Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans visit their local orthodontists to get fitted with Invisalign or braces. However, those same people often fail to practice basic oral hygiene — they brush their teeth carelessly, fail to use mouthwash, and may only floss once a month (or worse, not at all).
The result? An entire society with perfectly straight teeth, but with mouths full of bacteria and tartar that lead to more elaborate orthodontist treatments later.
It’s ironic, isn’t it?
And the damage doesn’t stop there. Research has suggested links between bad oral health and many conditions that don’t seem related, such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease. This is thought to be a result of bacteria moving from the mouth into the bloodstream, where it wreaks havoc throughout the rest of the body.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a part of this trend. Healthy habits lead to healthy mouths, and healthy mouths contribute to a healthy and happy life.
This article will tell you everything you ever needed to know about good oral health and hygiene, beyond simply brushing your teeth every night. Keep reading to learn more.
Floss Daily, Correctly
According to experts, you should floss your teeth every day in order to maintain good oral health. But did you know that only four out of every 10 Americans floss every day? A full 20% of the population doesn’t floss at all, and many hygienists feel that this percentage is even higher.
That’s an enormous cross-section of the population that dips far below basic standards for oral hygiene. It may also explain why 25% of adults between the ages of 35 and 59 experience untreated tooth decay, with many undergoing costly treatments to reverse the problem.
With so many experts united in stating that flossing daily is paramount to good dental health, it’s shocking that so many Americans fail to spend just a minute or two per day to do it. Many people have the idea that just brushing their teeth is good enough, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The average toothbrush cannot reach areas between your teeth or all the way down to your gums. Even toothpicks and proxabrushes have trouble reaching these in-between places.
Flossing doesn’t improve your tooth color, freshen your breath, or get rid of stains. But daily flossing is important because it reaches down between your teeth to clean up that bacteria that your toothbrush can’t reach.
Food particles get stuck in between your teeth, which breeds bacteria. These bacteria mix with saliva and this creates plaque, which hardens over time into tartar. Tartar, in turn, will inflame your gums and eat at your teeth, causing them to rot. Before it’s all said and done, this process can result in periodontal disease, receding gums, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
If you prefer to reach old age with your smile still intact, you should rethink the idea of skipping your nightly floss.
But that’s not where the trouble ends. Many people who do floss every day don’t do it correctly, which means they aren’t really protecting themselves from those problems described earlier. Flossing takes effort, and people who cut corners may just be wasting their time.
It isn’t enough to simply insert the thread between your teeth and then yank it back out. You must place the thread all the way down between your teeth until it touches your gums. Then gently pull it back up to remove any plaque or food particles that got stuck there. Use a different part of the thread for each space between your teeth.
If this sounds like a simple technique, that’s because it is, but it’s critical that you get it right.
Brush Twice Daily, Correctly
While it’s only necessary to floss once every day, you should brush your teeth at least twice each day, and once after each meal is better. Good brushing is your first line of defense against stains, plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease. Unlike flossing, the vast majority of Americans (70% of them) brush their teeth twice per day.
That’s good news, but what about the 30% who brush less than twice per day? And those who admit to going two days or more without brushing at all?
People who fail to brush regularly are basically inviting bacteria to use their mouths as breeding grounds. The more time you go between brushing, the more time that bacteria have to gather, multiply, and destroy your teeth.
It should go without saying that if you care about having a healthy mouth, you need to brush your teeth at least twice per day.
And once again, it’s not enough just to run your toothbrush around your mouth a few times. To get the full benefit of brushing, you’ve got to do it correctly.
There are four things you must pay attention to in order to ensure you’re brushing your teeth properly and effectively:
- How long you spend brushing. The amount of time dentists recommend you spend brushing your teeth is two minutes.
- How carefully you brush. As already mentioned, just running your brush around your mouth won’t make the cut. You have to spend enough time on each tooth to make your brushing count. For users of electric toothbrushes, that means holding the head against each individual tooth for at least six seconds.
- How you move your brush. If you use a manual toothbrush, it’s important to move the brush gently in a circular motion on every tooth. Angle the brush downwards so you clean along your gums, as well as across your teeth. It’s important to remember not to use a lot of force when you’re brushing, no matter what type of brush you use. If you apply too much pressure against your teeth, you could cause the enamel to wear off, which could lead to tooth erosion.
- Where you brush. In addition to brushing the front, back, top, and bottom of each tooth (and each bracket if you have braces), you should also brush your gums, tongue, and roof of your mouth. This ensures you get the full benefits of brushing, which includes your entire mouth, not just your teeth.
To maintain good oral health, you can’t put everything off until your routine dentist visit. Proper brushing and flossing are how you take care of your mouth in between dentist visits.
Use the Right Kind of Mouthwash for You
We all know that mouthwash can freshen your breath, giving your mouth a nice, clean feel. But is it really good for your health?
Surprisingly, oral health experts are divided on this one. Some experts say that mouthwash is actually harmful because it kills good bacteria, thus leading to poor oral and overall health. Others hold the position that it’s useful because it kills harmful bacteria, protecting your mouth.
