They say that smiling is the cheapest yet most effective way to turn your mood around. In fact, it’s so contagious, you could even pass on some of that good cheer to the people around you. Unfortunately, that’s not quite possible if you have stained, decaying teeth, and mouth odor.
When it comes to dental hygiene practices that were drilled into our heads when we were children, the maximum we know is brushing our teeth twice a day and flossing. Those of us who are really particular spend a few extra seconds gargling with some mouthwash and spitting it out after a couple of hurried swishes and swirls around our teeth and gums.
Turns out, there’s a lot more to dental hygiene than that. So here you have it – a detailed guide on establishing a healthy routine of dental care that will help you flash a smile that’s probably worth much more than a million dollars.
7 Tips On How To Maintain Oral Hygiene
1. Brush Right
What’s left to learn about brushing your teeth when you’ve been doing it for decades now, you may wonder. Unfortunately, not everything about brushing your teeth is as straightforward as it looks, and even though it may seem like second nature, here are some things you’re going to want to keep in mind.
How Often To Brush
Brushing twice a day decreases the risk of bacteria buildup.
It is imperative that you brush your teeth twice, each day. Once after you wake up and once before you hit the sack. Why? Because it is easy for bad bacteria to attach themselves to the biofilm – a layer of good, perfectly harmless bacteria that forms on your teeth. Bad bacteria is one of the main causes of periodontal disease. Removing the biofilm by brushing your teeth forces the whole process of biofilm buildup to start from scratch, thereby ensuring that only the good bacteria are allowed to build up.
The Right Type Of Brush
Toothbrushes come in different shapes, sizes, and stiffness – so you have to make sure you pick the best type for your needs. The size and shape of your brush should always fit your mouth so that it allows you easy access to all parts of your mouth. If you have a smaller mouth or smaller teeth, choose a small-sized brush. Have sensitive gums? Pick a soft-bristle brush. Regardless of what your teeth and gums can tolerate, dentists always recommend you go for a toothbrush whose bristles aren’t too hard.
How To Brush Your Teeth
Hold your toothbrush with an easy grip and place it at a 45-degree angle against your gum line. Sweep your brush back and forth over your teeth gently, using quick, short, tooth-wide strokes. Using this same movement, brush both the outer and the inner tooth surfaces. Wiggle your brush between your teeth to get at germs that may build up in those tiny spaces.
You will also need to clean the upper regions of your teeth, especially the ones at the back that you use for chewing.
Once you’re done, hold your brush vertically and using the tip of its bristles, proceed to clean the inner surfaces of your front teeth, by applying gentle up-and-down strokes. Repeat this same movement to scrub your tongue clean. Try and reach out to the far ends of your tongue to completely get rid of all the bacteria.
What To Avoid
Don’t brush too aggressively, or for too long, for this will wear down the protective enamel coating on your teeth and cause them to become painfully sensitive. Also, do not brush immediately after a meal as certain acids and sugars can make the tooth enamel temporarily soft and increase the risk of it wearing away. The next time, wait for at least 30 minutes before you brush your teeth.
Note: If you’re eating acidic or sugary foods, rinse your mouth thoroughly with water and then brush after about 30 minutes. This will prevent attracting bad bacteria to your teeth and will also help get rid of some of the residue.
2. Floss Right
While brushing helps in cleaning out the surface of your teeth, it still can’t reach between them. We may sound a little too obsessed with oral care here, but a lot can happen if you ignore those minuscule areas between your teeth for too long.
We’ve all been warned by our dentists against plaque – that pesky, sticky layer of material containing bacteria that collects on and between our teeth. Plaque produces substances that can irritate your gums and cause inflammation and bleeding. These are the first warning signs of gum disease; so you are going to want to prevent plaque buildup as much as possible if you want to protect your teeth. And the most effective way to get at those tiny spaces is by flossing.
How Often To Floss
According to the American Dental Association, cleaning between your teeth by flossing is recommended once a day.1
Flossing helps remove plaque from those hard-to-reach areas, which, if left to remain will eventually harden to form tartar. It is tartar that is responsible for causing gum disease and is something that only your dentist can remove. So by flossing diligently, you’d rather just save yourself a lot of time and money, not to mention the physical trauma of dealing with damaged gums!
