Good oral hygiene is necessary to maintain healthy teeth and gums. These are habits like brushing twice a day and having regular dental check-ups.
However, oral health is more than tooth decay and gum disease. Research has shown that there is an association between the health of a person’s mouth and their overall health. Oral health problems are considered by experts to be a global health burden.
Without treatment, tooth decay or gum problems can lead to pain, self-confidence issues, and tooth loss. These problems can lead to malnutrition, speech problems, and other challenges in a person’s work, school, or personal life.
People can prevent these problems with proper dental care, both at home and at the dentist. The following are some of the best practices that can keep your teeth and gums healthy.
1. Brush regularly but not aggressively
Most people are aware that brushing your teeth twice a day is one of the most important practices for removing plaque and bacteria and keeping your teeth clean. However, brushing can only be effective if people use the correct technique.
People should brush using small circular motions, taking care to brush the front, back, and top of each tooth. This process takes between 2 and 3 minutes. People should avoid cutting back and forth movements.
Brushing too hard or using a stiff-bristle brush can damage tooth enamel and gums. The effects of this can include tooth sensitivity, permanent damage to the protective enamel on the teeth, and erosion of the gums.
The Dental Association (AD) recommends using a toothbrush that has soft bristles. They also state that people should change their toothbrush every 3 months or when the ends start to look worn, whichever comes first.
2. Use fluoride
Fluoride comes from an element in the earth’s soil called fluorine. Many experts believe that fluoride helps prevent cavities, and it is a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash. However, some dental products do not contain fluoride and some people do not use it at all.
Evidence suggests that a lack of fluoride can lead to tooth decay, even if a person cares for their teeth differently. A recent review found that brushing and flossing do not prevent a person from having cavities if they do not use fluoride.
Many communities have added fluoride to their water supply. Several organizations recommend this practice, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the AD.
People can find out if the water in their area contains fluoride by contacting their local government. Reverse osmosis water filters remove fluoride and people who use well water will need to check the levels of fluoride in this water to find out how much is present. Many brands of bottled water do not contain fluoride.
3. Thread once a day
Flossing can remove plaque and bacteria between the teeth, where the toothbrush cannot reach. It can also help prevent bad breath by removing waste and food that has become trapped between your teeth. Although long-term studies are lacking to show that flossing is beneficial, the AD continues to recommend it. The CDC also states that people should floss.
Most dental health professionals recommend gently pushing the floss up to the gum line before hugging the side of the tooth in an up and down motion. It is important to avoid flossing up and down between your teeth, which can cause pain and will not remove plaque as effectively.
4. See a dentist regularly
Experts recommend that people visit a dentist every 6 months for a checkup. During a routine dental exam, a hygienist will clean your teeth and remove hardened plaque and tartar. The dentist will look for visual signs of cavities, gum disease, mouth cancer, and other oral health problems. Sometimes they can also use X-rays of teeth to detect cavities.
The results of a recent study confirmed that children and adolescents should see a dentist every 6 months to help prevent cavities. However, adults who practice good dental hygiene every day and are at low risk for oral health problems may go less often. The authors of a recent review state that more high-quality studies are needed to confirm the ideal frequency of dental examinations.
People can talk to their dentist about how often they need a checkup. The answer can vary based on a person’s health history, age, and overall dental health. However, anyone who notices changes in their mouth should visit a dentist.
5. No smoking
Smoking damages the body’s immune system, making it difficult for the body to heal tissues, including those in the mouth. The CDC mentions that smoking is a risk factor for gum disease, while the AD warns that people who smoke may experience slow healing after a dental procedure. Smoking also affects the appearance of the mouth, causing yellowing of the teeth and tongue, and can give a bad smell to the breath.
6. Consider a mouthwash
Some studies indicate that certain mouthwashes can benefit oral health. For example, one review found that mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, an antibacterial ingredient, helps control plaque and gingivitis. Mouthwashes with certain essential oils are also effective, according to a meta-analysis.
People may want to ask their dentist about the best mouthwash for their individual needs. A mouthwash cannot substitute for brushing and flossing, but it can complement these practices. Mouthwashes that can help with bad breath and dental problems are available online.
7. Limit sugary foods and starches
Consuming sugar can lead to cavities. Studies continue to highlight the important role sugar plays in adverse dental health outcomes. Common culprits include sweets and desserts, but many processed foods also contain added sugar.
The WHO recommends that people limit their sugar intake to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. The authors of a systematic review concluded that reducing this to 5 percent would further reduce the risk of cavities and other dental problems.
Experts have also stated that starchy foods, such as cookies, bread, potato chips, and pasta, can cause tooth decay. The AD explains that these foods stay in the mouth and break down into simple sugars, on which acid-producing bacteria feed. This acid can cause tooth decay. Instead of starchy foods, the AD recommends eating plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products with no added sugar.
8. Drink water instead of sugary drinks
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugars in the typical diet. Drinking sodas, juices, or other sugary drinks can increase your risk of cavities. The AD recommends drinking unsweetened water or tea throughout the day and only drinking sugary beverages at meal times and in small volumes.
Tips for kids
A child’s primary teeth, which people sometimes call baby teeth, are just as important as his permanent teeth. Baby teeth help a child chew and speak. They are placeholders for future permanent teeth.
If a child loses a baby tooth due to decay, this can disrupt the space in the mouth and make it difficult for the adult tooth to develop properly.
With this in mind, it is best to introduce good dental care to children during infancy. The following practices will help keep a child’s teeth and gums healthy:
- Clean a baby’s gums with a warm, damp washcloth every day, even before they have teeth. By doing this, sugars are removed from the gums and can help a baby become familiar with the feeling of cleaning their teeth.
- Babies and young children should not go to bed with bottles or sippy cups. Milk and juice contain sugars that can cause tooth decay if they remain on the teeth for long periods of time.
- As a baby approaches one year of age, she begins to accustom them to a sippy cup. Aim to stop using bottles before her first birthday.
- Allow young children to sip water from cups between meals, but save juice or milk only for meals.