A Brief Overview: Brushing & Flossing

How much and how often should you brush your teeth?  First off, we should discuss why we should brush.  Plaque builds up in your mouth over a period of 12 hours. Plaque is a sticky deposit on your teeth in which bacteria proliferate.  Plaque around the gum margins can lead to gingivitis.  The more sugary and starchy the foods, the faster the accumulation of the sticky substance on your teeth known as plaque.  Plaque is easily removed by brushing or sweeping it off with the bristles of your toothbrush.  Plaque left too long on your teeth will harden into tarter.  Tarter is much more difficult to remove.  Bacteria in plaque produce acids after you eat or drink.  These acids can destroy tooth enamel and cause cavities (carries) and gum disease (gingivitis) and lead to tooth loss.

Fighting Plaque

Plaque can develop under the gums on tooth roots and break down the bones that support your teeth.  Proper oral hygiene, including daily brushing and flossing, gets rid of plaque.

Plaque is the fuzzy feeling on the teeth.  Other indicators of plaque are chronic bad breath (halitosis), and red, swollen, tender gums that bleed after brushing.

How often should you brush?

You should brush your teeth at least twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. It is also a good idea to brush your teeth after meals, if possible, especially if you have eaten sugary or acidic foods.

When brushing your teeth, it is important to use a fluoride toothpaste and to brush for at least two minutes. You should also use a soft-bristled toothbrush and make sure to brush all surfaces of your teeth, including the fronts, backs, and tops.  A quick once around the mouth will not be sufficient.   Brush at a 45-degree angle and gently brush back and forth in short strokes on all surfaces. Remember your tongue, also, as bacteria accumulates between taste buds and other crevices, leading to bad breath and potentially even more serious issues.

Flossing is important too! 

In addition to brushing, it is also important to floss daily to remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth and along the gum line. This can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.  When you floss it should be in an up and down motion, not a shoeshine (back and forth) motion.

There are two types of floss, waxed and unwaxed. 

They are both made of nylon.  Waxed dental floss contains a thin layer of wax on its surface, which makes it a little thicker than the unwaxed floss, but easier to glide between the teeth.  Waxed floss is more likely flavored than unwaxed floss.

There are different advantages to the two types.  Waxed floss allows for a smooth flossing experience because of the wax layer.  The different flavors can keep your breath fresh after each flossing session.  Patients with tightly spaced teeth may find it easier to use waxed floss due to its natural lubricating property.  Waxed floss is usually stronger than unwaxed, so less breaking.  Unwaxed floss, being thinner, is usually more comfortable to move in and out of your teeth.

Whichever floss you choose, waxed or unwaxed, both have proved equally effective in removing plaque.

Flossing every day helps clean the areas that your toothbrush cannot reach, preventing the buildup of plaque.  Flossing has been shown to be one of the most effective measures you can take to lower your risk of gum disease.

If you don’t like the floss thread, there are some alternatives you can consider:

  • Interdental brushes – these are like tiny toothbrushes designed to clean between your teeth and usually easier to use than a thread of floss, and as effective (great for braces)
  • Water flossing – like a water pik or Sonicare which jets a stream of water you aim between your teeth
  • Dental Pick – made of plastic or wood, if you use the wood, wet the pick first to soften it. It’s not as effective as floss and you risk moving bacteria around in your mouth unless you use a new pick for each tooth.
  • Pre-threaded Floss: This provides the easiest way to reach all your teeth effectively, and with one hand.
  • Soft-Picks by GumÒ: is a favorite of the dental community. They’re sort of an interdental brush/dental pick hybrid.  They’re small, disposable plastic picks with a soft tip and rubbery bristles that fit comfortably between the teeth and do minimal damage to gum tissue.

Mouthwash is not a good alternative to flossing or brushing.

Overall, the key to maintaining good oral hygiene is to brush and floss regularly and to see a dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings.

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