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Dental Fundamentals: Oral Hygiene

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Clean teeth are the foundation of oral health. The American Dental Association has a number of suggestions for maintaining oral health, such as brushing teeth thoroughly at least twice per day.

The ADA also suggests using fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Good technique includes brushing the tongue and both the inside and chewing surfaces of the teeth, keeping in mind that vigorous or harsh scrubbing can irritate the gums.

It’s also very important to keep oral hygiene equipment clean. Always rinse the toothbrush with water after brushing. Toothbrushes should be stored in an upright position, if possible. And, it’s best to allow it to air dry until using it again. Cover toothbrushes or storing them in closed containers can encourage the growth of bacteria.

Be sure to invest in a new toothbrush (or a replacement head for your electric or battery-operated toothbrush) every three to four months or sooner, should the bristles become tattered.

Daily flossing is important for reaching the tight spaces between your teeth or under your gumline. To floss, wind about 18 cm of floss around the middle finger on one hand and the rest around the middle finger on the other hand. Be sure to leave about 1 inch (3 centimeters) to floss your first tooth.

Focusing on one tooth at a time, use your thumbs and forefingers to gently pull the floss from the gumline to the top of the tooth to scrape off plaque. Rub the floss against all sides of the tooth. Unwind to fresh floss as you progress to the next tooth.

The ADA also suggests using an antimicrobial mouth rinse to help reduce plaque between the teeth. An oral irrigator, which is a device that aims a stream of water at your teeth, is a great way to remove food particles from your teeth. This should be done in addition to daily brushing and flossing, because an oral irrigator doesn't remove plaque.

To prevent gum disease and other oral health problems, it’s best to schedule regular dental cleanings and exams once or twice a year. Also, be sure to contact your dentist if you notice any signs or symptoms that could suggest oral health problems, such as red, tender or swollen gums, gums that bleed when you brush or floss, gums that begin pulling away from your teeth, or loose permanent teeth.

You should also see your dentist about changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align with each other, unusual sensitivity to hot and cold, persistent bad breath or an unusual taste in your mouth. Early detection and treatment of problems with your gums, teeth and mouth can help ensure good oral health.


Oral health: Brush up on dental care basics. Web. www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed 23 Nov. 2011.

Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums. Web. www.ada.gov. Accessed 23 Nov. 2011

Reviewed November 24, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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