Of all the health problems that can plague us, those involving our teeth are probably the most preventable. A few simple habits that most of us learned as children are pretty much all you need to maintain good oral hygiene.  

However, just because we learned these habits as children doesn't mean we remember them today, and proper technique can make all the difference in the world. In this article, we'll elaborate on that elusive virtue called oral hygiene -- specifically, brushing your teeth, flossing, whitening teeth, eating an anticavity diet, and visiting the dentist. Here's a preview:

  • How to Brush Your TeethBrushing your teeth is important to remove stray food particles, massage the gums, eliminate plaque, and freshen breath. It also helps to defend against cavities and periodontal disease. Proper brushing technique is just as important as vigilance -- be sure you bone up on the proper way to wield that toothbrush.
  • How to Floss Your TeethRegular flossing is your best defense against gum disease, and it also fights cavities and decay. Good flossing technique will help you remove debris between the teeth, preventing gingivitis and periodontitis. Using the right floss and dental-cleaning equipment will aid in this process.
  • How to Whiten Your TeethSome stains can be cleaned by regular visits to the dentist, while others require more aggressive measures. Brushing and flossing regularly is the best way to prevent stains. Professional bleaching can be effective in returning your teeth to a glimmering state.
  • An Anticavity DietTo promote strong, heathy teeth, eat a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and fluoride. Simple sugars and starchy foods are a banquet feast for oral bacteria. A diet that is full of sugars and overprocessed foods (or one devoid of vitamins, minerals, and crunchy fruits and vegetables) can eventually lead to decay, even in the mouths of the most avid brushers and flossers.
  • Visiting the DentistDon't let anxiety keep you away from the dentist's office -- the dentist is an important partner in maintaining your oral health. During a professional cleaning, the dentist or hygienist removes tartar and polishes the surface of your teeth, making it harder for plaque and tartar to adhere to them. The dentist then thoroughly examines your teeth and gums to search for any problem areas.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • If you're not vigilant in your oral hygiene, an assortment of afflictions can attack your teeth and gums. Learn more in How Dental Disease Works.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten your pearly whites.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Brush Your Teeth

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Brushing your teeth wisks away food particles, cleans and massages your gums, and helps to eliminate decay- causing plaque.

Brushing your teeth serves a number of purposes: It whisks away food particles, cleans and massages your gums, helps to eliminate decay-causing plaque, and freshens your breath. While not a panacea for all dental ills, brushing is an essential armament in the fight against decay, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. 

Even though it's something most of us do every day, it doesn't hurt to get a refresher course on brushing, because using the proper brushing technique is just as important as vigilance. 

  • Choose a routine and stick to it. Establishing a proper and habitual method of brushing your teeth will go a long way toward preventing dental caries and gum disease.
  • Always start in the same place in your mouth. This will help ensure that all parts of your mouth get cleaned every time. A good place to start is the hard-to-reach rear molars, which need the most time and attention.
  • Press gently at a 45-degree angle. Scrub the front of the tooth and gum for a few seconds using a small circular motion. In the same manner, move slowly around your mouth until you get to the other side. Pay particular attention to your gum line, because this is where gingivitis takes hold.
  • After you've worked your way to the other side of your mouth, rotate the brush so that it rests against the back of your tooth and gum, and use the same angle and same circular scrubbing motion as you return to the first tooth.
  • Next, briskly brush along the top face, or chewing surface, of your teeth.
  • Then repeat the entire process on your upper or lower set of teeth (depending on where you started).
  • Lastly, don't neglect the roof of your mouth and your tongue. These surfaces also harbor harmful, plaque-causing bacteria.
  • Rinse out your mouth.

Invest in high technology. A number of scientifically designed manual and electric toothbrushes are available, each with its own promise to remove plaque like no brush before it ever could. This is one area where innovation is more than just talk.  Comfort and ease of use are among the most valuable benefits conferred by the high-tech toothbrushes. Many come with features that make them easier to hold and manipulate in your mouth and that help you get to areas that were difficult to reach with the older, standard toothbrushes.  Variable-length bristles, which are cut into specific shapes, and interdental cleaners such as picks and floss, can help penetrate the tight spaces between teeth and gums.

