Home Dental Care: How to Clean Your Teeth
It’s a truth universally acknowledged by many dentists that if people took better care of their teeth at home, many of them would be out of a business. The number one cause of most oral health issues is simply poor at-home hygiene.
Clean teeth and gums are obviously essential to oral health. What many patients fail to realise is that oral health is essential to overall health. Our mouths are connected to the rest of our bodies, and disease of the mouth can lead to disease elsewhere. Something as seemingly benign as gum disease can in fact lead to cardiovascular illnesses.
For these reasons, learning how to brush and floss correctly are incredibly important.
How to Brush Your Teeth
For optimum oral health, you should be brushing at least twice a day for two minutes, within an hour of eating. You only need a small, pea-sized bit of toothpaste, rather than covering the entire brush.
Teeth have five surfaces that need cleaning — front, back, top and two sides. The sides of teeth are typically unreachable by a brush and require floss, but the remaining surfaces need to be brushed thoroughly. Many people neglect the backs of their teeth, either by not brushing there, or not brushing as thoroughly as the front.
There’s no single brushing technique to be aware of — you can go in broad circular motions, or gently flick the surfaces of your teeth with the brush.
Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the teeth when brushing. This way you’re using more of the side of the bristles, which results in a more effective and gentler clean. This is particularly necessary when cleaning gums.
For the tops of your molars, you should apply more force than with the rest of your teeth. The rough, uneven surfaces of your molars are perfect places for food particles to get stuck, and more rigorous brushing may be needed to dislodge them.
While everyone knows their teeth need brushing, fewer realise they need to brush their gums as well. Be extra gentle when brushing your gums, as cuts and irritation can lead to infection.
How to Floss Properly
Flossing is perhaps the most-hated part of oral hygiene, and the aspect most people routinely opt to ignore. Unfortunately for those people, flossing is just as important as brushing your teeth. It’s the single most effective way of cleaning between the teeth to dislodge otherwise unreachable bits of food and plaque.
Part of the problem is that many people don’t know how to floss properly.
- Wrap 30-45cm — yes, centimetres — of floss around your middle fingers.
- Grip the floss between the thumb and middle finger of each hand, leaving about 5cm between them.
- Gently direct the floss between each tooth. By wrapping the floss around your middle fingers, you free your index fingers to better manipulate the floss and reach more areas.
- Glide the floss around the tooth and under the gum edge in a half-moon shape. Don’t snap the floss against the gum, as this can cause bruising and bleeding.
You’ll need to use a fresh segment of floss for each tooth, hence using so much to start with.
Gums will take a few weeks to get used to flossing. If you’re just starting, or have gum disease, you’ll notice some bleeding and tenderness. This should pass within a few weeks at most.
Fluoride flosses and gels are available, which your dentist may suggest you use. This will give you greater protection of your teeth between cleans.
Children should start to floss once they have two teeth erupted next to each other. This should be performed by a parent until they’re old enough to manage it themselves, some time around age 7 or 8.
Toothbrushes and Cleaning Aids
Always opt for a soft-bristle toothbrush with rounded edges. Harder-bristled brushes with straight edges aren’t ideal for cleaning teeth and gums, as they can scrape away protective layers from teeth and irritate gums.
Toothbrushes with smaller heads are excellent for ensuring you can access all of the harder-to-reach areas of the mouth.
When a brush is worn out, the bristles will be hard and appear frayed or distressed. A worn-out brush is ineffective, and you should replace your toothbrush every 2-3months.
Electric toothbrushes are effective tools, and an excellent choice for people with motor impairment. That being said, an electric toothbrush is no substitute for proper brushing technique. Without proper brushing technique, the electric toothbrush will be of no real benefit over a normal brush.
Always rinse your brush after cleaning your teeth to remove excess toothpaste and any food particles that may have become lodged in the bristles. Once a week, soak the brush in chlorhexidine or warm soapy water for at least 5 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. This will prevent the growth of bacteria on the bristles.
Electric toothbrushes should be cleaned according to manufacturer instructions.
There are many brands and types of toothpaste on the market, and choosing one can sometimes be difficult. In reality, a simple fluoride toothpaste is sufficient for most people’s oral health needs.
Those people with special oral problems or concerns should always consult their dentist about the right kind of special toothpaste for their needs.
Other Cleaning Aids
A variety of other cleaning aids are available, which your dentist may advise you to use based on your circumstances:
- Interdental brushes
- Specialty floss
- Specialty toothbrushes
- Power-assisted plaque removers
- Specialty anti-plaque rinses
- Interdental woodsticks.