Importance of Oral Hygiene
“Always keep your smile. That’s how I explain my long life.” – Jeanne Calment
“Nothing you wear is more important than your smile.” Connie Stevens
A new smile is like a jumpstart on life, something that turns back the hands of time and gives you a chance to start over—and practicing good oral hygiene is one of the best ways to take care of that fresh start. After phobic patients conquer their fears through IV sedation and are able to receive treatment, it’s really common to want to protect that investment, as well as avoid the need to go through it all again. The key is good oral hygiene.
Just like a morning shower invigorates and refreshes your body, so daily brushing and flossing your teeth makes you feel rejuvenated and healthy. By keeping your teeth and gums clean, you protect yourself from sickness, prevent growth of bacteria, fight infections, and even lift your emotional spirits. The importance of good oral hygiene cannot be overstated. It’s the best way to care for your teeth and gums, as well as to prevent future oral problems.
Prevention of Cavities
The single best prevention against cavities is good oral hygiene. By regularly cleansing and caring for your teeth, you protect them from the build-up of plaque and tartar that can lead to tooth decay. In fact, the oral hygiene practiced in today’s society, both at home and through regular dental visits, explains the biggest improvements in oral diseases to date. Yet oral hygiene isn’t only important for prevention of cavities; it also yields other important benefits.
One of the most obvious benefits of practicing good oral hygiene is pleasant breath. Bad breath results from bacteria growing in your mouth, particularly in the crevices between teeth, where it releases sulfur compounds that create a bad smell. By cleansing your teeth and gums regularly, you keep that bacteria at bay and keep your breath smelling fresh.
Prevention of Gum Disease & Gingivitis
Good oral hygiene not only protects your teeth against cavities, but it also prevents from the serious inflammation of gum disease and gingivitis. Most adults in America have some form of gum disease, ranging from mild inflammation to severe bone damage. Created by long-term plaque deposits left unchecked, gum disease can be prevented simply through proper oral hygiene. By removing sticky plaque before it’s able to harden into tartar and inflame gums, you stop the disease before it can progress, protecting your mouth from serious damage.
Q: Will chewing gum affect the health of my teeth and gums?
A: Yes! Actually, you may be surprised to know the positive impact chewing gum may have on your mouth. A recent study has shown that chewing a sugar free gum stimulates flow of saliva, which helps cleanse food and plaque from teeth and therefore decreases risk for gingivitis, periodontitis, and decay.
Types of Toothpaste
Good oral hygiene begins with brushing your teeth. By keeping up with this important habit, you cleanse your teeth of harmful bacteria and help prevent oral disease. Part of this cleansing routine involves toothpaste.
Usually, toothpaste contains a combination of four types of ingredients: abrasives to remove bacteria and stains, humectants to prevent water loss, thickeners that make the toothpaste hold together, and flavorings that make it taste better.
When choosing a type of toothpaste, you have many variations to consider. While for the most part toothpastes are the same, several have been made that cater to specific needs and problems. Certain varieties will also have extra ingredients for specific needs.
Here are a few varieties of specialty toothpastes available:
- Desensitizing: For people with sensitive teeth, a desensitizing toothpaste (such as Sensodyne or Arm & Hammer Advance White for Sensitive Teeth) can be helpful, as it has an ingredient called Potassium Nitrate, designed specifically to help oral sensitivity.
- Extra Fluoride: For people with a high rate of cavities, there are toothpastes (such as Prevident 5000+) designed with extra fluoride to help remineralization of the teeth; however, these high-fluoride toothpastes are only available by prescription. Also, if you use any fluoride products, be careful not to swallow: too much fluoride can be harmful.
- Whitening: Many people today are concerned about discoloration of teeth, and so whitening toothpastes offer a cleansing routine that may somewhat brighten enamel. The key ingredient in a whitening toothpaste is an abrasive, made to remove existing teeth stains and prevent future teeth stains without harming oral tissues.
Q: Which toothpaste is best?
A: Generally speaking, all toothpastes are the same. However, the type that’s best for you may depend on your individual needs, which is why it’s helpful to consider all varieties available. We recommend Colgate Total and, for sensitive teeth, Sensodyne Pronamel Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth.
Because of its power in preventing and fighting tooth decay, fluoride is an important part of good oral hygiene. Its benefits are so far reaching, the U.S. Surgeon General has called community water fluoridation the most economical and safe way to protect people from tooth decay. That’s why fluoride is such a popular ingredient in toothpaste today.
