Home Oral Care
Regular checkups and professional cleaning (officially known as dental prophylaxis) are crucial for both your oral health and your overall wellbeing. But how you care for your mouth at home is every bit as important.
Protecting your teeth from decay is a continual battle. The sugar from the food you eat in combination with the bacteria in your mouth leads to the formation of plaque. Plaque produces acids that gradually damage your teeth. Your teeth are robbed of minerals during this time, making them weaker.
This plaque must be cleared away before it forms tartar or calculus, a hard substance that can only be removed by a professional. Likewise, your teeth need a break from the acid and a chance to remineralize before the damage caused by the acid becomes permanent and a cavity forms.
This is why your home care routine is vital.
To care for your teeth at home...
- You should be brushing your teeth for at least 2 minutes, twice a day. Use a toothpaste with fluoride to help keep your enamel strong.
- You should floss your teeth each day to remove plaque from the spaces between your teeth and in the areas below your gum line, where your toothbrush can’t reach. Don’t skip flossing; it’s your best defense against gum disease!
- Rinsing with a mouthwash can help.
- A healthy diet is important for a healthy mouth. Try to make sure you aren’t snacking frequently between meals, as this exposes your teeth to acid more often.
- Avoid all types of tobacco use.
- Be sure to let us know if you have any concerns such as sensitivity, bleeding, or oral pain.
It’s important to note that, while brushing and flossing are necessary, they may not be as effective as they could be if you’re using improper technique. In fact, it’s possible to damage your teeth if you use the wrong toothbrush or brush with too much force.
Please see our guides to brushing and flossing to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
What’s the Best Way to Brush My Teeth?
You should brush at least twice a day, for about 2 minutes each time.
To brush properly:
- Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums.
- Move the brush gently back and forth in short strokes.
- Be sure to brush the entire surfaces of your teeth—the outer surfaces, the inner surfaces, the chewing surfaces, and even the backs of those hard-to-reach molars.
- For the inside surfaces of your front teeth, tilt your brush vertically and brush with up-and-down strokes.
- Don’t brush too hard! Plaque only needs to be brushed gently to be removed, and too much force can hurt your enamel.
Some other important factors:
- Be sure to use a brush with soft bristles. Hard bristles can wear down your tooth enamel, causing it two weaken.
- You should replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.
- Use a toothpaste with fluoride.
Here’s a video from the American Dental Association to show you how it’s done.
Caring for Your Toothbrush
Brushing and flossing properly is crucial to good oral health, but caring for your toothbrush is something that often goes overlooked, even though it’s important as well. If your toothbrush is not properly taken care of it can spread more germs into your mouth and not clean your teeth properly. For proper toothbrush care, be sure to keep the following in mind:
Rinse off the toothbrush
After you brush your teeth, make sure you rinse off your toothbrush completely with water. You should also allow it to air-dry. If you store your toothbrush in a container, the moisture can create an environment that allows microorganisms to grow.
Do not share your toothbrush
Sharing a toothbrush can lead to an increased risk of infection.
Replace your toothbrush
It is recommended that you replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months. The bristles become worn and less effective over time.
What Kind of Toothbrush Should I Use?
There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to toothbrushes, but the big question may come down to whether you should use an electric or a traditional toothbrush.
The short answer is that either type, when used with proper technique for the appropriate amount of time, can effectively clean your teeth. However, electric toothbrushes tend to make doing it properly a lot easier.
So, the real divider is ease.
With a manual brush, diligence is key. It is recommended that in order to maintain a healthy smile, brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day is key. Regular toothbrushes have the benefits of being inexpensive, travel-friendly, and don’t require batteries or to be charged before use.
Electric toothbrushes have gained popularity for their ability to do all of the work for the user. With the option of different style brush heads and modes, like whitening, sensitivity, and deep cleaning, it makes a thorough teeth cleaning simple. Some electric options are even equipped to time how long the user is spending brushing one area and alerts the user to move to a different quadrant through vibrations.
Additionally, electronic toothbrushes are ideal for those for whom brushing can be troublesome. For people with issues such as coordination problems, arthritis, orthodontic brackets, or gum disease, electric toothbrushes can make it easier for them to reach every area of their teeth. Children can benefit from electric toothbrushes as well, as kids find them more interesting and they help do some of the brushing for them.