Trust the experts. If you'd like to try a new type of brush or other dental cleaning device but can't make a choice, ask your dentist or hygienist for advice (they might even give you samples to try). If you're on your own, choose a toothbrush with soft bristles or other dental cleaning devices that have the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance on the label. 

Get plugged in. If you are unable to use a manual toothbrush, an electric brush may be a good alternative. 

Proper brushing technique is important, but it isn't enough to hold off dental disease and cavities. Flossing is a vital part of your oral hygiene regimen -- keep reading to learn more.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • If you're not vigilant in your oral hygiene, an assortment of afflictions can attack your teeth and gums. Learn more in How Dental Disease Works.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten your pearly whites.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Floss Your Teeth

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Flossing is your prime defense against periodontal disease.

For many of us, a quick toothbrushing session in the morning and the evening serves as the foundation of our home dental care strategy. However, unless you've got a fetish for fillings, brushing by itself is not enough. 

If you've ever been to the dentist, you've undoubtedly been told that flossing is the prime defense against periodontal disease. It also fights caries and decay. You should floss after each meal or, at the very least, once a day. 

As with brushing, technique is important, so here are some flossing tips:

  • Take an 18- to 24-inch length of floss, and wrap most of it around the index finger of one hand. Next, wrap all but about 4 inches around the index finger of the other hand.
  • Gripping the floss between the thumb and bent forefinger, slowly work the floss between two teeth with a gentle sawing motion. Never snap or force the floss in. As with brushing, start in the same place each time you floss (the rear molars are a good place to begin).
  • Gently scrape the floss around the tooth, going up into the gum line until you meet resistance. Work systematically in a C shape around each tooth.
  • Using your fingers like spools, unwrap a clean section of floss from the hand with unused floss, and spin the used portion onto the other finger. Move on to the next space.
  • Continue all the way around your mouth, using the same technique.

Which Floss Should You Use? Dental floss comes in a large variety of forms, flavors, and colors: There's waxed and unwaxed; thick and thin; mint-flavored and plain; white, clear, green, and blue. There are disposable floss holders and reusable floss threaders (sold in drugstores and supermarkets). There is even a tough Gore-Tex floss that is designed to slip into the tightest spaces without shredding or fraying.  Fortunately, there's no need to start an extensive research project on the most effective type of floss (the differences between brands and types are mostly for show). If you are just being initiated into the wonderful world of flossing, you might like to splurge on a few different kinds of dental floss to see which you like most. Here are a few hints to help you find the right floss:

  • If your teeth are very close together, waxed, thin, or Gore-Tex floss may slide in between them more easily.
  • Flavored flosses introduce a pleasant, distracting taste while you floss. (They're a great incentive for kids.)
  • If you have wide spaces between your teeth, you might try using dental tape -- a wider variety of floss.
  • Floss holders and threaders may make flossing easier for you if you have extensive bridge work or partial dentures. 

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • If you're not vigilant in your oral hygiene, an assortment of afflictions can attack your teeth and gums. Learn more in How Dental Disease Works.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten your pearly whites.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

How to Whiten Your Teeth

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. A habitual coffee or tea habit can leave your teeth with unsightly stains.

Stained teeth in themselves are not really a health hazard, but they can be an annoyance. Even worse, they can prompt you to do damaging things in an attempt to whiten them.

Some stains can be removed by your twice-yearly cleaning, while others may require more aggressive treatment. Still other stains may be almost impossible to remove. The best way to keep your teeth their whitest is to avoid staining them in the first place.

A variety of factors can contribute to or cause stained teeth. Some of the more common tooth stainers are cigarette smoke, chewing tobacco, and habitual coffee and tea drinking. Extensive decay and dead nerves may also cause some discoloration. Plaque left by improper or infrequent flossing and brushing is a magnet for foods that stain (remember, plaque is sticky stuff). And, of course, age -- that notorious thief of beauty -- robs your teeth of their original brilliant white color, leaving them slightly yellowed. 

Exposure to certain drugs (such as the antibiotic tetracycline) either in utero or as a small child, can leave teeth a pearly gray. Excessive childhood ingestion of fluoride may also cause the enamel to appear mottled and uneven. These types of stains are often the most difficult to remove, although they may improve somewhat with the aid of a professional bleaching. 