Benefits of Fluoride
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste is one of the easiest ways to keep decay from occurring. This nutrient strengthens enamel, reverses the decay process, and is easily available. For people with weakened enamel or existing decay, this is excellent news, as fluoride offers not just prevention but also treatment of damage.
Dangers of Too Much Fluoride
Despite its many benefits, fluoride can be dangerous in large doses. Swallowing an excessive amount of fluoridated toothpaste can be very harmful and may cause various symptoms.
These symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
- Heart attack
For this reason, fluoride should be used thoughtfully, without swallowing. Then, as long as you’re brushing twice daily, you will reap all the benefits of this beneficial nutrient.
If you’re concerned about the harmful effects of fluoride, there are several non-fluoride varieties available. Remember though that eliminating fluoride means eliminating its benefits, including prevention of tooth decay. Non-fluoride toothpaste is best for patients who are not prone to dental decay or have dental implants replacing all their teeth (since implants don’t decay).
As anyone with sensitive teeth can tell you, when teeth are worn down, some of the simplest pleasures—eating a bowl of ice cream, drinking hot coffee—can become painful and frustrating. One of the most common complaints among dental patients, sensitive teeth are not only uncomfortable, but they are also more susceptible to decay.
Causes of Sensitive Teeth
The outer layer of your teeth is the hardest substance in your whole body, protecting the crown; below that, something called cementum protects roots under the gum line. Beneath these two substances is dentin, a less dense part of the tooth with lots of small hollow areas where hot, cold, and very sweet foods are able to get in and stimulate nerves.
What happens with sensitive teeth is that when the enamel wears down, as a result of certain habits and diet choices, the dentin is exposed. This means heightened sensations in response to hot and cold drinks or food, as well as increased susceptibility to cavities.
Gum recession also contributes to teeth sensitivity. In this condition, lost gum tissue leaves the roots of teeth exposed. This too can cause sensitivity, as the exposure makes it easier for food and bacteria to reach nerves.
Treatment for Sensitive Teeth
One of the most important ways to treat sensitive teeth is through proper oral hygiene. For people with sensitive teeth, in addition to brushing twice daily and flossing daily, it’s wise to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and to choose a toothpaste suitable for your needs. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth has ingredients that clog the little canals in teeth, protecting your nerves from irritation.
When sensitivity persists for more than three days, you should see your dentist. In cases of decay or cracks, you may need a filling or crown to protect from further damage. There’s also something called a desensitizing agent that your dentist can apply to sensitive teeth, which can help prevent nerve irritation.
Q: How can I avoid tooth sensitivity?
A: Know what lifestyle choices increase the risk of sensitivity, such as high consumption of acidic foods like citrus juices and soft drinks, conditions such as bulimia and acid reflux disease, and poor oral hygiene.
Q: How long will it take for a specialty toothpaste to provide relief?
A: In most cases, you’ll need to regularly use a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth for at least a month before noticing any major changes.
Toothbrushes: Manual or Electric?
For good oral hygiene, the American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice daily. Generally speaking, we find electric toothbrushes to be most effective for patients; however, patients with excellent oral hygiene who have successfully used manual brushes should keep doing so. The saying really is as true with teeth as it is with everything else: it’s not so much the tool, but how you use it!
There are two primary types of manual toothbrushes: soft-bristled and hard-bristled. Avoid using hard-bristled toothbrushes, as they can be too harsh on your gums. The truth is, you don’t need hard bristles or intense pressure to clean your teeth. It’s better to use a soft-bristled brush and to glide it across your teeth in a gentle manner.
Many patients find electric toothbrushes more enjoyable to use. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, these brushes have been able to motivate reluctant brushers to clean their teeth, making them a great invention indeed. Plus, electric toothbrushes aren’t just fun; we also find people can be more effective with them. In a recent study, dental professionals saw positive change in 80.5% of patients who used an electric toothbrush, including better gum condition and removal of plaque.
When it comes to oral hygiene, no habit is harder to take on than flossing—even for us! Nonetheless, flossing is definitely worth the effort, as it yields unparalleled benefits. Nothing else can get in between the teeth, right into those hidden nooks where cavities form, the way floss can. In fact, the American Dental Association advises flossing every day in order to most effectively remove plaque and food particles stuck between teeth and under gums.
