Remember the famous line from Forrest Gump’s momma in the 1995 Oscar-winning film? “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, that may be true. But there is one thing we do know – if you don’t practice proper dental hygiene, you’re most certainly gonna get a cavity, or at least periodontal disease.
It is easy these days to become overwhelmed by the advertising and media attention focused on dentistry and dental products. And while this attention may seem excessive, it does help to emphasize the importance of good oral hygiene for health, beauty and overall quality of life.
Daily Dental Care
Brushing twice daily, flossing at least once a day, and making two trips to the dentist each year may seem like too much effort for our busy lifestyles. You may be wondering if all of this is really necessary. My patients often ask, “Isn’t it really just important to brush every day and see your dentist whenever there is a problem? You know, just like going to the doctor when you have a pain or illness?”
Well, in a word — No! While dentistry shares many similarities with the medical field, there is one significant difference
It is vital that you perform regular preventive maintenance for your teeth and visit your dentist before you notice problems for early detection. In dentistry, by the time you begin to experience pain, usually radical treatment is required. And your teeth rarely repair themselves.
So based on the fact that dental hygiene has such an important impact on our lives, lets examine each of the important steps to proper oral hygiene in order of importance:
Yes, flossing. You might have thought brushing would be the most logical place to start talking about dental hygiene. Yet flossing is actually the most important regimen for maintaining good oral health.
Proper Flossing Techniques
Flossing is simple and painless when done properly. Simply wind the floss around your fingers and slide the exposed floss between each of your teeth. When flossing it is important not to neglect the area under the gumline. This is where plaque collects to form tartar. If not properly cleaned on a daily basis, this can lead to periodontal disease. This can sometimes be irreversible requiring extraction of the teeth. So, each day (or twice a day if possible) make sure clean the areas between the teeth as well as under the gumline with floss.
If you experience bleeding gums after flossing do not be alarmed. This is a normal reaction to flossing if you haven’t flossed recently. In fact, the worst mistake you can make is to stop flossing. After a few days of regular use, your gums will become accustomed to the flossing and will not bleed.
Making Flossing Easier
Recently several new flossing products have been introduced that allow consumers to more quickly and easily floss. Products like Glide(TM), a tape-like strand, and other accessories make it easier to floss. Waxed floss will be easier to use, however, there is some controversy around the use of waxed floss. For maximum effectiveness, you may want to use an unwaxed floss to avoid remnants of wax that may be left on the teeth.
You’ve heard it time and again, but let me repeat, “use a soft bristle brush to brush your teeth.” Soft bristles are much more effective than medium or hard bristles at removing the plaque and calculus from the surface of the teeth without damaging the enamel or gum tissue.
Just as important is your brushing technique. Years ago, we were all taught to brush up and down, from the gum to the tips of the teeth and back again. However, it is now known that brushing in circular motions is one of the most effective ways to clean teeth. Practice brushing in small circles to polish and clean teeth, while stimulating the gums.
Contrary to the commercials we all see on televisions, you do not have to invest in the plethora of fancy dental products on the market like multi-level bristled brushes, plaque reducing rinses and super turbo boosted toothpaste and teeth whiteners. Most of these products are expensive and unnecessary. In fact, it has often been said that if you floss and brush, you do not even need toothpaste.
Adapting Your Oral Hygiene Program
As we’ve all experienced, age brings about many changes to our bodies. Among these, are changes to the oral cavity. Bacteria in the mouth appears to go through changes as we mature. Children experience more problems with cavities than adults. However, adults have a much higher rate of gum disease.
While both children and adults must floss and brush regularly, it is important to focus on specific programs for oral hygiene based on age. For example, children often require regular fluoride treatments and tooth sealants to prevent tooth decay. While both of these treatments must be performed by a dentist, is also wise to use a toothpaste at home that contains fluoride.
Adults will need to focus on flossing underneath the gumline and may often need toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth is not a frivolous accessory when it comes to oral hygiene. In fact, these special toothpastes use ions which adhere to the teeth filling in the microscopic pores that cause tooth pain.
Monthly Cleaning and Checkup
Brushing and flossing alone do not remove all of the plaque and calculus from your teeth. While there are products on the market designed to remove plaque from the surface of teeth, use of these products at home is not sufficient to maintain good oral health. A regular cleaning every 6 months and sometimes every 3 months is a requirement. This is because your dentist is trained to remove the plaque that you cannot see or reach. Additionally, a checkup along with the cleaning can often help you catch many problems before decay or infection has gone too far. This can only be done by your dentist.
Quality of Life
The good news is that you don’t have to avoid sweets (with the possible exception of hard candies). Eat all the chocolate that you want. But make sure you brush your teeth afterwards. This will allow you to eat all your favorite foods today and in your 60’s and 70’s. Because there is nothing like a full set of your own teeth for enjoying apples, corn on the cob and steak.