Here are some ideas to brighten your smile:

  • Stick to your brushing and flossing regimen. (You knew that was coming, didn't you?) Once again, conscientious brushing and flossing win -- hands down -- as the best ways to prevent dental problems, including staining.
  • Avoid all forms of tobacco use, including pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff.
  • Cut down on your intake of coffee and tea. The less contact these fluids have with your teeth, the less opportunity they will have to leave stains.
  • Disguise it. If you have a dark, highly visible amalgam filling (and a little disposable income), consider having it replaced with a tooth-colored plastic composite. A porcelain crown can also cover up a badly discolored or decayed tooth.
  • Treat yourself to an extra cleaning or two. Keep your teeth whiter (and your hygienist happier) by scheduling visits just for professional cleanings. Extra cleanings may help prevent long-term staining.
  • Get your teeth professionally bleached. Several excellent technologies have emerged for bleaching and whitening the teeth. Although some of these procedures must be performed in the dentist's office, a few can be done at home. Ask your dentist what he or she recommends. 

The following are some definite tooth-whitening don'ts:

  • Don't take aggressive measures on your own. You may end up compounding your problem. If your teeth are heavily stained or discolored, consult your dentist.
  • Always consult your dentist before using an at-home whitening kit.
  • Never use any amount of chlorine bleach on your teeth. It is highly toxic.
  • Don't overdo it with "whitening" toothpastes. Some stain-removing toothpastes are quite abrasive and can wear off enamel if used too often. Consult your dentist or dental hygienist before using these toothpastes.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • If you're not vigilant in your oral hygiene, an assortment of afflictions can attack your teeth and gums. Learn more in How Dental Disease Works.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten your pearly whites.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

An Anticavity Diet

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Calcium is necessary to maintain strong bones and teeth.

There is no perfect diet that will keep your teeth from all harm, but what you eat can have an effect on the health of your teeth and gums. Eating right has benefits on two fronts: By supplying your body with the right nutrients, a healthful diet strengthens your teeth from the inside; and by limiting the foods that promote bacterial growth, it protects your teeth from outside invaders.  Building strong teeth

Teeth are essentially a kind of bone. They are harder and more durable because they are on the outside, but the same nutrients that promote a strong skeleton promote strong teeth.

Calcium. The primary component of strong bone tissue is the mineral calcium. It gives the skeleton structure and hardness. It may seem that teeth, once they are fully grown, don't need any more calcium. Indeed, the most important time to ensure a proper amount of calcium in the diet is when teeth and bones are forming, but even after they are fully grown, teeth and bones still need to have an adequate supply. The body constantly takes calcium from bones and teeth and replaces it with new supplies. You should make sure that your body has plenty on hand.

Getting enough calcium in the diet can seem difficult for those who don't want to get too much fat. Good sources of calcium without too much fat are nonfat and low-fat milk, low-fat and nonfat yogurt, some dark-green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified orange juice.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D works hand in hand with calcium. It doesn't add to the hardness of bones and teeth in itself, but it promotes the deposition of calcium in the skeleton. Without it, it wouldn't matter how much calcium your body had available, because the calcium would not be absorbed into bone tissue.

Vitamin D is added to almost all commercial milk, and many other foods are now fortified with it. Your body has the ability to make its own vitamin D also. The vitamin is produced in the skin when your skin is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet radiation. It takes just 15 minutes a day of direct sun exposure on the skin to get the vitamin D your body needs.

Vitamin C. Almost every ailment has been said to be "cured" by vitamin C, but here there is a real connection -- connective tissue. Vitamin C is vital to the health of connective tissue such as your gums. In fact, one of the first symptoms of vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, is weak, sore gums that bleed easily. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits and some vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Fluoride. The one nutrient that affects the health of your teeth the most is also one of the most controversial. The mineral fluoride has been proved to make teeth harder and more resistant to decay. Study after study has shown that people living in areas where fluoride is added to the water have fewer cavities than those who do not. Although many of us do get our fluoride from fluoridated drinking water, some don't have that option in their communities. Ask your doctor or dentist if you are concerned. 

