Most of us care about how our teeth look when we smile, so that’s the first incentive we have to take good care of our teeth. It’s also widely accepted that good oral hygiene and good general health go together. Proper oral hygiene includes a simple daily routine of tooth brushing, flossing, and even tongue cleaning. This should always be supplemented by regular checkups with a dentist. Additionally, eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding certain habits contributes to a healthy mouth and teeth, as well as our general health.
Dental authorities recommend brushing your teeth at least twice a day. This should be done after eating, to clean away any acids, coatings or particles left behind by foods. Use fluoride toothpaste with a soft bristled toothbrush. A proper job of tooth brushing should take about 2 minutes and reach all exposed surfaces. Take care not to scrub too vigorously, because you can irritate your gums and wear down the tooth enamel. Replace the brush about every three months, because a toothbrush with worn or bent bristles can’t clean properly and might even injure your gums.
The proper technique is to hold the brush at a 45 degree angle against the gumline and move the brush in small circles over the teeth. Start in one quadrant of the mouth, such as the upper left side, and move forward across the front of the teeth and around to the opposite side. Clean the inner surfaces the same way. On the insides of the front teeth, it’s easier to hold the brush vertically and use the tip to make the circles against the inner surfaces. Finish by brushing flat across the biting surfaces in short back and forth strokes. Next, brush your tongue from back to front on both the upper and lower surfaces. A surprising amount of bacteria exists on the tongue, and this will remove most of it.
After brushing, floss the teeth to remove food particles and plaque that the brush cannot reach. Begin by cutting off a piece of floss about 18 inches long, and wrap the ends around the middle fingers on each hand, leaving about an inch or so in the middle. With the thumb and forefingers, gently press the floss into the space between two teeth, and gently pull it up from the gumline to the point of the tooth to remove plaque and debris. Wrap the floss around the side of the tooth and repeat. Pull the floss up and out, unwind a little new floss, and move to the next space. If the floss gets caught in a tight space, do not force it out! Simply let go of one end and pull it out horizontally. Waxed floss might be easier for some people to use, and others might like to try a floss holder.
After brushing and flossing, a good extra step is to rinse the mouth with an antimicrobial or antiseptic mouthwash. Some formulas even contain ingredients to help preserve the tooth enamel.
The entire routine of brushing, flossing and rinsing should take only 3-5 minutes, and it will reward you with a nice smile, and good dental and general health for many years.
Don’t overlook the importance of having an annual or semi-annual checkup with a good dentist. A thorough dental exam can uncover health problems you may be unaware of, because signs often occur in the mouth before they appear elsewhere. For example, some eating disorders, cancers and other diseases can be detected early in the mouth, and then successfully treated. Naturally, the dentist will also catch and treat any cavities or gum disease before they get out of hand, and can spot any problems developing in tooth or jaw alignment.
These routine and simple dental care steps, if followed regularly, will pay us huge dividends towards maintaining good dental and general health. That’s really something to smile about.