Keeping your teeth clean is important, but don't neglect the rest of your mouth. Flossing and rinsing with mouthwash, in addition to brushing, are important parts of your dental routine. The American Dental Association recommends that you brush at least twice a day, with one of those brushings taking place before bed [source: ADA]. Some people like to brush after meals, though bear in mind that you should wait at least 30 minutes after ingesting acidic foods or beverages such as orange juice [source: Carr].
Using fluoride toothpaste, hold the toothbrush against your teeth at a slight angle and brush with short back-and-forth motions. Be sure to brush all surfaces of your teeth. Brushing too vigorously can cause gum damage, so don't get carried away. Replace your toothbrush about every three months or when the bristles begin to look worn [source: Mayo Clinic].
Both flossing and mouth rinses help eliminate plaque in hard-to-reach areas that brushing can't catch. You should floss once a day. Be careful, though -- improper flossing can cut your gums. Instead of snapping the floss between your teeth and into the gum, gently move the floss back and forth until you reach the gum line. Then, cup the floss around one tooth and slide it into the space between the gum and tooth. Carefully scrape the side of the tooth. Do this to each of your teeth, including the far side of your back molars. If you follow flossing with mouthwash, antimicrobial mouth rinses have been shown to reduce plaque and gingivitis and can give you an extra layer of protection against bad breath [source: ADA].
Certain people should be especially vigilant with their dental health, even if you're not having problems. If your family history indicates that you might be at risk for heart disease or diabetes, it's best to keep on top of your oral health so that any issues down the line will be more manageable. Gum disease may also cause complications in pregnant women. Though doctors and dentists aren't quite sure why, expectant mothers suffering from gum disease are more likely to deliver early and to deliver low-birth-weight babies. [source: WebMD]. If you're pregnant or thinking about having children, talk to your dentist about protective oral health measures.
All that brushing and flossing might be a pain, but it's nothing compared to the consequences for your overall health if you don't take care of your teeth. Aside from the longer-term benefits, you'll love having fresher breath and fewer cavities. Surely that's something to smile about.
More Great Links
- American Academy of Periodontology. "Connection Between Gum Disease and Diabetes." (Sept. 3, 2011) http://www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.diabetes.htm
- American Dental Association. "Brushing Your Teeth." (Sept. 5, 2011) http://www.ada.org/5624.aspx?currentTab=1
- American Dental Association. "Cleaning Your Teeth & Gums." (Sept. 5, 2011) http://www.ada.org/2624.aspx
- Carr, Alan, D.M.D. "Brushing Your Teeth: How often and when?" Mayo Clinic. Aug. 31, 2010. (Sept. 5, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brushing-your-teeth/AN02098
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Heart Disease Facts and Statistics." Dec. 7, 2009. (August 30, 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/statistics.htm
- Mayo Clinic. "Oral health: Brush up on dental care basics." Feb. 17, 2011. (Sept. 6, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dental/DE00003
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "What is Endocarditis?" Oct. 1, 2010. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/endo/
- Pub Med Health. "Periodontitis." Feb. 22, 2010. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002054/
- Rogers, Matthew. "Not Just for Cavities: Brushing Your Teeth Affects Your Body's Total Health." Life Hacker. June 10, 2011. (Sept. 1, 2011) http://lifehacker.com/5810652/not-just-for-cavities-brushing-your-teeth-affects-your-bodys-total-health
- Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation. "About Sjogren's Syndrome." (Sept. 3, 2011) http://www.sjogrens.org/home/about-sjogrens-syndrome
- Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation. "Dry Mouth: A Hallmark Symptom of Sjogren's Syndrome." (Sept. 3, 2011) http://www.sjogrens.org/home/about-sjogrens-syndrome/symptoms/dry-mouth
- WebMD. "Smoking and Dental Health: Yellow Teeth, Bad Breath, and Other Smoking Effects." (Sept. 5, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/smoking-oral-health