Problem Foods

Because plaque formation is the start of virtually all types of dental disease, and plaque bacteria feed on leftover sugars, it stands to reason that cutting down on sugar -- in all of its forms -- will help prevent cavities. Easier said than done.

Sugar is one of the most insidious ingredients in the modern diet. If you look at almost any prepared food's ingredients, somewhere in that list will be sucrose or one of its close relatives (such as glucose, maltose, lactose, fructose, galactose, dextrose, corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar, and so on). Even honey, no matter how unrefined, contains simple sugars that serve as a banquet meal for plaque bacteria. The same goes for fructose (naturally occurring fruit sugar).

Complex carbohydrates can also provide food for bacteria in your mouth. In fact, some researchers suggest that starchy foods may be even more detrimental to your teeth than simple sugars. Starches are more sticky than sugar; the saliva that usually dissolves and washes away small amounts of sugar on the teeth might not be able to contend with the clumps of potato chips or crackers stuck in and around molars. Starchy foods that stick to your teeth and stay there for hours provide plenty of fuel for enamel-eroding microbes.

This doesn't mean that you should avoid starchy foods. On the contrary, they are part of a healthful diet. It only means that you must be more conscious of how these foods affect your teeth and more conscientious about cleaning them after you do enjoy those snack chips. Although no other nutritional component besides sugar has been positively linked to tooth decay, the rest of your diet cannot be overlooked in your effort to maintain healthy teeth and gums. A diet that is full of sugars and overprocessed foods (or one devoid of vitamins, minerals, and crunchy fruits and vegetables) can eventually lead to decay, even in the mouths of the most avid brushers and flossers. 

Don't let anxiety keep you from visiting the dentist -- professional care will help you keep your teeth clean and healthy. Go to the next page to learn more about the importance of a trip to the dentist's office.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • If you're not vigilant in your oral hygiene, an assortment of afflictions can attack your teeth and gums. Learn more in How Dental Disease Works.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten your pearly whites.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Visiting the Dentist

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. A dentist is an important partner in keeping your teeth clean and healthy, so don't let your anxiety keep you away.

You cannot go it alone. No matter how well you care for your teeth at home, you still need regular checkups and cleanings, and in the rare case of a dental emergency, you'll be glad the professionals are around. 

The Checkup

Has fear kept you away from the dentist for so long that your teeth hurt just thinking about it? If so, fight your fear with facts. A checkup is certainly nothing to worry about, and knowing what's going to happen should allay your fears. Here are a few things you can expect when you visit the dentist for your semi-annual cleaning and exam:

Cleaning. A professional cleaning involves more than a simple brushing and flossing. Your dentist has special instruments and techniques to clean your teeth more thoroughly than you can at home. 

First, your dentist or dental hygienist removes the tartar, or calculus, that has built up on your teeth. This hardened plaque is removed with a sharp tool called a scaler. Some dentists use a device that can remove the tartar with ultrasonic sound waves instead of a scaler, but both methods do the same thing.

After the tartar buildup has been removed, your teeth are polished with a special paste and a rotating rubber polisher. The polishing process not only brightens your teeth, but it also gives them a very smooth surface, making it difficult for bacteria and plaque to take hold.

In addition to these steps, children may also receive an extra treatment to make their teeth stronger and more cavity resistant. A fluoride wash is a topical application of fluoride that can protect the tooth enamel.

Examination. After a thorough cleaning, the dentist checks on the health of your teeth and gums. This part of your visit includes:

  • Examination of the soft tissue, during which the dentist checks the interior of your mouth for signs of any disease.
  • X rays to get a more accurate picture of any suspected decay, to examine teeth that have not yet emerged, or to assess the progress of periodontal disease. They can also locate any cysts or lesions on the jawbone. (X rays are usually considered optional unless it's your first visit to that particular dentist or regular examination reveals a problem that requires a more extensive evaluation.)

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • If you're not vigilant in your oral hygiene, an assortment of afflictions can attack your teeth and gums. Learn more in How Dental Disease Works.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten your pearly whites.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

Brianna Politzer is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, and technology. She has contributed to many consumer publications, including The Home Remedies Handbook, Women's Home Remedies Health Guide, and The Medical Book of Health Hints and Tips.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.