The ADA suggests that the real deciding factor is the person doing the brushing (and how they brush) more than the toothbrush itself. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but for most people, an electric toothbrush can help make cleaning your teeth a little bit easier.
How Do I Floss Properly?
You should be sure to floss once a day in order to prevent cavities in places where your toothbrush can’t reach and to ward off gum disease.
To floss properly:
- Use a piece of floss that’s about 18″ long. Wind most of the floss around one of your middle fingers and the remaining floss around the same finger on the opposite hand.
- When flossing, you will be gradually unwinding clean floss from the one finger, while wrapping the dirty floss around the finger of the other hand.
- Tightly hold the floss between your forefingers and thumbs.
- Use a gentle rubbing motion to guide the floss between your teeth. Be sure not to use too much force or to snap the floss into your gums.
- When the floss reaches the gum line, wrap it into a “C” shape around one tooth and slide it gently into the space between the gum and tooth.
- While holding the floss tightly against the side of the tooth, move the floss away from your gums with an up-and-down motion.
- Complete this process until you have rubbed the floss along the side of each of your teeth.
- Don’t forget to floss the back of your last molar!
The American Dental Association has a video to help show you this process.
Why Is It Important to Floss?
Most people will brush their teeth, but many are reluctant to floss as instructed. Some feel that brushing alone is sufficient, while others were influenced by a 2016 news article citing the lack of studies done on the effectiveness of flossing. Others are concerned when flossing causes discomfort or makes their gums bleed.
The truth of the matter is that toothbrushes are incapable of reaching all surfaces of the tooth. There are spaces between teeth where tiny food particles and bacteria can cause plaque formation. While mouthwash can reach these areas and kill the bacteria, it’s not capable of removing the plaque. This plaque will eventually become tartar, a hard substance that can only be removed by a dentist.
Plaque in areas between teeth can result in cavities that are difficult to spot, and beneath the gum line, it can cause irritation and eventually lead to gingivitis and gum disease. This is typically the real reason why gums bleed when flossing. Flossing helps keep these areas clean and allows the gums to heal and return to normal.
A study performed at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences found that flossing increases the effectiveness of brushing, allowing higher concentrations of fluoride to remain in the mouth for longer periods of time. While the study found evidence leading us to believe that flossing before brushing may be more effective, the most important thing is that we DO floss!
Should I Brush My Tongue?
When you brush and floss your teeth, are you cleaning your tongue as well?
The germs in your mouth that cause tooth decay, gingivitis, and gum disease tend to form together in groups known as colonies. Colonies of bacteria are less destructive when they are broken up during your oral hygiene routine. However, they don’t just live on your teeth; bacteria can be found on your tongue as well.
The surface of the tongue is covered with many little tissue projections, called papillae, which serve various functions such as detecting taste. These papillae also make great hiding places for bacteria. In addition to being the type of bacteria that can result in tooth decay, they are also typically the source of bad breath.
Just using mouthwash isn’t enough to eliminate this bacteria; it needs to be manually dislodged with a toothbrush.
How to clean your tongue
Cleaning your tongue is relatively simple. Use your toothbrush first to go back-and-forth, then switch to side-to-side. Be sure you don’t overdo it, as you don’t want to damage your tongue. When done, rinse out your mouth with water.
A tongue-scraper may also be used but isn’t necessary. The ADA explains that, so far, there is no evidence that they work any better than using a toothbrush.
What are Plaque and Tartar?
Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that naturally forms on our teeth each day. The bacteria in plaque can react with the sugars and starches in the food we eat, resulting in an acid that gradually dissolves tooth enamel. This process, if not stopped, will result in tooth decay and the eventual destruction of the tooth.
While plaque can be removed with proper brushing and flossing, any plaque that is missed will harden into tartar. Tartar, or dental calculus, cannot be removed by brushing; it requires special tools used by dentists in order to be safely eliminated.
The acids produced by plaque can do more than just damage teeth enamel. They can irritate gums, resulting in redness and bleeding. As this progresses into gum disease, the gums will begin to pull away from the teeth, and the tissue and bones holding the teeth in place will begin to break down.
This is why good home care and regular professional dental cleanings are needed in order to keep your mouth and teeth healthy. Diet can also help slow down the development of plaque by avoiding sticky and sugary foods that may result in sugar staying on your teeth for long periods of time.
