aren’t able to do as effective of a job. If you’ve been using the same brush for more than three months or so, getting a new one will help improve your toothbrushing routine considerably.
Can’t remember when you last replaced your brush? Take a look at the bristles. If they are flattened or worn down, it’s probably best to retire the toothbrush.
Skipping Teeth When You Floss
Some teeth are harder to reach than others with floss, so you might skip them during your routine teeth cleaning sessions. But, if you skip some teeth, food bits and bacteria can continue to collect between them, increasing your risk for cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss. It might be a pain, but making sure that you floss between all of your teeth will mean avoiding more painful or unpleasant dental work in the future.
Snapping The Floss
It’s a good idea to hold the floss taut between your fingers when flossing. But, you don’t want to push the floss so hard between your teeth that it snaps up against the gums. Doing so can hurt your gums. Instead, be as gentle as possible when flossing. Slowly glide the strand of floss between each tooth, pushing it back and forth in a zig-zag motion. It might slow down the process of flossing, but it will also reduce bleeding and make things a lot more comfortable.
Ignoring Your Tongue
You might think of the teeth and gums as the big areas to take care of when taking care of your oral health. But, your tongue needs attention, too. You don’t have to go out and purchase a special tongue scraper, but do make sure to give your tongue a quick once over with your toothbrush during your daily cleaning. The tongue collects bits of food and bacteria, too, so giving it a cleaning regularly will help keep your mouth feeling fresh and will remove harmful bacteria that can lead to gum disease or other oral problems.
Not Seeing Your Dentist Often Enough
How often do you see your dentist? It’s easy to think that because you got a clean bill of health at your last dental check-up, you can skip your next few appointments. But, plague and tartar can begin to build up on your teeth again soon after your check-up, and the longer you wait between visits, the worse it gets. Stick to a schedule of seeing your regular dentist every six months and make appointments with a periodontist as recommended. Seeing your dentist frequently means there’s a greater chance of a problem being detected, diagnosed, and treated before it becomes a major issue.
Miami periodontists Dr. John Paul Gallardo are able to discuss oral hygiene 101 with you further. If it’s been a while since you had a cleaning or you’re concerned about the health of your gums, call 305-447-1447 to schedule an appointment at Gallardo today.