The Right Time To Floss
It doesn’t really matter whether you clean in between your teeth before or after brushing as long as you remember to do it properly once every day. It’s entirely up to you to pick a time when you can devote a few extra minutes to flossing. If you’re too tired at the end of the day, you may want to keep flossing for the morning or post-lunch time. On the other hand, if you like to go to bed knowing your mouth is thoroughly clean, then flossing before bed is ideal for you.
The Right Type of Floss
As is the case with toothbrushes, there are many types of dental floss available in the market, and there is something for everyone. Finding the right floss for your oral care needs may take some trial and error. If you have large gaps between your teeth, you could try some dental tape. If you have smaller gaps between your teeth, waxed floss may be easier to slide in and out of those tight spaces.
A mint-flavored floss could help you avoid carrying a bottle of mouthwash and risk spilling the contents all over the place, while you can use your electric flosser when you’re at home.
That being said, there is no harm in keeping multiple flossing tools at hand. For instance, it may be convenient to carry a small container of nylon dental tape or dental floss in your purse or travel kit.
How To Floss
- Snap off roughly 17 to 18 inches of floss, leaving about 2 inches to work with. Wind each end of this piece around the middle fingers of each hand and hold it the rest of its length tightly with your thumbs and forefingers.
- With the help of a gentle, back and forth motion, guide the floss between your teeth. Once you find yourself reaching the gum line, all you have to do is curve the floss to form a C shape against the side of one tooth. Very carefully, slide it into the little space between the gum and the tooth.
- Now bring the floss back to the point where two teeth touch each other and move it either upward or downward. Allow the floss to easily conform to the shape of your teeth while you do this.
- Holding the floss tightly against your tooth, rub gently using upward and downward motions along the side of your tooth while moving the floss away from your gums. Repeat for all your teeth.
What To Avoid
Don’t use the same section of floss the entire time you clean between your teeth. This carries all the bacteria you’ve just removed, so there’s no way you’d want to put those very microbes back in between the rest of your teeth. Also, it is very important to pay attention to the teeth right at the back. You chew with these teeth, and it’s very likely that you’ll have particulate matter and germs stuck in between your teeth and gums at the very end of your jaws.
Never force your floss in between particularly tight spaces so that it snaps down to your gums. This will not only hurt you but also make your gums recede.
Spend a little time to gently slide your floss in using back and forth motions. You must also try to avoid getting distracted while flossing your teeth. It can be tedious to do so many at one time, but if you’re going to skip a few teeth in between, you may as well not floss at all. Therefore, be mindful when you’re flossing and pay attention to the movement of your floss.
Note: If you’re new to flossing, you may sense some discomfort and even a little bleeding. Don’t be alarmed – your body is just sending more blood to your gums to help fight off growing plaque. This is a condition known as gingivitis. Don’t stop flossing; instead, gently remove the plaque with your floss, and keep at it for a few days. Your teeth and gums will both go back to normal.
3. Pick The Right Dental Care Products
Always make sure to look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal. This is an authorized sign of approval that declares the product you are using is safe.
When it comes to choosing products for dental care, it is best you consult with your dentist. He will be able to guide you as to what brand or type will suit you the best. When looking at products for personal dental care, you need to be especially aware of the ingredients used while you make your purchases, for many of these contain toxins that may be linked to blindness, cancer, and even death. So the next time you go shopping, spend a few minutes reading the labels.
How To Pick The Right Toothpaste
Make sure your toothpaste always contains fluoride, unless you’re buying one for your toddlers.
A fluoride toothpaste will help prevent cavities and bring down tooth decay. Sodium laureth sulfate also aids in stain removal, though it may cause the wearing down of the tissues. So if you have sensitive teeth, you may want to avoid this ingredient. Xylitol is another ingredient that is particularly helpful in getting rid of plaque.
The kind of toothpaste you buy also largely depends on your needs. There are tartar control toothpastes that can help prevent tartar build up, though you will first have to get your dentist to remove the tartar that has already formed. Antimicrobial toothpastes are particularly useful for people with sensitive teeth.