Should you be using a mouthwash?
Brushing and flossing are the most crucial elements of a home oral hygiene routine and should be your main focus. There are some cases where a mouthwash/mouthrinse can be helpful, however, and mouthwash has the benefit of reaching areas that might be missed by a toothbrush.
Types of mouthwash
The best type of mouthwash for you will depend on your needs. You should be aware that there are two main types of mouthwash: therapeutic and cosmetic. The latter type may be used to control bad breath and leave a pleasant taste behind, but as they don’t kill bacteria, they offer no health benefits.
Therapeutic mouthwashes can be available over-the-counter or by prescription, and can be used to treat a number of different conditions.
Mouthwashes containing fluoride can be helpful for those who struggle with tooth decay, or who have braces and have a hard time reaching every part of their tooth with their toothbrush.
Antibacterial mouthwash can help disrupt bacteria, and help those with chronic gingivitis, but shouldn’t be used as a substitute for brushing and flossing—the bacteria will begin to return within 20 minutes. (For disturbing bacteria in hard-to-reach areas when your toothbrush isn’t available, sugar-free chewing gum (such as those with sorbitol) may be more effective.)
For those who suffer from dry mouth (xerostomia)—which can make teeth more prone to decay—some types of mouthrinse are specially formulated to help with this problem.
Some other conditions different kinds of therapeutic mouthwash have been created for include:
- Plaque control
- Bad breath
- Dry socket
- Topical pain relief
- Teeth whitening
Is mouthwash right for you?
Before deciding to use a mouthwash, consult Dr. Lanie to see if one is recommended for your specific needs. An ADA-approved, over-the-counter mouthwash may be suggested, or in some cases, the dentist may suggest a prescription mouthrinse.
Whether to use the mouthwash before or after brushing, or if you should rinse with water between the two, can depend on the type of mouthwash; some can react to the chemicals in the toothpaste, making them less effective. Be sure to check before starting with a new mouthwash.
How does fluoride help teeth?
Your tooth enamel is made up of minerals, and each day your tooth enamel goes through the processes of demineralization and remineralization. Demineralization takes place when minerals in your tooth enamel dissolve due to acids, and remineralization is when minerals are deposited back into your enamel. When your body takes in minerals such as calcium, phosphate, and fluoride, your tooth enamel begins to replenish.
This is a daily occurrence, but sometimes more demineralization occurs than remineralization. If your tooth enamel is not being restored faster than it is being depleted, your teeth can begin to decay. This is why fluoride is important to the health of your teeth. Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that is resistant to acid. When tooth enamel is remineralized using fluoride, it not only restores strength to the enamel but helps protect it from future exposure to acid.
Different Ways We Get Fluoride
We use and consume things every day that have small amounts of Fluoride, including water, certain foods, and toothpaste.
Fluoride treatments are also available from Dr. Lanie. These fluoride treatments can be directly applied to your teeth as a foam, gel, or varnish. It is typically left on the teeth for a short time and then any excess that has not been absorbed can be removed. You will most likely be instructed not to eat or drink anything for 30 minutes after the treatment, to make sure the fluoride is able to do its work.
Some adults who are struggling with tooth decay or root sensitivity can benefit from fluoride treatments, and they can be especially helpful for children. Children tend to need time to build good oral hygiene habits, so fluoride treatments can give their teeth a little extra protection as they learn to brush and floss properly.
A healthy diet is important for a healthy body. Obviously, no one believes that junk food is good for them, but it’s important to remind ourselves why these kinds of foods should only be eaten occasionally. Eaten too frequently, junk food can have significant impacts on our overall health.
Foods that are high in sugar
Over-consumption of foods that are high in sugar, can put us at risk for obesity and diabetes. When looking specifically at the mouth, we see that food and drinks with large amounts of sugar can mix with the bacteria in the mouth, resulting in acid that damages teeth enamel and increases the chances of the development of gum disease. Gum disease has links to other conditions including heart disease and stroke, and is best avoided entirely.
Foods with high acidic content
Many foods, such as soft drinks or sports drinks, can damage tooth enamel due to their acidic content, in addition to the sugar. It may not be noticeable, but acid softens the enamel, making it susceptible to being worn away.
Foods that can damage teeth
Here are some foods that may pose harm to your teeth.
