Tips for Maintaining Healthy Teeth and Gums
If you are anything like me, the sound of the drill at the dentist office feels like nails on a chalkboard. It makes my mouth hurt just thinking about. The thought of that drill makes me want to do whatever I can to avoid cavities, gum disease, anything that requires a root canal for treatment, or any other dental issue.
Luckily you can prevent these problems with proper dental care, and here are a few tips that can help keep those gums and teeth heathy.
Most people are aware that the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth twice a day. You can use either a manual or power toothbrush effectively, and the ADA suggests replacing your toothbrush every three to four months or more frequently if the bristles are matted or frayed. It is recommended that gentle pressure with a soft bristle toothbrush is best to prevent gum injury.
Brushing for two minutes at a time has been shown to significantly remove plaque. There are many different techniques for brushing, but here are the general suggestions on technique from the ADA:
- Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle on your gums
- Move the toothbrush gently back and forth in short strokes
- Tilt the brush vertically making up-and-down strokes to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth
No matter what the technique, it is important to brush all the surfaces – inner, outer and chewing.
Flossing can help you reach the bacteria and plaque hiding out between your teeth. Removing food or debris from between your teeth can support the prevention of bad breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ADA recommend flossing once a day. Below are steps from the ADA on how to floss effectively:
- Start with about 18 inches of floss and use your middle fingers on both hands to wrap most of the floss
- Hold the floss between your thumbs and pointer fingers
- Use a gentle rubbing motion to guide the floss between your teeth
- Curve the floss into a C shape against one tooth and gently slide it into the space between the tooth and gum
- Don’t forget the back side of your last tooth
Fluoride is a common ingredient in toothpastes and mouthwashes, and most experts believe it can help prevent cavities. The use of toothpaste that contains fluoride enhances the fluoride concentration in your biofilm fluid and saliva and is linked to a decreased risk of cavities and supports remineralization of teeth. A review article showed that brushing and flossing by itself does not prevent cavities if they do not use fluoride.
The CDC also recommends drinking fluoridated water. Drinking that water can keep teeth strong and reduce cavities and tooth decay by about 25% in adults and children.
During a routine dental visit, a dental hygienist will clean teeth and remove plaque. The dentist will check for gum disease, cavities, mouth cancer and other oral issues.
It is important to maintain regular dental check-ups. The results of a recent study confirmed that seeing the dentist every 6 months can help prevent cavities in children and adults. Adults with a low risk of oral health issues and good daily dental hygiene routine may be able to visit less frequently.
For maintaining healthy teeth and gums the CDC recommends not smoking or to quit smoking. Smoking can weaken your immune system, which makes it harder to fight off diseases. This can make it hard for your body to fight off gum disease, and also make it difficult for your body to heal once your gums do have damage.
Studies continue to show that sugar plays a huge role in cavities and other adverse oral health outcomes. Foods that may be a problem are candy and desserts, processed foods, and even high starchy foods. A review article concluded that even though the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting sugar intake to less than 10% of your daily calories, that actually lowering this to 5% would further reduce the risk of cavities.
Food is not the only sugar culprit in our diets, sugar-sweetened beverages are a huge part of the typical U.S. diet. Studies show that drinking soda, juice or other sugary drinks can lead to a higher risk of cavities. The ADA recommends only drinking sugar-sweetened drinks in small amounts at meal times and throughout the day focus on drinking water or unsweetened tea.
The Bottom Line
Good dental practices can help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Having regular check-ups with your dentist, brushing and flossing daily, and eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk for cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues. There may also be a benefit for your overall health.
Oral Health Topics. American Dental Association website. https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/toothbrushes. Updated February 26, 2019. Accessed August 12, 2020.
Oral Health Tips. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/adult-oral-health/tips.html. Updated September 17, 2019. Accessed August 12, 2020.
5 Steps to a Flawless Floss. Mouth Healthy website. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/flossing-steps. Accessed August 12, 2020.
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The Truth About Sugary Drinks And Your Smile. Mouth Healthy website. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/nutrition/food-tips/sugary-drinks. Accessed August 12, 2020.