It’s hard to know exactly what to do when it comes to your oral health. Do I buy this toothpaste or that one? How often do I need to get my teeth cleaned? Do I really need to floss? Do I trust what my dental hygienist and dentist are telling me? How do I avoid cavities? The questions can seem truly endless. It shouldn’t be this way, but unfortunately dental hygiene or dental health for that matter are simply not taught to the public. I remember being in hygiene school listening to lectures, so taken back by the realization that my dental hygiene IQ was practically non-existent. It’s no wonder there are so many questions! Being a dental hygienist, I am eager to address these questions whenever they arise. I have tried to think of the most popular questions as well as the common misconceptions I get from my patients and compile them into a quick dental hygiene 101 cheat-sheet of “Dos” and “Don’ts” along with a quick explanation.
- Brush your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes.
Two minutes is the optimum amount of time required to remove food debris and plaque. Of course, you can brush longer, but 2 minutes is the minimum.
- Floss your teeth every day.
Flossing removes food debris as well as disrupts the bacterial plaque formation in between teeth. Doing so keeps the gums in between your teeth healthy.
- Brush your tongue every day.
A lot of bacteria like to hang out on the tongue and can spread from the tongue to the rest of the mouth. Brushing your tongue will reduce bacteria as well as help combat bad breath.
- Use a soft bristle tooth brush.
Soft bristle tooth brushes will get the job done and are gentle on tooth structure.
-Use a straw with drinks.
Drinking with s straw will help ensure that the sugary drinks don’t get onto the teeth and contribute to cavities. Also, using a straw with colored drinks helps avoid the staining of teeth.
- Wait 30 minutes after eating before brushing your teeth.
Your teeth have three layers, the outer later and middle layer are connected via “tubules”. After eating, wait to brush your teeth so that you are not brushing the sugars and carbohydrates into the tooth to help avoid getting decay.
- Rinse your mouth with water or mouth wash directly after vomiting.
The acidity from vomit can cause tooth erosion over time. If you are brushing your teeth right after, that acidity is being pushed into those tubules; instead, simply rinse your mouth out with water or mouth wash.
- Rinse your mouth with water after eating or drinking anything high in sugar.
If you just can’t avoid sugar, then rinse your mouth with water after consumption to remove the sugars from the mouth to reduce the likelihood of decay.
- Use a fluoridated toothpaste.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring element that gives strength to the teeth. Over time, the tooth structure loses its integrity, it is important to use fluoride to build up strength.
- Throw out your tooth brush every 3 months or after you have been sick.
After time, the bristles of the toothbrush will become frayed and therefore ineffective. After an illness, it is important to get a new brush so that the bacteria from your sickness aren’t transferred back to your mouth.
- See your hygienist every 3 or 6 months.
It is important to see your hygienist at the recall interval he or she recommends. Whether it is every 3 months or 6 months, be sure to see them!
- Wear a mouth guard at night if you know you grind your teeth.
If your dental hygienist or dentist notice wear on your teeth from grinding and suggest a night guard, get one. You need to do everything you can to maintain the integrity of your teeth.
- Drink water that has a high pH (7+)
It is also important to maintain a neutral pH in the mouth. Many waters are acidic and we don’t even know it, which could also contribute to decay. Try drinking waters like Essentia or waters that say “alkaline”.
- Miss your appointment with your hygienist.
It is important to see your hygienist on a regular schedule for the benefit of your oral health. Also, often times their schedules are very busy and full and it could be very difficult to re-schedule within a timely manner.
- Apply heavy pressure when brushing.
Using heavy pressure or “scrubbing” your teeth over a long period of time can deteriorate the structure of the tooth and cause notched out areas.
- Brush your teeth directly after vomiting.
The acidity from vomit can cause tooth erosion over time. If you are brushing your teeth right after, that acidity is being pushed into those tubules.
- Use a hard bristle tooth brush.
Hard bristles can be harmful to both the tooth structure as well as the surrounding gums, creating gum recession.
- Eat foods high in sugar or fermentable carbohydrates.
Bacteria in your mouth use sugar and fermentable carbohydrates as their own “food”, it is important to reduce consumption of them in order to avoid both cavities and periodontitis.
- Try to remove calculus (tartar) deposits yourself.
Your dental hygienist has extensive training in how to properly remove calculus deposits, let them take care of that for you.
- Refuse X-Rays prescribed by your dentist.
One X-ray taken is the equivalent to you walking out into the sun; the amount of radiation is very minimal. X-rays help the dental team see what they sometimes can’t see clinically like detect cavities, harmful lesions and periodontal disease.
- Put off going to the dental office if something in your mouth hurts.
If you are experiencing any pain, go to the dentist right away, better to treat it earlier rather than let is fester and get worse over time.
- Use a straw after a tooth extraction.
After a tooth is extracted, the socket will form a blood clot, that clot will help promote healing and the filling in of bone in that area (which is what we want). Using a straw can suck that clot right out and be very painful.
These are but a few of the many questions I’ve been asked from my patients; these happened to make the FAQ (frequently asked questions) list. Of course, dentistry is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone is created differently and oral health can look differently for everyone depending on their genetic makeup, health history and so on. This list is the general “rule of thumb” for dental hygiene, but there will always be exceptions to the rules depending on the status of the patient. I know it can all seem very overwhelming but hopefully this cheat sheet can give you a little more peace of mind, clarity and insight into the world of dental hygiene.
And that’s the dirt!
Carranza, F. A., Takei, H. H., Newman, M. G., & Klokkevold, P. R. (2015). Carranza's Clinical
Periodontology (12th ed. ed.) (F. A. Carranza, Ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.
Wilkins, E. M., Wyche, C. J., & Boyd, L. D. (2017). Clinical practice of the dental hygienist (12th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.
Meurman, J. (2012). Functional foods/ingredients and oral mucosal diseases. European Journal of Nutrition, 51, 31–38. https://doi-org.ezproxy.jessup.edu/10.1007/s00394-012-0324-6