Types of Floss
- Woven: Gentle on gums
- Waxed: Slick for sliding easily between tight teeth
- Teflon: Made especially for tight spaces
- Wide: Ideal if you have a lot of bridgework
Today’s market also offers a variety of alternative flossing methods, from picks and sticks to brushes. Some of these wonderful new products make flossing less annoying and much more enjoyable.
A floss threader is a pointed plastic loop designed to get floss into hard-to-reach places like beneath bridges or between braces. This tool can guide floss through tricky spots to ensure removal of plaque.
Other Flossing Aids
For people who have a difficult time working floss between teeth, there are many flossing aids available. From brushes to picks and disposable picks you can use and throw away, you’ll find there might be an option that makes the task easier for you. These aids often have slim handles that make them easier to control than traditional floss thread.
One of the best flossing tools on the market today is the Waterpik®. Even for us, it makes the process of flossing so much easier and fun! The Waterpik is also called a water flosser, a dental water jet, or an oral irrigator. It was designed specifically to improve gum health, and it has been proven to be more effective than regular floss. According to one study, the Waterpik is actually 93% more effective than string floss at reducing gingival bleeding.
There is a bit of a learning curve in using the Waterpik: the first time you try it out, you might feel like a hurricane went through your bathroom, leaving water everywhere! But once you get the hang of it, you may find it a preferable flossing option.
That said, as much as we like the Waterpik, it isn’t for everyone. For patients with extensive plaque and tartar below the gum line, it can push that damage even deeper under the gums. For that reason, we recommend seeing a dentist for a periodontal evaluation and a thorough cleansing before using.
Bad breath is no laughing matter, especially to those you suffer from it. In most cases, bacteria are to blame, although sometimes more serious gastric and sinus problems are the root. Whatever the case, all the habits of good oral hygiene encourage fresh breath, from regular brushing to daily flossing. That’s because a clean mouth smells better, and by keeping your mouth clean, you improve your breath!
- Brush your tongue: When brushing your teeth, take time to also gently brush your tongue. Your tongue harbors lots of germs that can create bad breath.
- Watch what you eat: Certain foods may temporarily cause unpleasant breath as they affect your mouth, transfer to bloodstream and lungs, and get expelled through your mouth. To see if your diet is causing problems for your breath, log what you eat and track the changes.
- See dentist if bad breath continues: It’s not just poor oral hygiene that causes bad breath. See your dentist if you have dry mouth (xerostomia), which decreases saliva, results from certain medications or conditions, and makes breath smell. Tobacco products may also lead to bad breath, among other oral problems, and your dentist may be able to help you stop the habit. Your dentist will also be able to tell you if the breath problem stems from something other than your mouth, in which case you may want to see a general physician. These causes may include infections, postnasal drip, gastrointestinal illness, diabetes, or liver or kidney problems.
Q: Is oral hygiene still important if my bad breath comes from another source?
A: Yes! No matter the cause of bad breath, you will benefit from good oral hygiene.
According to the American Dental Association, antimicrobial mouth rinses reduce bacteria and their activity in plaque, which means they essentially work against gingivitis. Convenient and inexpensive, mouth rinses take very little time to implement in your regular routine.
Mouth rinses usually contain a blend of basic ingredients such as water, cleansers, flavors, colorings, and sometimes alcohol, which can potentially dry out the mouth. These components combine with active ingredients like fluoride, astringent salts, or antimicrobial agents that help reduce plaque.
Fluoride mouth rinses: Available over the counter, these products have a small percentage of sodium fluoride, which attacks plaque in your mouth. Higher strength rinses are available by prescription only.
Antiseptic mouth rinses: Antimicrobial agents combat the bacteria in your mouth to prevent oral disease and bad breath.
Natural Dentist Mouth Rinse: We recommend the natural dentist mouth rinse, both because it is effective and because it is made with all natural, safe ingredients. A recent study has shown the Natural Dentist Healthy Gums Oral Rinse to work better than Listerine at limiting the growth of bacteria in the mouth. Created from herbal extracts, it helps treat even serious gum issues.
Whatever kind you choose, remember a mouth rinse does not substitute for brushing and flossing, but rather it is an extra weapon in the fight against plaque and build up of germs.
Q: Do all mouth rinses help reduce plaque?
A: No. Cosmetic mouth rinses only deodorize and freshen the mouth, providing a temporary solution for bad breath. Only mouth rinses with active ingredients made to combat bacteria will help reduce plaque.
Q: Should I brush first or rinse first?
A: According to the American Dental Association, whether you brush, floss, or rinse first, it makes no difference.
