Developing good dental health habits is the best way to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Older adults may have special concerns about dentures, and those with arthritis may have trouble holding a toothbrush.
- Get into a routine of brushing and flossing. Brush your teeth twice a day, in the morning and at night, and floss once a day.
- Use a toothbrush with soft, rounded-end bristles and a head that is small enough to reach all parts of your teeth and mouth. Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.
- You may also use an electric toothbrush that has the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. Studies show that powered toothbrushes with a rotating and oscillating (back-and-forth) action are more effective than other toothbrushes, including other powered toothbrushes.2
- Use a fluoride toothpaste. Some fluoride toothpastes also offer tartar control, which may help slow the formation of hard mineral buildup (tartar) on the teeth.
- Place the brush at a 45-degree angle where the teeth meet the gums. Press firmly, and gently rock the brush back and forth using small circular movements. Do not scrub. Vigorous brushing can make the gums pull away from the teeth and can scratch your tooth enamel.
- Brush all surfaces of the teeth, tongue-side and cheek-side. Pay special attention to the front teeth and all surfaces of the back teeth.
- Brush chewing surfaces vigorously with short back-and-forth strokes.
- Brush your tongue from back to front. Some people put some toothpaste or mouthwash on their toothbrush when they do this. Brushing your tongue helps remove plaque, which can cause bad breath and help bacteria grow. Some toothbrushes now have a specific brush to use for your tongue.
- Use disclosing tablets every now and then to see whether any plaque remains on the teeth. Disclosing tablets are chewable and will color any plaque left on the teeth after you brush. You can buy them at most drugstores.
Floss at least once a day. The type of floss you use is not important. Choose the type and flavor that you like best. Use any of the following methods:
- The finger-wrap method : Cut off a piece of floss 18 in. (45 cm) to 20 in. (50 cm) long. Wrap one end around your left middle finger and the other end around your right middle finger, until your hands are about 2 in. (5 cm) to 3 in. (8 cm) apart.
- The circle method : Use a piece of floss about 12 in. (30 cm) long. Tie the ends together, forming a loop. If the loop is too large, wrap the floss around your fingers to make it smaller.
- A plastic flossing tool that makes flossing easier: Child-size flossing tools are available for parents to use to floss their children's teeth. You can buy them at most drugstores.
Gently work the floss between the teeth toward the gums. Curve the floss around each tooth into a U-shape, and gently slide it under the gum line. Move the floss firmly up and down several times to scrape off the plaque. Popping the floss in and out between the teeth without scraping will not remove much plaque and can hurt your gums.
You may want to try electric cleaning devices (interdental cleaning devices or interdental brushes) that are made to clean between your teeth. They can be as effective as using dental floss.
If your gums bleed when you floss, the bleeding should stop as your gums become healthier and tighter next to your teeth.
Eat a mouth-healthy diet
- Eat a balanced diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and is low in saturated fat and sodium. Good nutrition is vital to maintaining healthy gums and avoiding tooth decay.
- Mozzarella and other cheeses, peanuts, yogurt, milk, and sugar-free chewing gum (especially gum that contains xylitol) are good for your teeth. They help clear your mouth of harmful sugars and protect against plaque. These make great after-meal snacks.
- Avoid foods that contain a lot of sugar, especially sticky, sweet foods like taffy and raisins. The longer sugar stays in contact with your teeth, the more damage the sugar will do.
- Do not snack before bedtime, because food left on the teeth is more likely to cause cavities at night. Saliva production decreases while you sleep, so saliva does not clean the mouth well during sleeping hours.
Quit using tobacco
It is also important to stop using tobacco products. Using any tobacco product makes it more likely you will have mouth cancer or gum disease (periodontal disease). Using tobacco can also delay healing after you have a tooth pulled or other surgery on your teeth or mouth.1 Tobacco use also causes bad breath and stains your teeth and tongue.
Caring for your child's teeth
It's best to start good oral health habits before permanent teeth come in.