The vast majority of us learn how to care for our teeth and gums haphazardly when we are young. Our parents and caregivers show us the basic brushing action we should use, and we go from there.
Unfortunately, even though some brushing is better than none, it’s not always optimal. How we brush and floss and the type of bristle we use all contribute to a healthy mouth. Getting it wrong over the long-term can lead to oral health issues like gum disease and more frequent trips to the dentist.
Why Taking Care of Your Gums Is Important
Everyone knows that taking care of teeth is essential. Brushing daily with fluoride toothpaste helps to harden tooth enamel and stops cavity-causing acid erosion. But taking care of your gums is important too.
If your gums bleed after you brush, you may have gingivitis. This condition occurs when bacteria in the mouth damage the surface layer of cells that make up the gum. Over time, microbes infiltrate the gum lining around the teeth, weakening it and making it more susceptible to infection.
Periodontal disease (gum disease) occurs when bacterial colonies become established below the gumline. This condition leads to severe swelling, deteriorations in teeth’s roots, and wasting on the jawbone. For this reason, taking care of the teeth and gums is essential.
Signs of Gum Disease
Gum disease is usually relatively easy to detect, though not always. Here are some of the signs that you should visit Dr. Newhart for a check-up:
- Bad breath
- Gums that bleed after brushing or eating
- Receding gums that are making your teeth look longer
- Pain or swelling around teeth
- Red or inflamed gums that are sensitive to the touch
- Pus emanating from between the teeth
- Changes in the position of teeth
- Gaps forming between existing teeth
- Pink-colored toothbrush bristles following brushing
- Pain while eating or chewing
You may occasionally have bad breath or a small amount of blood when you spit out your toothpaste in the sink, but symptoms shouldn’t persist. If they do, then come and visit us for a check-up for peace of mind.
How to Brush, How Often, and Why
You should brush at least twice daily for two minutes at a time to prevent gum disease.
Brushing has several beneficial effects on your mouth. First, fluoride in toothpaste helps to harden the enamel of teeth, making them more resistant to acid attack during the day. Toothpaste also contains soap-like agents that sweep away existing bacterial, plaque, and tartar.
When you brush your teeth, you should target the teeth, gums, and tongue. All three can harbor potentially dangerous bacteria.
If you have a history of poor oral health, you may wish to increase your brushing frequency to three times per day or once after every meal.
How to Floss, How Often, and Why
The American Dental Association recommends flossing once per day. Flossing is crucial because it removes any food debris or bacteria lurking between the teeth that regular brushing can’t reach. If you don’t floss, you put yourself at risk of cavities forming in interdental spaces. This gives bacteria places to hide which can lead to gum disease.
The Type of Toothbrush to Use and Why (hint: soft bristles)
We recommend soft-bristled toothbrushes for the vast majority of patients. The reason is simple: soft-bristled toothbrushes provide the optimal combination of cleaning action and enamel protection.
Cleaning your teeth is a little different from scrubbing off burnt-on baking dish stains. Unlike a baking tray, teeth need to last a lifetime. Using stiff brushes can wear away the enamel over time, leading to receding gums and exposed dentin – the yellow layer of tissue below the white enamel.
We also recommend brushing gently. If you brush too hard, you’ll create too much abrasion, again damaging your teeth and gums.
Foods to Avoid
Foods to avoid fall into two categories: those that actively promote decay and those that discolor your teeth.
Everyone should seek to avoid foods in the first category. And those who are concerned about how their teeth appear should also strive to avoid or minimize consumption of foods in the second. Some foods straddle both categories.
Refined sugar is the primary cause of tooth decay in the modern diet. It leads to the overproduction of acid-causing bacteria that weaken enamel and cause cavities. Candies, sugary condiments, sodas, baked goods, and most pre-packaged meals contain some quantity of refined sugar.
We also recommend that patients avoid so-called “sticky” foods that linger in the mouth for longer and lead to cavities. Most refined foods like white bread, cookies, white flour pancakes, chips, and baked goods fall into this category. Because there is so little fiber in the food, the salivary mechanism finds it challenging to eject these foods from the mouth quickly. And that provides bacterial time to thrive and cause damage.
Coffee and Tea
If you want to keep your teeth looking pearly white, you should also consider avoiding foods with high tannin concentrations. Beverages such as tea and coffee contain compounds that stain the enamel over time. Eventually, sections of your teeth can wind up looking brown.
Foods that Stain
Other food and drink that can stain your teeth include berries, colas (including diet colas), tomato sauces, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and curries.
Please note that many of these foods are good for you, particularly berries and tomatoes. And often, they will only produce superficial stains that our hygienists can remove.
Why It Is Important to Visit the Dentist Regularly
Seeing the dentist regularly is important for several reasons. First, you can get advice on how to brush and floss your teeth correctly. We provide demonstrations of the techniques that you should use to prevent gum disease and decay in the future.
Second, you can nip potential problems in the bud before they become more severe, such as periodontal disease (gum disease).
And finally, we can remove any plaque or calculus that might cause disease in the future.
Do you want to protect your gum health? See Dr. Newhart for gum related issues including gum disease, bleeding gums, gum pain, missing teeth, wobbly teeth, swollen gums, or receding gum lines.