Oral Health Basics: The Healthy Mouth

Years ago, it was normal for adults to lose some or all of their teeth. This is not true today. Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime, and with the help of your dental team, they will.

Other than an accident, the only reasons for your teeth to fail are the breakdown of the teeth themselves or their supporting structures. This breakdown can occur because of biological or mechanical problems. Let’s look at the biological problems first.

You’ve probably heard since you were a kid that you should brush your teeth and even floss regularly. But do you know why that protects your teeth? In a word: plaque, the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease. Brushing and flossing help tackle this sticky problem, which can lead to decay and disease, and ultimately can cause pain and tooth loss.

The first step in fighting plaque is to consider what you eat. Plaque changes food sugars into acid, which slowly dissolves the enamel, causing tooth decay. Be sure to eat a balanced diet and don’t snack too much. When you do have a snack, choose nutritious foods such as fruit, yogurt or fresh vegetables.

Proper Brushing Technique
The best way to keep plaque off your teeth is to brush and clean between your teeth. You should brush twice a day with a toothbrush that has soft bristles. Be sure that your toothbrush is the right size and shape to fit into all corners of your mouth. You may not think it’s possible to brush your teeth the wrong way, but it is. Improper toothbrushing can wear out your teeth or leave behind harmful plaque.

How to Brush
To brush your teeth properly, follow these easy steps:

1. Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against your gums.
2. Move the brush back and forth gently in short strokes.
3. Brush all surfaces of your teeth.
4. Use the “toe” of the toothbrush to clean the inside surfaces of your front teeth by brushing up and down.
5. Brush your tongue, inside your cheeks and your palate.

The Way to Floss
Flossing is the next crucial step in good oral health. You can remove plaque from between your teeth with dental floss or an interdental cleaner. Your toothbrush can’t reach these spaces, which is why this is so important. To floss properly, follow these simple steps:

  • Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers.
  • Wind the rest of the floss around a finger on the opposite hand.
  • Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Using about one-half inch at a time, gently guide the floss between your teeth. Be careful not to force the floss into the gums.
  • When the floss reaches the gumline, curve it into a C-shape against one tooth. Slide the floss gently into the space between the gum and the tooth, making sure it goes all the way down under the gum.
  • Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Rub the side of the tooth gently with up and down motions to move the floss away from the gum.
  • Floss between all your teeth.
  • Since plaque is an invisible film, use a disclosing agent (available from your dentist) once a week. This will show whether you are thoroughly cleaning all the plaque away and indicate the areas you’re missing.
  • If you haven’t been flossing regularly, your gums may bleed the first few times you do this. But after a few days, they should stop bleeding during flossing. If they don’t, tell your dentist or hygienist.

If you have difficulty handling dental floss, you may prefer to use an interdental cleaner. This may be a special brush, pick or stick. Ask your dental team how to use these cleaners so you don’t hurt your gums.

Your Tools
You should get a new toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles get worn out. Children’s brushes may wear out even more quickly.

When looking for a toothbrush, or any type of dental product, you may be overwhelmed by the choices available. To choose a good product, start by looking for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance on the label. Products that may have this seal include toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, interdental cleaners, mouth-rinses and oral irrigators (a device that uses a stream of water to remove food from your teeth).

As for the rest of the labels’ claims, the ADA has some guidelines. Of the various ingredients in toothpaste, for example, baking soda has not been shown to be beneficial. In fact, baking soda used for baking should never be used to brush: It is much too coarse and can damage your teeth. However, ingredients that promote tartar control, hydrogen peroxide and desensitizing ingredients have been shown to work. When in doubt about which product to choose, ask your dentist for advice. You also can experiment to find what you like best.

You may wonder about what role mouthwash plays in good oral hygiene. Fluoride mouthwashes may help prevent tooth decay, but mouthwash has not proved to have a lasting effect on bad breath.

Good oral hygiene is important, always. By taking care of your teeth, you’ll have fresh breath and establish good habits that will keep your mouth and teeth healthy for a lifetime.

The information contained in or made available through This Site cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any treatment, drug, food or supplement. You should regularly consult a doctor in all matters relating to physical or mental health, particularly concerning any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

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