Do try and avoid whitening toothpastes though, for these contain abrasive ingredients that are quite harsh. So while the prolonged use of this type of toothpaste will help make your teeth brighter and whiter, it may eventually give you sensitive teeth and gums.
How To Pick Dental Powders
This is only a replacement for toothpaste and is usually made of baking soda, a combination of various natural herbs, and an artificial sweetener for making it more pleasant to the tongue. Dental powders are organic and don’t contain fluoride, which can be poisonous if swallowed. This is why many adults prefer giving their toddlers and young children dental powder. As for use by adults, dental powders are just as effective as traditional fluoridated toothpastes. However, some research does show that the former is more effective in plaque removal.2
How To Pick Mouthwash And Fluoride Rinses
Mouthwashes and rinses are not replacements for brushing and flossing your teeth.
Mouthwashes and rinses come in two varieties, cosmetic and therapeutic. Cosmetic ones only mask bad breath while therapeutic washes help with getting rid of germs and plaque and even with tooth whitening. It is, therefore, naturally better to go with the therapeutic washes. Remember to not give these to young children though. They’re more prone to swallowing mouthwash accidentally, and the fluoride can cause severe poisoning.
How To Decide About Teeth Whiteners
Teeth whiteners are available in the form of whitening strips, toothpastes, and rinses, gels, lights and lasers, and trays. Once again, choosing the right product depends on the health of your gums, the degree of discoloration of your teeth, and how many composite resin or white-colored fillings or crowns you have.
Note: When it comes to ingredients, make sure to look out for sodium lauryl sulfate, glycerin, triclosan, hydrogen peroxide, artificial dyes, and preservatives. These can be both highly toxic and carcinogenic. The prolonged use of products with these ingredients can lead these ingredients to seep into the bloodstream through your gums and tongue and be transported to various parts of the body. If these toxins continue to be deposited in your body over long periods of time, they could lead to some seriously damaging health problems and diseases.
4. What To Eat And Drink
Firm, Crunchy Foods
Hard, crunchy foods encourage chewing, an action that produces more saliva. Saliva is the best natural neutralizer of the bacteria responsible for causing cavities. Besides, the naturally abrasive nature of these foods helps gently scrub and clean the surface of your teeth. So technically, you end up killing two birds with one stone. This is, however, not an excuse to munch on potato chips. We’re talking about raw fruits and veggies such as apples, guavas, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
Foods Rich In Calcium And Phosphorus
Tooth enamel is made of minerals. Eating and drinking various foods that are high in acids can erode your tooth enamel over time by washing away the minerals (demineralization). So you need to put those lost minerals back into your teeth (remineralization) to make them strong again. For this, you need calcium and phosphorus – the two building blocks of tooth enamel.
- For calcium, eat foods like tofu, low-fat milk, almonds, yogurt, hard and aged cheese, and seafood for calcium.
- For phosphorus, eat pumpkin seeds, eggs, spinach, and bone broth.
Foods Rich In Vitamin C
This vitamin plays an important role in keeping your gums healthy by strengthening blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Vitamin C also aids in collagen production. Collagen is an important protein that plays a huge role in fighting periodontal disease. Your best bets are bell peppers, kale, broccoli, oranges, kiwi, and strawberries.
However, it is important to note that foods containing vitamin C are also acidic in nature. You don’t want the acids lingering on your teeth for too long, as they may have a damaging effect on your enamel and cause staining. Therefore, rinse your mouth well with water after you’re done eating these foods. This will help wash away much of the acids for the time being until you’re ready to brush and floss.
Foods Rich In Vitamin D
Vitamin D is crucial for healthy teeth, mainly because it helps your body absorb essential teeth-friendly minerals like calcium and phosphorus better. Get plenty of sunlight since it is the most natural and free source of vitamin D. You should also eat a healthy amount of fish, cod liver oil, and egg yolks.
