February 27, 2019 Ann Le Oral hygiene is essential to a healthy lifestyle. To maintain the health of your teeth and gums, you should adhere to the traditional three basic rules of dental hygiene: Brush twice daily. Floss at least once a day. Visit your dentist at least every 6 months. This practice, however, is incomplete. Proper care of your teeth and gums involves much more. There are things you can do or refrain from doing to improve and maintain a good oral health habit. Here are a few things you probably haven’t heard before but which will complement any oral hygiene practice. Gauze can help soothe teeth and gums, for babies and adults. 1. Teething Babies or Sensitive Gums? Try Gauze and Your Index Finger For the first 6 to 12 months of a baby’s life, he or she will not have teeth. Then, when the teeth start to point through the gums, it takes a while, but the baby can experience discomfort. With or without teeth, babies still need their parents to keep their mouths healthy and clean to prevent problems when teeth do start to push through. Toothbrush bristles, however, are too harsh for a baby’s sensitive gums and can irritate their mouths. Toothbrushes should not be used on a baby until the first tooth appears. Your best option is gauze. It’s soft and does not scratch, yet it is abrasive enough for a soothing, thorough cleaning along the gums and in and around any baby teeth. Gauze is also a suitable alternative for adults to clean their teeth and gums when the gums are swollen and/or the teeth are very sensitive. 2. Use Dental Floss, Not Toothpicks or Floss Picks Food and other gunk can get stuck between teeth pretty easily, but these areas are hard to reach and clean. The latter is a reason cavities are common. It’s also a reason why flossing is so important. But today, so many people are using mechanical toothbrushes for their brushing needs and believe that the electric toothbrush will get in between their teeth good enough so that they do not have to floss. Alternatively, people are using toothpicks or floss picks to pick out food between their teeth because the toothpicks are already accessible in their kitchens right after they eat or because the floss picks are just easier to use. But all of these things, if overused, over applied, or used improperly, can damage your gums and teeth. In fact, it can lead to gum recession and enamel erosion. In addition, floss picks can spread germs throughout your mouth, from one contaminated pocket to another pocket not initially contaminated by using the same strip of floss over and over again. Your best option is always dental floss. It won’t cause the latter two dental problems and will help you prevent cavities. 3. Have Dental Floss Everywhere You Go As you now know, dental floss is your best option to preserve healthy teeth and gums, but people do not use it simply because it is not accessible. So, make it accessible. Intentionally go to the store and purchase a package of dental floss. Then, intentionally place it everywhere you go. For instance, place dental floss in your: purse handbag briefcase car desk at the office desk at home every room of your house. By making dental floss within reach, you can train yourself to use it more. Get lettuce stuck in your teeth at work? Go to the bathroom and pull out your dental floss — it’ll not only get the annoying food but will make your mouth feel fresh and clean, a nice pick-me-up for an afternoon at work. Eating chips while watching TV and get an annoying piece stuck between teeth so that you are constantly rubbing your tongue over it, but the TV show is too good to pause it? Grab the floss you have hidden in the side table and floss away while watching your show. Dental floss can be made that simple and easy if it’s made accessible. 4. Use a Tongue Scraper or Tongue Brush for Your Tongue – Simple! Americans have been taught that brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist twice a year is the ideal oral hygiene strategy, but there’s one thing missing: the tongue scraper, also known as a tongue brush. Our tongues are loaded with bacteria — some good and most not so good. The not so good bacteria and toxins are the cause of your bad breath. Many people use a toothbrush to clean their tongue at the end of their brushing routine. Toothbrushes are not designed to clean your tongue properly (the clue is in the name!), but tongue scrapers are. To effectively use your tongue scraper, rinse it off before and after each use. Then place it as far back in the mouth as you can without gagging. Gently press and pull the tongue scraper along the tongue, slowly moving forwards. Repeat the motion several times, working your way up to 10 strokes or until the biofilm on the tongue is removed. It may feel strange at first, but it will quickly become easier. You should use the tongue cleaner twice a day to coincide with brushing your teeth. 