Oral Hygiene 101
I’ve been brushing and flossing my entire life. I think I’ve got it down, you’re thinking. And you probably do. But, just to be on the safe side, stick with us for a short refresher on the basics of oral hygiene. If you learn something new, it’s time well spent. If not, it’s an affirmation that you’re on top of it.
- Brushing’s only as effective as your toothbrush. If the bristles on yours are bent or frayed, replace it. An electric toothbrush is a steeper investment than a manual one, but you’ll only need to replace the heads every few months, not the entire brush. And your brushing will be that much more effective; research shows that people who use them had less plaque and gum disease.
- With the range of toothpastes available today, it’s a matter of preference. Fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses, when used in conjunction with flossing, have been shown to be very effective in reducing tooth decay and sensitivity to cold. (The rinses are not recommended for children under six.) A word of warning: Tartar control toothpastes will reduce tartar above the gum line, but gum disease starts below it.
- Whether you’re using an electric or a manual toothbrush, point the brush at a 45 degree angle at your gum line and move the brush from side to side in small strokes. Once you’re done with the front, follow the same process for the back and, last, the top and bottom (the biting surfaces).
- Periodontal disease appears most often between the teeth, in the spots that can’t be reached with a toothbrush, which makes flossing critical. Simple as it seems, few of us do it correctly. Hold the floss between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Gently insert it between the teeth—don’t force it—starting at the top and as far back as you can manage. Pull the floss to the gum line and wrap it in a C-shape around one tooth. Then, slide it up and down.
- As the floss becomes soiled, use a different segment or, if necessary, a different piece altogether.
- Keep the pulls relatively gentle and slow, but don’t be shy around the gum line. Work the floss between the tooth and the gum as long as the resistance is light. It may be a bit uncomfortable at first, but that’ll subside after a week or so.
- When you’re done, rinse well. (It’s not just a dentist thing.) Don’t be alarmed if there’s a little blood initially. As the plaque’s removed, your gums will heal and the bleeding will stop. Some soreness is natural. Too much, though, and you may be pulling too hard against your gums. Oral irrigators will provide a sufficient rinsing, but they should not be considered a thorough plaque-removal tool.
- Even the most thorough brushing and flossing is likely to leave some plaque behind, which is why a professional cleaning should be an essential part of your oral hygiene regimen. Not only will it tend to those hard-to-reach spots, it’ll scan for any abnormalities, and early detection of almost every dental issue is key to resolving it quickly.
- Teeth can be sensitive to hot and cold right after a dental treatment. That will subside with good oral hygiene. Prolonged periods of sensitivity, however, or especially severe bouts of it may be symptomatic of a larger issue. Consult with your dentist.
- In the case of periodontal disease, cleanings should be scheduled every three months and alternate between a periodontist and dentist. Periodontitis is a chronic disease, like diabetes. And like diabetes, it must be continuously managed. The shorter intervals are recommended because it takes as little as 24 hours for bacteria to re-grow below the gum line and spur new bone loss. And, alternating between doctors ensures a comprehensive surveillance of your mouth. A dentist is primarily concerned with the health of your teeth, whereas a periodontist is more likely to note a change in the gums.