Oral health is an important aspect of overall health, yet many people do not regularly or properly maintain oral hygiene. 28% of adults stated that the condition of their mouth often or occasionally reduced satisfaction with their life, while nearly one in four adults feel embarrassment because of the condition of their teeth and mouth.
Taking care of your teeth with a good oral health regimen is not only good for your mouth, but also for your entire body. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to serious and potentially life-threatening health issues, including heart disease, stroke, and endocarditis. Regularly cleaning your teeth can reduce the bacteria and plaque build-up that contributes to these diseases.
While many people say that can’t afford to visit the dentist, everyone can help prevent serious oral disease by practicing good hygiene. This guide will focus on how to improve your oral health through practical habits and techniques you can perform at home.
Creating a Routine
Maintaining oral health shouldn’t be complicated. With a few simple steps to incorporate into your daily routine, you can greatly improve your oral hygiene and reduce the risk of severe illnesses related to poor oral health.
Brushing Your Teeth
The most basic step in maintaining a healthy mouth is often the most overlooked. Here are a few steps to help ensure that you’re brushing your teeth in the most hygienic way.
Brush your teeth twice a day
The American Dental Association’s formula for properly brushing your teeth is 2×2, meaning twice a day for two minutes each time. Be sure to use all two minutes to reach every part of your mouth, including your tongue.
Use the proper equipment
Find a toothbrush that suits your mouth comfortably. For some, that may be a soft-bristled manual brush. For others, an electric or battery-operated toothbrush may be a better option. Electric and battery-operated toothbrushes can reduce plaque and the risk of gum disease more than a manual brush and are a better option for anyone who deals with arthritis, chronic pain, or limited range of motion. Regardless of the toothbrush that fits you best, always use a fluoridated toothpaste to help reduce the risk of cavities and tooth decay.
Practice good technique
Even with the right equipment, using improper technique can stop you from reaching all the areas in your mouth that need to be cleaned. Start by placing your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums, aiming the bristles toward the area where your teeth and gums meet. Gently brush back and forth in short motions for the best clean.
To brush the inside surfaces of your front teeth, tilt the toothbrush vertically and brush in an up and down motion. Remember it’s critical to not only cover the visible surface of your teeth, but also the inside and back of them, as well as your tongue.
Keep your equipment clean
Your toothbrush can’t properly clean your teeth if it’s not kept clean itself. Always be sure to rinse your toothbrush with water and store it in an upright position, allowing it to air-dry until you use it again. Don’t regularly cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container – this can lead to the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. Also be careful to separate it from any other brushes to prevent cross-contamination.
Know when to replace your toothbrush
Replace your old toothbrush, or pick up a replacement head for your electric toothbrush every 3-4 months. If your bristles are starting to fray or become irregular, it’s a good idea to find a replacement before the 3-4 month mark.
Flossing for Oral Health
While brushing helps keep your teeth clean, a toothbrush can’t reach between your teeth and under the gumline. Flossing can reduce plaque buildup in hard-to-reach places and reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease. The American Dental Association recommends that you floss at least once a day. Here are a few tips to help you floss correctly and improve your oral hygiene.
Find the right floss for you
If you find traditional floss hard to handle, there are many other interdental cleaning options, like a dental pick, pre-threaded flosser, water flosser, and wooden or silicone plaque remover. The key is to reach the places a brush can’t in a way that’s most comfortable for you.
Know how to prepare the floss
If using traditional floss, you’ll need to break off around 18 inches of floss. Then, wrap the majority of it around the middle finger of one hand, and the rest around the middle finger of the other hand. The second hand will take up the floss as it gets dirty. Grip the floss between your thumbs and forefingers and prepare to clean between your teeth.
To start, guide the floss between your teeth without snapping the floss into your gums. Once the floss reaches your gumline, curve it against one tooth and gently slide into the space between the tooth and the gum. Neglecting to be gentle can cause bleeding gums and do more harm than good.
Take it one tooth at a time
Once you’ve slid into the space between tooth and gum, hold the floss tightly and gently rub the side of your tooth in up and down motions. After that tooth is cleaned, unwind some fresh floss from your middle finger and move onto another tooth until you’ve covered your entire mouth.
Keep it up
For many people, flossing can be an inconvenient part of a daily routine, but the health benefits make it a habit worth keeping. If you are struggling with consistency, try flossing at a different time of day (night instead of morning or vice versa), or try using a different flossing instrument.
Regularly brushing and flossing your teeth are the main components of a healthy mouth, but there are a few more tips you can follow to ensure you maintain excellent oral health.
Rinse your mouth with a mouthwash or mouth rinse
Since bacterial build-up in the mouth is linked to serious illnesses like stroke and heart disease, consider adding an antimicrobial mouth rinse or fluoride-based mouthwash to your daily oral hygiene regimen. Not only will this help you reduce harmful bacteria in your mouth, but some rinses offer added protection against cavities and gingivitis. You can use the rinse after every brush, or in between brushes to keep your mouth fresh and clean.
Reduce the amount of sugar you eat and drink
Sugar can be devastating to oral health and promote tooth decay and cavities. You can help keep your teeth stay healthy for longer by lowering the amount of sugary food and drinks you consume.
All forms of tobacco are unhealthy for your mouth. Smokers have twice the risk of getting gum disease compared to non-smokers, as well as an elevated risk of tooth loss and mouth cancer. Aside from the serious dangers of smoking, cigarettes also give the user bad breath and stained teeth. With all of the detrimental effects of smoking on both your mouth and your overall wellbeing, you should certainly consider quitting if you currently smoke.
Schedule annual dental cleanings
While good habits at home go a long way in keeping your teeth clean and mouth healthy, you should still schedule a dental cleaning and checkup at least once a year. Some dentists may suggest regular visits as often as every six months. A professional cleaning allows the dentist or hygienist to scrape off any built-up plaque and tartar that you’re not able to remove with brushing and flossing alone. You’ll also likely have x-rays taken to determine whether or not you have cavities or any other dental issue.
In trying to improve oral health, there are often simple mistakes that people fall into that hold them back from drastically changing their dental hygiene. Some of those pitfalls include:
- Keeping your toothbrush for too long. Replace your brush or brush head every 3-4 months. If the bristles are fraying or damaged, replace immediately.
- Choosing the wrong toothbrush. Whether the bristles are too hard or it’s an uncomfortable fit, the wrong toothbrush can keep from tip-top oral health.
- Not brushing for two minutes. Rushing through your hygienic routine doesn’t offer the same benefits as brushing twice a day for two minutes each.
- Using the wrong brushing technique. Be sure to cover every surface of your teeth using the correct motions as described above.
- Forgetting the gum line. The gum line can harbor plaque and bacteria and shouldn’t be avoided.
- Forgetting the tongue. Just like the gum line, the tongue is often forgotten in the oral health routine but can be a home to dangerous bacteria.
- Storing your brush improperly. Failing to keep your brush upright in a holder and separate from accompanying brushes can result is bacteria and mold growing.