When it comes to brushing your teeth, method is key. The way you take care of them can make all the difference—not just in preventing cavities but in keeping your teeth for a lifetime!
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Begin brushing early: There’s a reason we’re always telling kids to brush their teeth: good oral hygiene begins at a young age! The sooner you start caring for your teeth, the greater the rewards.
- Take your time: If you’re only spending a minute or so brushing your teeth each morning, you’re not brushing long enough. Although most of the population spends only around 45 seconds brushing, a recent study has shown that patients need to brush for at least two minutes to really remove plaque and reap noticeable benefits.
- Don’t press too hard: Using too much pressure with your toothbrush can lead to gum recession and tooth abrasion. Remember, the technique is more important than the tool! Be gentle with your brush, and work slowly.
- Be thorough: Good brushing begins with the outer sides of your teeth, moves to the inner teeth, and continues to the flat chewing surfaces. Place your brush at a 45-degree angle and gently move it back and forth slowly.
- Brush below the gum line: Don’t stop with your teeth. Continue brushing even below the gum line to help remove bacteria.
- Don’t forget your tongue: You also don’t want to overlook your tongue. Brush the surface of it each time you brush your teeth. This will clean out germs and give you a fresh feel!
Review: Recommended Products for Oral Care
These are the resources that are most beneficial for patients on a regular basis:
Sensitive Toothpaste: Sensodyne Pronamel Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth
Why? Gentle and effective, Sensodyne Pronamel Toothpaste is an excellent toothpaste for patients with sensitive teeth. Chosen by Dentistry Today as one of the top 100 products of 2007 and clinically proven to relieve hypersensitivity in just two weeks, this toothpaste is designed to comfort and soothe nerves and harden softened enamel, in addition to offering all the benefits of regular toothpaste. That’s why it remains the #1 dentist-recommended toothpaste of its kind.
Mouth Rinse: Natural Dentist Healthy Gum Rinse
Why? We recommend the natural dentist mouth rinse, both because it is effective and because it is made with all natural, safe ingredients. Created from herbal extracts, it helps treat even serious gum issues. Plus, it comes in two flavors: peppermint twist or orange zest.
Flossing Aid: Waterpik by Phillips
Why? Fun and effective, the Waterpik is one of the best flossing tools on the market today. It’s not only more enjoyable to use than traditional floss, but it’s also more successful. According to one study, the Waterpik is actually 93% more effective than string floss at reducing gingival bleeding.
Toothbrush: Sonicare Electric Toothbrush
Why? We have found that patients can actually be more effective with electric toothbrushes. Not only are they more enjoyable to use, but they also remove plaque in a way that manual toothbrushes can’t.
Toothpaste: Colgate Total
Why? Colgate Total is an overall excellent toothpaste choice, offering all kinds of benefits. It contains Triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient that works against plaque, tartar, gingivitis, and cavities. Plus, Colgate Total also strengthens enamel, helps gums, improves breath, and whitens teeth.
Nutrition for a Healthy Mouth
Good nutrition plays an enormous role in the proper development and maintenance of healthy teeth and gums. Eating the right kinds of foods allows the teeth to grow strong and remain healthy, without improper bacteria or decay. While most patients know it’s important to limit high-sugar drinks, a recent study has shown that they often don’t realize how important fruits and vegetables can be.
Examine the foods you regularly consume, from drinks like soda and fruit juices to everyday snacks. If these foods are high in sugar, your risk of tooth decay is much higher. Try to limit daily juice intake to six ounces at most. Also, remember that the longer those sugars stay on the teeth, the more time they have to cause damage. Sugar-free gum after a sugary meal can help flush away the sugar from your teeth. Encourage a diet that’s high in nutrition, filled with foods like vegetables and quality dairy products. Interestingly, a recent study shows something unexpected about the effects of dark chocolate on your oral health: by contrast to other sweets, dark chocolate actually cuts back on bacteria and plaque!
Foods that provide valuable nutrition and strengthen the teeth:
Vegetables, particularly dark, leafy ones like spinach, kale, broccoli, and bok choy
Dairy products like yogurt, milk, cheese
Foods that can contribute to cavities:
Candy and sweets
Starchy foods like bread, crackers, pretzels
Q: How important is calcium for my teeth?
A: Not only does calcium help build and maintain strong teeth, but it also develops healthy bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. Calcium keeps gums healthy, encourages teeth to grow and develop, and even protects against tooth decay. It can be found in foods like milk and other dairy products, as well as in dark and leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and bok choy.