Foods Rich In Antioxidants
Antioxidants enjoy a celebrity status when it comes to maintaining good health, and this also involves tooth health. Antioxidants fight off the bad bacteria that is responsible for causing inflammation and periodontal disease. They also help protect your gums and other tissues from bacterial infection and cell damage. Therefore, you want to make sure you eat plenty of apples, grapes, berries, nuts, seeds, beans, and raisins to give your teeth their daily dose of antioxidants.
Although adequate research is lacking, researchers claim that certain compounds like anthocyanins, arginine, and polyphenols can help promote healthy teeth.
Anthocyanins, a type of antioxidants, may prevent plaque from attaching onto your teeth and can even fight oral cancer, while arginine is an important amino acid that can interrupt plaque formation and reduce the risk of cavities.
Polyphenols, also antioxidants, help impede bad bacteria growth that is the main cause of plaque. They also offer a decent amount of protection against cavity formation, gum disease, and bad breath).
Fill your diet with berries, cherries, grapes, plums, and eggplant for your dose of anthocyanins, while eating meat, nuts, and soy will give you a good amount of arginine. Drinking black or green tea (without sugar), black coffee and eating flaxseed, berries, and cocoa will give your body a healthy boost of polyphenols.
Foods Rich In Probiotics
Bad bacteria is your teeth’s worst enemy. Good bacteria like probiotics, however, are good dependable friends. And although more research in this field is still pending, there is still some existing evidence that probiotics may help fight off plaque and give you healthy gums.3 Your best sources would be yogurt, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods.
Drink Coffee Or Tea Sans Milk And Sugar
Too much caffeine and tannins contained in coffee and tea can cause your mouth to feel excessively dry because of reduced saliva production. This makes your teeth susceptible to decay, not to mention the staining of teeth over time. However, research does show that the polyphenols in tea and coffee can help fight off plaque and prevent gum disease and even cancer. The solution lies in sugarless coffee and tea.
Black coffee and sugarless teas will give you a healthy boost of polyphenols, without exposing your teeth to unnecessary sugar. You could also opt for herbal teas, as these are not only sugar-free but also come with numerous health benefits. Remember, however, that moderation is key, so don’t drink too many cups of your favorite beverage.
Rinse your mouth immediately after drinking your coffee or tea and try to use a mouthwash for added protection against staining and bad odor-causing bacteria.
Drink Fluoridated Water
Your tooth enamel tends to lose out on important minerals that are responsible for making it such a protective armor against bad bacteria and germs. Exposing your teeth to fluoride by drinking fluoridated water helps put back those important minerals in your teeth and this plays a giant role in slowing down cavity formation.
5. What Not To Eat And Drink
Sticky foods: Sticky foods like dried fruit tend to stay stuck to your teeth longer than other types of food and are more difficult to remove. Therefore, they put your teeth at very high risk. You need to be extra careful while cleaning your teeth, especially if you find yourself eating too many dried fruits often.
Sugary foods and drinks: Eating too many of these exposes your teeth to sugar much too often. Sugar attracts plaque bacteria that use the sugar to produce enamel-attacking acids. Sweets like hard candies may also trigger painful dental emergencies such as a broken or chipped teeth.
Acidic foods and drinks: Exposing your teeth to acidic foods and drinks, like those made of citrus fruits, can wear down the protective layer of enamel on your teeth, making them more susceptible to decay over time. Too many citric fruits and juices can also irritate and worsen mouth sores and cause your teeth to yellow. Most fruit juices are both acidic and artificially sweetened. Always check the labels for a low-sugar variety.
Coffee/tea with sugar: Not too many people can resist adding sugar to their morning cup o’ joe or tea. Caffeinated coffee and tea may also dry out your mouth and encourage the growth of bacteria that cause decay. This is what ultimately gives you awful mouth odor. Taking too many cups of coffee and tea may also cause the staining or yellowing of teeth.
Alcohol: Alcohol triggers dry mouth symptoms and dehydration. People who drink excessively may note that the flow of saliva in their mouth has drastically reduced over time. This can lead to oral infections like gum disease and may even cause tooth decay Did you also know that heavy consumption of alcohol can also increase your risk for mouth cancer?
