Brushing and flossing your teeth isn’t hard to do. And doing both correctly can help prevent gum disease and tooth loss.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria found in plaque and tartar. Plaque is a sticky film that forms on the teeth. It is mostly made up of bacteria, mucus, food, and other particles. When plaque is not removed, it hardens into tartar, which gives a home to bacteria, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Bacteria in plaque and tartar cause inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis. Tartar can only be removed by a dental hygienist or dentist.
Gum disease has 3 stages:
- Gingivitis. In this early stage there are red, swollen, tender gums that bleed easily. If caught early, the condition can often be reversed on its own with correct brushing and flossing.
- Mild to moderate periodontitis. The next stage has increased inflammation and bleeding around the tooth. It happens when bacterial poisons in plaque and your own body’s defenses start to break down the gum attachment to the tooth. This causes the gums to pull away from the teeth and form pockets of infected material. Early loss of bone around the teeth may be evident. Treatment at this stage is critical to prevent further loss of bone and loosening of teeth.
- Advanced periodontitis. This stage has further deepening of gum pockets and heavy destruction of bone that holds teeth in place. At this stage, teeth may become so loose that they need to be removed if periodontal treatment doesn’t restore bone support.
Symptoms of periodontal disease usually appear when the condition is advanced. Symptoms are:
- Bad breath that lasts
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that pull away from the teeth (receding gums)
- Pain when chewing
- Loose or sensitive teeth
The following factors put a person at more risk for developing gum disease:
- Smoking or using chewing tobacco
- Hormonal changes in girls and women
- Certain medicines
Good oral hygiene like brushing and flossing at least twice every day can help prevent gum infections, cavities, and tooth loss. Having your teeth cleaned and checked by a dentist or dental hygienist at least once a year also is important, the ADA says. No matter how well you brush, tartar and plaque can still build up and cause gum problems.
To brush correctly:
- Brush in the morning and before going to sleep.
- Use a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. If you can afford the cost, buy and use an electric toothbrush.
- Place your toothbrush at a 45° angle against your gums and brush each tooth 15 to 20 times.
- Move the brush gently, using short strokes. Don’t scrub.
- Brush the outer tooth surfaces using short, back-and-forth strokes.
- Brush the inner upper-front teeth by brushing vertically against them using short, downward strokes. Use short, upward strokes for lower inside teeth.
- Brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth with short, back-and-forth strokes. Replace your toothbrush when it’s worn or frayed about every 3 or 4 months, experts say. You should also get a new toothbrush after you have had a cold, strep throat, or similar illness.
- Don’t cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container. This can encourage growth of microorganisms.
Floss with care
Flossing helps to remove plaque and food particles that are stuck between your teeth and under your gums. To floss correctly:
- Cut off about 18 inches of floss and hold it tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Place it between your teeth and gently slide it up and down.
- When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it around 1 tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss with up-and-down motions, making sure to go below the gumline. Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth, remembering to floss the back side of your back teeth.
Watch what you eat
The foods you eat contribute to tooth decay when they combine with bacteria in your mouth. To protect your teeth:
- Have plenty of calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Calcium maintains the bone the tooth roots are embedded in. This is particularly important for older adults and for children during development of both baby and adult teeth.
- Don’t eat sticky sweets, such as soft candies, toffees, taffies, and pastries. If you eat sweets, rinse your mouth with water afterward. Or brush your teeth if you have a chance.
- If you chew gum, chew sugar-free brands.
The surface of your teeth is called enamel. It helps protect them from decay. Some wear and tear is normal, but there’s plenty you can do to keep that barrier strong. Take these simple steps for a healthy mouth and a winning smile.
1. Limit Sugary Foods and Drinks
Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar from foods and drinks. Then they make acids, which soften and wear away your enamel. Chewy candies that stick on your teeth are can also cause damage. Soft drinks may have extra acids.
Soft drinks with artificial sweeteners are a smarter choice than ones with sugar, but they’re also acidic and will wear down enamel over time.
The best choice when you’re thirsty? A glass of plain water. Many flavored waters are acidic.
2. Eat Foods That Protect Enamel
Calcium in food counters acids in your mouth that cause decay. It also helps keep your bones and teeth strong.CONTINUE READING BELOW
Milk, cheese, and other dairy products help protect and strengthen enamel, says Pamela L. Quinones, past president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Choose low-fat or fat-free items to help keep calories down.
If you don’t eat dairy, look for foods with calcium added.
3. Avoid Over-Brushing
You can wear down your enamel if you brush too fast and hard. Hold a brush with a soft bristle at about a 45-degree angle to your gums. Then move it back and forth in short, gentle strokes, about the distance of one tooth.
Wait for up to an hour after eating sweets or citrus fruits before you brush your teeth. Acidic foods can soften enamel and may make it easier for you to damage it.
4. Use Fluoride
The American Dental Association (ADA) calls fluoride “nature’s cavity fighter” because it strengthens your enamel and helps repair the early stages of tooth decay. Fluoride also makes your teeth more resistant to acids that come from foods and from bacteria in your mouth.
The ADA recommends fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth appears and throughout your life. Rinsing with a mouthwash that has fluoride can also help prevent cavities and keep your enamel strong.
5. Treat Heartburn and Eating Disorders
If you have severe heartburn, stomach acids may escape and eventually reach your mouth, where they can erode enamel.
The eating disorder bulimia, in which people vomit food after they eat, is another threat to your enamel.
If you have either condition, talk to your doctor about treatment.
6. Beware of Chlorinated Pools
When swimming pools aren’t chlorinated properly, the water may become too acidic. When that happens, the water can damage teeth that get wet.
Check with the recreation centre or gym where you swim to make sure the pool’s chlorine levels are checked regularly. While swimming, keep your mouth closed so your teeth don’t get wet.
7. Watch Out for Dry Mouth
Saliva helps wash away food and bacteria that can lead to cavities. It also fights the effects of acidic foods. Drink water often to keep your mouth clean and moist.
If you exercise hard, be sure to rehydrate during and after your workout. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy can also help keep saliva flowing in your mouth.
Some medical conditions and medications can cause dry mouth. Talk to your doctor about treatments.
8. Avoid Grinding Your Teeth
Some people grind their upper and lower teeth together, especially at night. Over time it can wear down the enamel.
Talk to your dentist if you’ve got the grinding habit. He may suggest a custom-fitted mouth guard that can protect your teeth.
9. Get Regular Checkups
To keep your teeth strong, see your dentist every 6 months for a checkup and cleaning. He can spot signs of trouble, such as cavities or tooth grinding, before they do a lot of damage.
Your dentist will also make sure that you’re getting the right amount of fluoride to harden and protect enamel. If your water supply isn’t fluoridated, ask him if you need fluoride supplements, mouthwashes, or coatings for your teeth.