As of right now, there just isn’t enough observable evidence available to hold up either position irrefutably. There’s still a lot of mouthwash research to be done, as many existing studies seem to contradict one another.
With that said, experts do have some recommendations based on what we do know. People who experience certain kinds of periodontal disease may require a good antibacterial mouthwash to keep their condition under control. This also holds true for those whose mouths are often overrun with bad bacteria.
For the rest of us, a basic rinsing solution without alcohol or antibacterial additives would be best. This is because mouthwashes with alcohol kill off good bacteria, and they tend to be acidic. The acid in these types of mouthwashes can contribute to enamel erosion on your teeth.
Drink Fluoridated Water
Most dentists say it’s important to consume fluoride because it may reduce your chance of developing cavities. Conveniently, fluoride is already added to city water supplies in America, so if you drink your home’s tap water you’re already getting the fluoride you need. But did you know that water filters can remove fluoride from your water?
Clean water is important for you and your family’s health. But some people have water filters installed alongside their water heater installation, not realizing that filters remove the fluoride from their water.
In most cities, it’s supposed to be perfectly safe to drink from the public water supply without filtering the water as it comes into your home. If you don’t have city water, or you feel safer filtering your tap water anyway, your dentist may recommend a fluoride supplement you can take instead.
Avoid Tobacco Products
This one may come as a surprise. Many people believe that smoking and tobacco usage only affects your lungs, but not your teeth or mouth. This mistake is understandable, as smoking does pose a major health hazard to your lung health. Conditions like lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease run rampant among smokers, after all.
Cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff all contain small particles that are abrasive to your teeth. When this comes into contact with saliva, it creates a paste that wears down your teeth over time, causing erosion and decay.
As if that wasn’t enough, using tobacco products can lead to fewer dental treatment options in the event that you need extended oral care during a dentist visit. Smoking causes damage to your entire mouth that can manifest in the form of reduced blood flow, inflammation, and higher bad bacteria counts. These conditions can make it more difficult to replace lost teeth.
Dental implants and bridges can only be used to repair poor dental conditions if the surrounding infrastructure is stable enough to support them. Tobacco use can weaken the teeth and jawbone around a problem area, making implants or bridges impossible to install.
Gum disease is also harder to treat for someone who smokes or uses tobacco. Heavy tobacco use compromises your immune system, making it do a poorer job protecting your health. This can make it more difficult for you to fight off the conditions associated with gum disease. It also slows down the speed at which new blood vessels can grow, which can dramatically extend the time required for full healing after a surgery or injury.
Finally, tobacco users in general are more likely to get sick because of their reduced ability to fight off infection and disease. Along with this comes a much higher risk for developing gum disease specifically.
If you use chewing tobacco, you may think you’re safe because you don’t technically smoke. But think again. Even smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancer in the mouth, tongue, lip, and pancreas, as it includes at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals.
It’s also not uncommon for tobacco to cause irritation to users’ gums, leading to periodontal disease. It increases your risk of tooth decay, as smokeless tobacco is often enhanced with sugar to improve flavor. And the grittiness of smokeless tobacco can wear down your teeth.
Overall, any form of tobacco should be used minimally, or not at all.
Find a Good Dentist You Can Trust
If you’re concerned about you and your family’s oral health, you know how important it is to find a good dentist you can rely on. Half of all adults say they have a dentist visit every six months, which is a good rule of thumb for maximizing your oral healthcare. But what if you aren’t sure how to find the right dentist in the first place?
Fortunately, most dentists will have informative websites that can answer your questions about their practice and approach to oral health. This is often a great starting point when you’re starting your search before scheduling a dentist visit.
Some dentists offer on-demand care over the internet. This long-distance, convenient medical treatment is ideal when you have urgent questions related to your dental health but aren’t sure you need to come in for a dentist visit yet.
You may be concerned about finding a dentist that’s a member of your insurance plan provider, especially if you require long term care. However, it’s important to recognize that costs for dentist visits and dental care aren’t set in stone. Even if a specific dentist isn’t a member of your insurer’s network, they may still be willing to accept your insurance. If you find a dentist you like that isn’t a member of your insurance network, it’s usually a good idea to schedule your dentist visits with them anyway.
Schedule a Dentist Visit for Urgent Dental Care
Don’t visit your local urgent care center for dental emergencies. Most emergency care services don’t have dentists on call, so you would be wasting your time. Usually, all you would get from the emergency room is an antibiotic or pain relief cream, which would mean you’d have to schedule a dentist visit later, anyway.
If you need to get a dentist visit right away and your preferred dentist doesn’t have room for an emergency appointment, you should consider setting up an appointment with a nearby dental school. Dental patients often appreciate the chance to practice, and you can usually set up an appointment on the same day.
And there you have it: your complete guide to maintaining good oral health and hygiene. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle with minimal tobacco use, practicing basic dental hygiene like brushing and flossing, and scheduling dental visits regularly, you may keep your teeth strong and healthy for the rest of your life.