- Ice – For cooling beverages, ice is fine, but you should not bite it as this can damage the enamel.
- Hard Candies – Much like ice, it can be dangerous to bite down on hard candy. They pose an additional problem, however: candies that take a long time to dissolve in the mouth result in a long period of exposure to sugar and the acid produced with it mixes with the bacteria of the mouth.
- Gummy/Sticky/Chewy Foods – Foods like gummy bears and starbursts stay on your teeth much longer than ordinary foods. Due to these foods staying on your longer, you are more subject to tooth decay and other ailments to your oral health. It is important to clean your teeth after eating these types of food.
- Crunchy Foods – Foods that are crunchy are usually full of starch. Starch has a tendency to get stuck in your teeth for long periods of time.
- Fruits and Juices with Citric Acids – Repeated exposure to the acids from foods like fruit and fruit juices can erode your teeth over time.
- Alcoholic Beverages – In excess, alcohol causes dehydration which leads to dry mouth. The presence of saliva in the mouth is important, as it helps to prevent cavities. Anything that leads to dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay. Caffeinated beverages, like coffee, can have this effect as well.
- Drinks High in Sugar – Drinks like colas and energy drinks tend to be extremely high in sugar. These sugars are used by bacteria that damage your tooth enamel.
- Sports Drinks – While these are great to drink while exercising to keep you hydrated and full of electrolytes they can be dangerous to consume on a regular basis. Due to the high sugar concentration, they can be dangerous to your teeth and cause oral health problems like cavities and much more.
Foods that can stain teeth
The food you consume can have an impact on how your teeth look, in addition to your oral health. There are microscopic ridges on teeth where residue from certain foods can get caught, resulting in a stain or discoloration. Darkly pigmented beverages such as coffee, tea, and cola can have this effect, as well as fruit juices, popsicles, and even tomato sauce.
A good rule of thumb to consider is that if it would stain your carpet, it will likely stain your teeth as well.
Foods that are good for your oral health
Just as some foods are harmful to your teeth, there are also some that can be beneficial to eat. Here are some healthy food choices that can be good for your smile.
- Carrots – Carrots are a great snack that can appeal to both children and adults. These sweet and crunchy treats help to stimulate the saliva in your mouth which naturally helps to wash away plaque. They also are rich in Vitamin A, which is great for your eyesight. Carrots can help keep your vision strong and your enamel clear.
- Celery – Although rather tasteless, celery is extremely low in calories and can be dipped in peanut butter or ranch dressing for added flavor. It requires a lot of chewing which helps to increase saliva in your mouth, which assists in removing plaque. The fibrous strands in celery also help to naturally clean your teeth.
- Pineapple – Pineapple is delicious and full of vitamins and minerals. The enzyme bromelain, found in pineapple, can act as a natural stain-remover, helping to keep your teeth white.
- Cheese – An excellent source of calcium, and low in both sugar and acid, this makes cheese a great choice for snacking. Additionally, cheese contains a protein called casein, which is found in milk and is very useful in fortifying the surface of teeth.
- Yogurt – Just like cheese, yogurt is another excellent source of casein, calcium, and phosphates that help to remineralize teeth, just as fluoride does. This makes it another ideal candidate for fighting against cavities.
- Pears – Pears help to stimulate saliva reproduction, like all fresh fruit that are high in fiber. They are a great option as they have a larger neutralizing effect on acid than other types of fruit, such as apples, bananas, mandarins, and pineapples.
- Tap Water – While bottled water is popular, it’s a good idea to drink tap water. Tap water contains a tiny amount of fluoride which helps to prevent tooth decay when used regularly. The reason for this is simple; fluoride helps to remineralize teeth, reversing the harmful effects of acid, which works away enamel. Most bottled water doesn’t contain enough active fluoride to have any benefit.
- Sugar-Free Gum – Sugar-free gum can be helpful for keeping teeth cleaner, particularly brands that include xylitol. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, xylitol actually prevents the bacteria in plaque from metabolizing sugar, acting more like an “anti-sugar” than a sugar substitute. Regular sucrose can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, while xylitol fights against them. Gum even helps to remove bacteria and plaque from your teeth.
Prophylaxis is the term used for a professional tooth cleaning performed by a dental hygienist. Along with brushing for 2 minutes, twice a day, and flossing, routine visits for a cleaning and dental check-up are crucial to maintaining good oral health.