5. Spit, Don’t Rinse After Brushing Fluoride is in your toothpaste for a purpose: tooth decay prevention. Fluoride helps make teeth more resistant to plaque buildup and acid attacks. So, when using fluoride products, you do not want to defeat its purpose by removing it from your mouth after it has been applied. The best thing to do when you brush your teeth with toothpaste containing fluoride is to simply spit the remains of the paste into the sink. You do not want to rinse your mouth with water, squish, and then spit because this process — i.e., the squishing and then spitting — removes the beneficial fluoride along with your spit. 6. Don’t Use Mouthwash Straight After Brushing Mouthwash is a relatively easy method for oral hygiene. You simply need to squish the liquid around in your mouth and then spit. Mouthwash is used for two reasons: (1) the fresh feeling it leaves in your mouth; and (2) the fluoride benefits that protect teeth from decay. As such, to maximize the benefits of your mouthwash, you should not use it at the same time you brush your teeth. The fluoride in the toothpaste will benefit you when you brush your teeth, so the benefit of mouthwash — when used in conjunction with toothpaste — is obsolete. That means money down the drain. Alternatively, think about using mouthwash at different times of the day for added fluoride benefits and protection. You can use it midmorning and/or mid-afternoon as a way to freshen yourself up. 7. Store Your Toothbrush Out in the Open There are some products today marketed as a way to keep your toothbrush safe from bacteria if enclosed by some kind of contraption. On the contrary, when a wet toothbrush is enclosed into a dark space, this creates the best conditions for microbes to grow. This does not mean you cannot store your toothbrush in a cabinet, because you can so long as the air flow is sufficient to dry the toothbrush thoroughly and quickly. If you do want to hide your toothbrush away in a cabinet, then make sure the cabinet is regularly cleaned to minimize any bacteria or fungus growth. The best option, however, is storing your toothbrush out in the open. Contrary to popular belief that this method attracts bacteria, it is actually the best method to prevent it. You can use a toothbrush stand or holder so long as the toothbrush is not enclosed in any way. 8. Want Your Teeth to Look Like a Perfect Picture? Hold Your Toothbrush Like a Pencil Many of us still use a traditional manual toothbrush. Our dentists still give us these versions when we leave their offices. They are cheaper than the mechanical ones but still effective when used properly. The problem with traditional toothbrushes lies in the application. Too many people put too much pressure on the toothbrush so that when they brush, the bristles are hard against the teeth and gums, which can damage the enamel or irritate the gums. An effective method for using the traditional toothbrush is simple: hold it like a pencil. This method eases the pressure and allows you to easily move the brush in circles throughout your mouth for a good cleaning. 74% of the U.S. population drinks tap water with added fluoride. Photo credit: Steve Johnson. 9. Drink More Tap Water Fluoride was introduced into American drinking water systems 70 years ago for the very purpose to protect teeth against decay. Since its introduction into community water, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that tooth decay has been reduced by 25% among kids and adults. Not all communities, however, have opted for fluoride in community water, but the CDC has identified more than 74% of the U.S. population has access to fluoridated water supplies. You can check if your community has fluoride in its water by checking out CDC’s interactive My Water’s Fluoride page. The chances are your water does have fluoride added to it. So start drinking it. Substitute the occasional tea and coffee with a glass of tap water. It’s safe. It’s effective. And it’s easily available. All you need to do is run your tap water into a glass and drink. 10. Do You Have Amalgam Fillings? Leave Them In Amalgam fillings, also known as silver fillings, are widely used throughout the U.S. to fill cavities. There is, however, a concern about the risk of mercury used in the product. High levels of mercury exposure can have negative effects on the brain and kidneys. But the elemental mercury used in amalgam fillings is quite low. After a review of the available science, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirms they are safe to use. Its use is widespread because amalgam fillings are highly durable and strong, and as such, are not easily broken like other types of fillings are. They are also the least expensive, so it’s an affordable option for many families and dentists alike. The moral to this story is simple: do not panic and do not remove your silver fillings out of fear of mercury. In fact, removal can lead to additional mercury exposure, so if that’s your worry, then do not remove them. Keep calm and keep them clean by following all the above practices. With proper care, your mouth will stay healthy and your breath will stay fresh. To learn more about oral care, however, schedule an appointment with us at Bunker Hill Dentistry. We believe an informed person makes the best decisions about his or her oral healthcare. Ann LeAnn Le has been successfully managing dental practices since 1990. She is currently Practice Manager at Bunker Hill Dentistry in Houston, TX which she runs with her husband Dr. Tri M Le.