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hygiene

Overview

Good oral health helps you enjoy life. It lets you: speak clearly; taste, chew, and swallow delicious and nutritious foods; and show your feelings through facial expressions such as smiling.

If you protect your oral health with good oral hygiene practices (brushing and flossing), the odds are in your favor you can keep your teeth for a lifetime.

Brush Your Teeth

To keep your teeth healthy, it is important to remove dental plaque, a sticky, colorless film of bacteria. Plaque buildup can cause tooth decay and gum disease.

Even teeth that already have fillings are at risk for tooth decay. Plaque can build up underneath a chipped filling and cause new decay. And if there are areas in your mouth where your gums have pulled away from the teeth (called gum recession), the exposed tooth roots can decay as well.

Person brushing teeth

Dental plaque is hard to see. You can see it more easily if you stain it. After you brush your teeth, chew “disclosing tablets” (which you can buy at a drug store), or brush with a special disclosing toothpaste. The color will show you where there is still plaque, and you can then brush those areas again to remove it. (Parents – Disclosing tablets can also be very helpful for teaching children how to do a good job brushing their teeth!)

Brushing tips:

  • Use fluoride toothpaste. Fluorid is what protects teeth from tooth decay (cavities). It prevents decay by strengthening the tooth’s hard outer surface, called enamel.
  • Angle the bristles toward the gumline, so they clean between the gums and teeth.
  • Brush gently using small, circular motions. Do not scrub hard back and forth.
  • Brush all sides of each tooth.
  • Brush your tongue.

And, remember to replace your toothbrush when the bristles become worn.

Clean Between Your Teeth

Cleaning between teeth to remove plaque is also part of a good oral hygiene routine. If plaque is not removed, some of it can harden below the gum line and irritate the gums. The gums become red, swollen, and may bleed easily. These are signs of gingivitis. Gingivitis caused by plaque buildup is a mild form of gum disease, and you can usually reverse it with daily brushing and flossing.

If plaque stays on your teeth for too long, it can harden. This hardened plaque is called calculus, or tartar. The only way to remove tartar is to have your teeth cleaned by a dentist or dental hygienist. If the tartar is not removed, the gingivitis can get worse and lead to more severe gum (periodontal) disease. In advanced stages, gum disease causes sore, bleeding gums; painful chewing problems; loose teeth; and even tooth loss.

Floss to remove plaque, and food particles, from between your teeth.

Flossing tips:

Use a string of floss about two feet long. Wrap it around the middle finger of each hand.

Use a string of floss about two feet long. Wrap it around the middle finger of each hand.

Grip the floss between the thumb and index finger of each hand.

Grip the floss between the thumb and index finger of each hand.

Ease the floss gently between the teeth until it reaches the gumline (don’t force the floss into place — this could harm the gums).

Ease the floss gently between the teeth until it reaches the gumline (don’t force the floss into place — this could harm the gums). Curve the floss like the letter “C” around the side of each tooth. Slide the floss up and down under the gum.

 

Some people find flossing difficult because of arthritis or other issues. If it’s too hard to hold floss, try a plastic or wooden dental pick or one of these:

floss holder

Floss holder - small tool that holds the floss, so you don’t need to wrap it around your fingers.

Floss threader - threads floss (like a needle and thread) through tight spaces.

Floss threader - threads floss (like a needle and thread) through tight spaces.

Water flosser - hand-held device that sprays water.

Water flosser - hand-held device that sprays water.

Tiny interdental (means between teeth) brushes - specially designed to clean between teeth.

Tiny interdental (means between teeth) brushes - specially designed to clean between teeth.

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