Oral Hygiene: The What’s, How’s, and Why’s
Oral Hygiene is crucial. Read more about its importance and maintenance here.
Oral hygiene, also known as “dental hygiene”, is the process by which preventative dental care is provided to avoid dental emergencies. At the core of dental hygiene is the in-home dental care regimen you perform. Your at-home regimen is supplemented with professional preventative dental care provided by dentists.
Although tooth brushing is fundamentally important, tooth brushing alone will not remove dental plaque that builds up over time. Plaque must be removed to lower risk of toothaches, cavities, periodontal disease, or even the loss of your teeth. By removing this, you can reduce your chances of needing root canals, tooth extractions, dental bridges, crowns, and more in the long run.
Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste is the most essential component to the maintenance of good oral health. Tooth brushing cleans and whitens your teeth, while helping prevent the onset of tooth decay and gum disease, one of the leading causes of tooth loss in adults. Removing tooth stains and avoiding bad breath are added benefits of tooth brushing.
Why We Brush:
The foods that we eat contain sugars and starches. When plaque combines with these sugars and starches, an acid is produced that attacks tooth enamel and causes tooth decay.
Dental plaque can also irritate the gums to the point that they become red, swollen, and tender and bleed easily. Gum irritation can lead to gingivitis, an oral condition that precedes gum disease (periodontitis). Gingivitis can be treated and reversed if it is diagnosed in its early stages. If plaque is not removed, the gums can eventually start to pull away (recede) from the teeth. When this happens, bacteria and pus-filled pockets can develop and the bone that supports the teeth can be destroyed. Once the bone is destroyed, the teeth will loosen and/or require removal.
Brushing your teeth removes plaque from the tooth surfaces while flossing removes plaque from between the teeth. Dentists recommend that you brush your teeth at least twice a day for about two minutes, preferably after eating.
Tooth Brushing Techniques
Brushing at least twice a day is an essential practice in maintaining good oral health. And it’s imperative that you brush your teeth properly. The following steps detail optimal brushing habits:
- Use a small amount of toothpaste.
- Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle.
- Use gentle and short strokes, moving your toothbrush back and forth while brushing the outside areas of your upper and lower molars (back teeth).
- Use the same motions and brush the outside areas of your upper and lower incisors (front teeth).
- Using back and forth motions, brush the biting surfaces of your upper and lower molars.
- Brush the insides of your upper and lower molars with the same back and forth brushing motion.
- With the tip of your brush, brush the inside areas of your upper and lower incisors using gentle up and down strokes.
- Lastly, brush your tongue to remove bacteria and keep your breath fresh. Tongue cleaners/scrapers can be even more effective at removing bacteria and stains from the surface of the tongue (especially at the back of the tongue).
On top of brushing your teeth at least twice a day, you must floss daily, use an oral rinse, eat a well-balanced diet and visit your dentist for regular checkups in order to maintain good oral hygiene.
Choosing between Manual or Electric Toothbrushes:
Deciding whether to buy an electric or manual toothbrush basically comes down to what you desire as far as comfort and convenience. Oral health experts believe that brushing with an electric toothbrush can be more effective than using a manual toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes are designed to replicate the functionality of the professional brushes used by dentists for in-office cleanings.
When used correctly, an electric toothbrush can be more effective than a manual toothbrush in removing plaque from the teeth and gum line. This is because electric toothbrushes can increase brushing time while helping users reach difficult areas of the mouth. Most electric toothbrushes have a setting that notifies the user when to stop brushing. This notification helps prevent over-brushing that can damage tooth enamel and foster gum recession.
The best toothbrush to buy is an extra soft bristled brush with a small head that fits easily in your mouth and has a handle that feels comfortable in your hand. Another advantage of electric toothbrushes is that they usually have larger handles, which are great for kids, older adults, and people who suffer from arthritis.
Although prices of electric toothbrushes have dropped in recent years, the obvious advantage of manual toothbrushes is their inexpensiveness. Manual toothbrushes also provide more flexibility than electric toothbrushes, helping to reach difficult areas of the mouth. Some manual toothbrushes also offer convenient accessories that aid oral hygiene, such as built-in tongue scrapers that can be more effective in cleaning the tongue than brushing.
Whichever toothbrush you decide to buy, remember that using it is what counts. Be sure to replace your toothbrush (or toothbrush head) every three months or sooner if the bristles start to fray or wear out.
Flossing of teeth
Flossing in between your teeth is an essential oral hygiene practice for avoiding gum disease, and preventing tooth decay. Also known as periodontal disease or periodontitis, gum disease is one of the main causes of tooth loss in adults. Pervasive as the oral disease may be, it can be easily prevented by brushing, and flossing your teeth.
Recent studies have determined a link between gum disease, increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Maintaining a good oral hygiene regimen may help to eliminate the inflammation factor associated with gum disease, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. In general, maintaining good oral hygiene habits may help prevent more serious health complications.
Why We Floss:
Many people don't realize the importance of flossing and often skip the hygienic practice, believing that tooth brushing is adequate for the removal of plaque, the sticky substance that forms on the surface of and in between the teeth.
Tooth decay is a serious oral health concern that is caused by a buildup of plaque. If dental plaque is allowed to accumulate, it can combine with the sugars and starches of the food we eat to produce an acid that attacks tooth enamel. Tooth brushing removes plaque from the surfaces of the teeth, but only flossing can remove plaque that are in between the teeth.
Dental plaque can also irritate the gums to the extent that they become red and tender as well as bleed easily. If plaque is not removed from in between the teeth with dental floss, the gums can eventually start to pull away from the teeth. When this happens, bacteria and pus-filled pockets can develop and the bone that supports the teeth can be destroyed. Once the bone is destroyed, the teeth will loosen, or require removal.
Keys to Preventing Pediatric Tooth Decay
Cavities affecting baby teeth and permanent teeth are treated with the same "drill and fill" measures familiar to adults. The emphasis today is placed on preventive measures, which are considered key to the control of tooth decay. These preventive measures include:
- Checkups with a pediatric dentist starting at 12 months of age.
- Good nutrition ensures your child has a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, milk and dairy products, and meat, fish and eggs. Sugar-rich foods and beverages need not be completely avoided. But in order to cut off the build-up of decay-inducing bacteria, their frequency should be limited.
- Supervised tooth brushing until approximately until six years of age, when children are likely to demonstrate that they can capably brush on their own. Parents are advised to clean babies' and toddlers' teeth with a brush or washcloth and a pea-sized dose of toothpaste, starting the day the first tooth erupts.
- Check the teeth monthly for horizontal white or brown spots or lines close to the gums. These markings are signs of demineralization, the first indications of tooth decay. When babies are nursing – breast or bottle-fed – they tend to appear on the inside surface of the upper teeth. In children with permanent teeth, they are often found on biting surfaces or in between teeth. If you see these spots or lines, make an appointment with your dentist immediately. It may be possible to re-mineralize the area and prevent cavities with fluoride treatment.
- Get adequate amounts of fluoride. While children receiving therapeutic fluoride treatments do not need additional sources of fluoride, all others should brush with a fluoridated toothpaste and drink fluoridated water. This usually means tap water. Parents should keep in mind that most bottled water is not fluoridated.
- Ask your dentist about dental sealants. These plastic coatings placed on the chewing surfaces of the permanent molars (which appear between ages six to 12) protect the teeth by shutting out cavity-causing food particles. They are recommended for children at moderate to high risk for decay.
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