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 gumline, 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.
- Choose 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.
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 gumline, 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 gumline, 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 and tartar 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.
It is estimated that approximately half the population experiences tooth sensitivity.
The sensitivity you experience can come in many forms or situations. It may be mild and momentary, or extreme and last for hours. It can come and go over time. It can happen when you bite down on something, eat something sweet, drink something cold, or even when you drink something hot.
Why do your teeth react to hot, cold, sweet, or sour, and sometimes even to pressure? What’s actually going on?
If you are having issues with sensitive teeth, it’s typically an indication of a dental problem that needs treatment. The type of treatment can vary depending on the cause, however, as there are many things that can cause sensitive teeth.
Common causes of sensitive teeth
Five of the most common causes of sensitive teeth are:
- Dental Trauma – A tooth can be sensitive to even slight pressure if it has been traumatized in any way, “bruised” or even cracked (by biting down on something). Sometimes even having your teeth cleaned or a filling done can cause sensitivity. Sensitivity to trauma can take weeks or even months to go away.
- Uneven Bite – If a tooth or teeth are hitting too soon or too hard because the teeth have shifted, and your bite has changed, it can cause sensitivity. These shifts can be due to things such as thumb sucking, loss of bone structure, a tooth being extracted and the other teeth shifting into the empty space, etc. Again a bite adjustment usually corrects the problem.
- Tooth Decay – The tooth often becomes sensitive to hot or cold, sweets, or acidic food if a tooth is decayed because bacteria have access to the nerve of the tooth. Removal of the decay and a filling is required to resolve this issue.
- Dental Infection – The sensitivity can be extreme if there is infection in the tooth. Treatment is needed to clear up the infection or it can not only lead to extreme pain, but serious health issues.
- Dentinal Sensitivity – Exposed dentin is by far the most common cause of tooth sensitivity. This occurs when the dentin (the inner layer of a tooth) is exposed. People with a healthy, thick layer of enamel on their teeth don’t usually suffer from tooth sensitivity. The enamel can be eroded by various things, as the thickness of the enamel varies from person to person. Dentin is a sponge-like material containing small tubes that connect the root canal space pulp to the outside of the dentin. If the enamel on the tooth is compromised the dentin can be exposed, resulting in sensitivity.
Causes of dentinal sensitivity
As it’s the most common source of sensitive teeth, it may help to know some of the reasons why it may happen. These include, but are not limited to:
- Over-brushing or aggressive brushing - If you brush too forcefully, with a side-to-side technique, or with too hard of a brush, the enamel may be thinned and the area around the gum-line is most often affected.
- Gum recession/gum disease - This can occur naturally over time, whereby the gums shrink back, exposing root dentin which is not protected by enamel.
- Poor oral hygiene - This can lead to cavities, and/or plaque and tartar build-up, resulting in gum recession.
- Grinding - This may also cause “aching” teeth, due to constant pressure on them. Similar to erosion, regular teeth grinding (also called bruxism) can wear away the enamel by physically grinding it away.
- Medical conditions - Bulimia and acid reflux (GERD) can cause acid to collect in the mouth and erode enamel, resulting in sensitive teeth.
- Acidic food - Food with high acid content, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and tea, can cause enamel erosion with regular consumption.
- Bad habits - Using teeth as tools or chewing on objects (e.g., pens) can wear away tooth enamel as well.
Teeth can become sensitive for many different reasons ranging from trauma to dental disease. The first step in treating sensitive teeth is to determine the cause. If you suffer from sensitive teeth, getting in touch with our office to make an appointment is the first step in finding relief.
80 million people in the US are affected every day by chronic bad breath, also known as Halitosis. Bad breath is an important oral health issue; whether it’s your own or someone else’s, and it may be more than an embarrassing social problem—it can be a sign of disease or illness.
Common Causes of Bad Breath
Poor oral hygiene
Bad breath is typically caused by a sulfur compound that is left by bacteria created from decaying food particles and other leftover debris that are trapped between teeth. This is why you should be flossing once a day. In addition to proper brushing, flossing daily helps remove the food particles and bacteria that contribute to bad breath, making it one of the easiest ways to prevent and banish bad breath. Brushing your tongue, cheeks and the roof of your mouth can help remove food particles, too, and of course, regular visits to the dentist are recommended as well.
Saliva is important for more reasons than you might think, one of which is that your mouth is more susceptible to plaque buildup if less saliva is present. As we’ve established, this building may result in an unpleasant smell.
If you deal with bad breath due to a lack of saliva, you can avoid the following circumstances:
- Alcohol - Beverages containing alcohol may promote a dry mouth and cause bad breath, so before you hop into bed and forget after a night of drinking, be sure to floss, no matter how tired you may seem to be.
- Early morning - You may be prone to bad breath in the morning because saliva stops flowing when you sleep. Mornings may be the best time for your daily dental flossing.
- Being hungry or thirsty - Since there is not much saliva in your mouth when you are dehydrated, you’re prone to increased bacterial buildup and bad breath at these times. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and are eating right. Chewing food also increases the saliva in your mouth, so if you’re skipping meals or dieting, you may develop bad breath. If you must restrict your food intake and eat infrequently, drink plenty of water to help maintain the level of saliva in your mouth to help prevent bad breath.
Causes of Chronic Bad Breath
Having good oral hygiene and a healthy diet are good ways to be sure you avoid bad breath. But, if you’re doing all of these things and are still having problems, there may be another cause, including some serious health conditions.
Some serious oral health conditions associated with bad breath to include:
- Throat problems such as strep throat
- Gum disease
- Dental Cavities
- Throat or oral cancer
- Tonsils that contain trapped food particles.
- A root canal that is infected
Bad breath can also be a symptom of a variety of serious non-oral health problems including:
- Liver disease
- Digestive system ailments such as:
- Acid reflux
- Lung infections
- Lung disease.
Mouthwash - 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 has 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. Hill 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.