Sodas and soft drinks: A majority of carbonated soft drinks, including diet soda, are acidic in nature and are, therefore, damaging for your teeth. Colas and other caffeinated beverages can also cause your mouth to dry out over time because of decreased saliva production, thereby giving rise to bad breath.
Sports drinks: Many of us make the mistake of thinking sports and energy drinks are healthy for us. Unfortunately, sugar and acids are very often the top ingredients for most of these drinks. As mentioned earlier, both these ingredients can lead to highly sensitive teeth and gums that are susceptible to decay and disease. The next time you head to the supermarket, check the labels carefully to make sure your drink of choice is low in sugar.
Note: It would be an extreme step to completely give up on lemonade, desserts, or an occasional glass of wine. All of this is perfectly alright as long as you make up your mind to stick to moderation. Also, a useful trick to remember is rinsing your mouth with water vigorously immediately after eating or drinking anything that falls under the categories mentioned above. This will help wash away the sugars and acids from your teeth and keep bacteria away for a little longer till you get yourself to the bathroom and start your oral care process.
6. Bad Habits That Could Damage Your Teeth
Smoking: Cigarettes are high in nicotine and tar. These are not only responsible for making your teeth yellow but also wear away at your gums. Smoking can also damage tissue, degrade the bone that supports your teeth, cause tooth loss and decay, and even lead to oral cancer. Any and all forms of tobacco is a giant no-no for your oral health.
Chewing on sugary gums: Chewing gum may help freshen your breath and can also stimulate saliva production, which helps rinse away food particles and bacteria from your mouth. However, gums containing sugar are completely pointless because they actually increase the exposure of your teeth to sugar, which will, in turn, attract more bacteria. Always choose sugar-free gums to chew on; these will greatly help maintain the health of your teeth and gums and will also prevent staining.
Whitening too often: Whitening your teeth far too often, especially if you’re using at-home kits can lead to sensitivity over time. Furthermore, the prolonged overuse of whitening products can also ruin your tooth enamel and cause irritation of the gums, for these come with abrasive chemicals that are rough on your teeth. Whitening your teeth at your dentist’s is a much safer option. Also, consult with a dental care professional about how often you should actually whiten your teeth.
Chewing ice: Ice may be made of water and it may be free of sugar or additives. But it is still hard. Chewing on hard and solid surfaces can be the main cause of dental emergencies such as chipped/broken teeth and damaged tooth enamel that results in sensitive teeth. Therefore, do your teeth a favor and stick to drinking water in its plain, liquid form.
Using Your Teeth As A Tool: Your teeth are meant to help with three things – chewing food, helping you talk, and making you look nice when you smile. Using them as pliers or hooks to help break of price tags from clothes, ripping open bags of chips, unscrewing or pulling off bottle caps spell damage for your teeth. Not only can they cause your teeth to chip or crack, but if your grip slips, you can end up tearing your gums.
Biting your nails: Nail biting is a chronic habit that not only ruins the appearance of your hands but can also become an oral hygiene issue. Your nails contain plenty of bacteria and germs. By nibbling on them, you’re transferring all those microbes into your mouth. Also, biting your nails can cause your teeth to move out of place. It can even cause your tooth to break or your tooth enamel to splinter.
7. Check In With The Dentist More Often
Make sure to visit your dentist at least twice a year for a thorough hygiene treatment. This is just as important as at-home oral care. What makes dentist appointments even more important is the involvement of a comprehensive exam, usually taken with x-rays. This exam is effective in detecting future dental problems and can help you take the necessary steps to nip the problem in the bud in its early stages. That way, you not only protect your teeth but also avoid dealing with those alarmingly expensive medical bills.
|↑1||Flossing. American Dental Association.|
|↑2||Khan, M. K., A. A. Khan, T. Hosein, A. Mudassir, K. M. Mirza, and A. Anwar. “Comparison of the plaque-removing efficacy of toothpaste and toothpowder.” Journal of the International Academy of Periodontology 11, no. 1 (2009): 147-150.|
|↑3||Haukioja, Anna. “Probiotics and oral health.” European journal of dentistry 4, no. 3 (2010): 348.|