Regular dental check-ups are essential for maintaining excellent oral hygiene and diagnosing potential problems, but they are not a “fix-all” solution. Thorough oral homecare routines should be practiced daily to avoid future dental problems.
A beautiful, healthy smile that lasts a lifetime is our ultimate goal when treating patients. Your home care plays an important role in achieving that goal. Your home care starts by eating balanced meals, reducing the number of snacks you eat, and correctly using the various dental aids that help control the plaque and bacteria that cause dental disease. Brushing and flossing are of paramount importance to oral hygiene. Proper brushing and flossing can enhance the health of the mouth, make the smile sparkle, and prevent serious diseases.
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 that 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.
Tooth brushing – Brush your teeth at least twice a day (especially before going to bed at night) with an ADA approved soft bristle brush and toothpaste.
Here is a basic guide to proper brushing:
Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle where the gums and teeth meet.
Use small circular motions to gently brush the gumline and teeth.
Do not scrub or apply too much pressure to the teeth, as this can damage the gums and tooth enamel.
Brush every surface of every tooth, cheek-side, tongue-side, and chewing surfaces. Place special emphasis on the surfaces of the back teeth.
Use back and forth strokes to brush the chewing surfaces.
Brush the tongue to remove fungi, food, and debris.
Electric toothbrushes are also recommended. They are easy to use and can remove plaque efficiently. Simply place the bristles of the electric brush on your gums and teeth and allow the brush to do its job, several teeth at a time.
Flossing – Daily flossing is the best way to clean between the teeth and under the gumline. Flossing not only helps clean these spaces, but it also disrupts plaque colonies from building up, preventing damage to the gums, teeth, and bone.
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 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.
Floss holders are recommended if you have difficulty using conventional floss.
Rinsing – It is important to rinse your mouth with water after brushing, and also after meals if you are unable to brush. If you are using an over-the-counter product for rinsing, it’s a good idea to consult with your dentist or dental hygienist on its appropriateness for you.
Using other dental aids as recommended by your dentist or dental hygienist: Interdental brushes, rubber tip stimulators, tongue cleaners, irrigation devices, fluoride, medicated rinses, etc., can all play a role in good dental home care. There are numerous types of oral hygiene aids on the supermarket shelves, and it can be difficult to determine which will provide the best benefit to your teeth.
Here are some of the most common oral hygiene aids for homecare:
Dental floss is the most common interdental and subgingival (below the gum) cleaner and comes in a variety of types and flavors. The floss itself is made from either thin nylon filaments or polyethylene ribbons and can help remove food particles and plaque from between the teeth. Vigorous flossing with a floss holder can cause soft tissue damage and bleed, so great care should be taken. Floss should normally be used twice daily after brushing.
Many hygienists & periodontists recommend interdental brushes in addition to dental floss. These tiny brushes are gentle on the gums and very effective in cleaning the contours of teeth in between the gums. Interdental brushes come in various shapes and sizes.
There are two basic types of mouth rinse available: Cosmetic rinses that are sold over the counter and temporarily suppress bad breath, and therapeutic rinses which may or may not require a prescription. Most dentists are skeptical about the benefits of cosmetic rinses because several studies have shown that their effectiveness against plaque is minimal. Therapeutic rinses however are regulated by the FDA and contain active ingredients that can help reduce bad breath, plaque, and cavities. Mouth rinses should generally be used after brushing.
Oral irrigators, like Water Jets and Waterpiks, have been created to clean debris from below the gum line. Water is continuously sprayed from tiny jets into the gum pockets which can help remove harmful bacteria and food particles. Overall, oral irrigators have proven effective in lowering the risk of gum disease and should not be used instead of brushing and flossing. Professional cleanings are recommended at least twice annually to remove deeper debris.
Rubber Tip Stimulators
A rubber tip stimulator is an excellent tool for removing plaque from around the gum line and also for stimulating blood flow to the gums. The rubber tip stimulator should be traced gently along the outer and inner gum line at least once each day. Any plaque on the tip can be rinsed off with tap water. It is important to replace the tip as soon as it starts to appear worn and to store the stimulator in a cool, dry place.
Tongue cleaners are special devices that have been designed to remove the buildup of bacteria, fungi, and food debris from the tongue surface. The fungi and bacteria that colonize on the tongue have been related to halitosis (bad breath) and a great many systemic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, and stroke. Tongue cleaners can be made from metal, wood, or plastic and shaped by the contours of the tongue. Tongue cleaning should be done before brushing to prevent the ingestion of fungi and bacteria.
There are a great many toothbrush types available. Electric toothbrushes are generally recommended by dentists because electric brushes are much more effective than manual brushes. The vibrating or rotary motion helps to easily dislodge plaque and remove food particles from around the gums and teeth. The same results can be obtained using a manual brush, but much more effort is needed to do so.
Manual toothbrushes should be replaced every three months because worn bristles become ineffective over time. Soft bristle toothbrushes are far less damaging to gum tissue than the medium and hard bristle varieties. Also, an appropriate sized ADA approved toothbrush should be chosen to allow proper cleaning to all the teeth. Teeth should ideally be brushed after each meal, or minimally twice each day.
If you have any questions about oral hygiene aids, please ask your dentist or dental hygienist.