Is visiting the dentist twice a year still necessary?
Oral health care has seen many advances, as we have many new tools and products to help us keep our teeth clean better than ever before. We have toothpaste that fights cavities and remineralizes tooth enamel, and high-tech toothbrushes that utilize phone apps to determine how well we are brushing our teeth.
With all of this, are two visits a year still needed?
The answer to this question is yes, you still need to visit Dr. Lanie twice per year. The reason for this is that your dental visits do more than just clean your teeth.
Your dental visits also do the following:
- Gives your dentist the ability to check for any health issues that you may not feel or see (remember that gum disease is typically “silent”).
- Gives your dentist the ability to identify tooth decay while it is just minor. Tooth decay is not visible or painful until more advanced.
- Gives your dentist the ability to identify other potential health issues like oral cancer, gum disease, and more! Remember, the earlier a problem is identified, the easier it is to treat!
With all of the above being said, the two weeks recommendation is a general one, and may not be the best fit for everyone.
If you take great pride in your dental hygiene and have healthy teeth and gums, it may be possible to go longer in-between visits your visits. However, if you think this is the case for you, you should still check with the dentist first.
On the other end of the dental health spectrum, if you struggle with oral hygiene, or suffer from gingivitis, you should consider scheduling visits more often than twice per year. Three appointments a year is especially helpful for those who suffer from gum disease, as keeping gum pockets clear is necessary to prevent it from getting worse.
If you have any questions about your schedule, get in touch with us to find out what best fits your health needs.
Protect your tooth enamel
You may be surprised to learn that tooth enamel is actually the hardest substance in the human body. That doesn’t mean it can’t be damaged, as cracked, chipped, or broken teeth are quite common. To prevent this sort of damage, it’s very important to take care of our teeth; and this goes beyond good oral hygiene. There are many kinds of techniques, habits, and foods that can do damage to tooth enamel.
Be careful what you bite down on
Chewing on ice cubes or popcorn kernels are common examples of things people do that can cause damage to tooth enamel. Eating or drinking things with high acidic content can also weaken tooth enamel, making it more susceptible to damage.
It isn’t just food, either, as biting fingernails, chewing on pens or pencils, and opening packages with your teeth can result in damage as well.
Teeth clenching and grinding
A very common way people damage their tooth enamel is through bruxism. Bruxism is the term for jaw clenching your jaw or teeth grinding, whether done when a person is awake or asleep. When you continue to do this, your teeth become worn down, which is what we call attrition. Root dentin can become exposed if your attrition becomes serious enough. When dentin is exposed, your teeth become very sensitive to hot and cold. Not only does clenching and grinding damage teeth, it can also cause damage to the ligaments in your jaw and alveolar bone. The damage can lead to periodontal disease.
There are a number of treatments available for bruxism, including night guards and bite correction.
The causes and management of bruxism are complex. Nightguards and, sometimes, bite correction can balance forces applied to the teeth by bruxism. However, treating bruxism may involve evaluating for sleep disorders, medication management, and evaluation of psychosocial factors.
Oral piercings deserve special mention, as they pose a number of oral health risks.
Some of these health risks include:
- Chipped teeth
- Airway Obstruction
- Gum Recession
Some of these issues are fairly common among people who have oral piercings. One study found that gum recession occurred in 50% of people who had a lip piercing and 44% who had a tongue piercing. In the same study, 26% of the individuals with a tongue piercing had some form of tooth damage.
Because there are no regulations over body piercings, caution must be taken when getting one. In addition to the health concerns above, there is also a risk of contracting hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases due to unclean piercing needles.
How to care for oral piercings
If you have any kind of oral piercing already, there are some ways to make sure you limit the risk of issues. Practicing good oral hygiene, like brushing and flossing twice per day, using toothpaste with fluoride, and using a mouthwash that is alcohol-free.
It is important to keep the piercing site clean and be sure to notice any signs of potential issues. These include any pain, tenderness, swelling, or unusual discharges from the piercing site.
Besides choosing not to get an oral piercing, the best way to keep a healthy mouth is through good oral hygiene and routine trips to the dentist. If you do have an oral piercing, Dr. Lanie will be able to give you tips on how to best care for it.