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.