After 44 years in practice as a periodontist, I still encounter patients who have never really been shown the best way to clean their mouths effectively. It’s something that I like to discuss with a patient on their very first visit. When I do, I often ask about their process, and find that many well-intentioned people (in their attempt to get their mouth really clean) can go a little too far, and actually cause some damage.
Here’s what not to do
As you maintain your daily hygiene regimen, be sure to keep these oral care “don’ts” in mind:
Flossing aggressively under the gum tissue. Aggressive flossing under the gumline could result in a cut, a long-lasting cleft-like wound, or gum recession.
Improper oral irrigation. Using an oral irrigator (such as a Water Pik device) improperly can be dangerous. If placed on too high a setting (moderate- to high-pressure) it could force food debris and bacteria even further under the gum tissues. Also, the force of the water jet could tear recovering gum tissue cells.
Brushing too soon after acidic beverages. When you drink acidic beverages (sodas, some juices, wine, coffee, etc.) your teeth (or more specifically, the minerals that fortify your teeth’s enamel) can become “softened.” For that reason, research suggests waiting at least an hour after drinking the beverage to brush your teeth. However, I would recommend simply rinsing your mouth out with water (even right after consuming the drink) to help remove the excess acid.
Using an antimicrobial mouthwash every day. The problem with using antimicrobial mouthwash too frequently, is you’ll not only rid your mouth of bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria.
Doing it the right way
So what’s the best way to get your entire mouth clean and rid (as much as possible) of harmful bacteria? Spoiler alert: a slap-dash tooth-brushing now and then is not going to do the trick. What I recommend to my patients is to think about not just when they are brushing their teeth, but most importantly, how they are brushing them.
Just add water: I usually start with suggesting that patients clean their mouth just after they wake in the morning and just before they go to sleep at night. I explain that while toothpaste is certainly helpful, it’s not actually necessary to remove unhealthy plaque that has accumulated at the gum line. That’s because dental plaque is soft enough that it can be easily removed with just a soft nylon toothbrush and water.
Location, location, location: Equally important is where to focus your cleaning. The real sweet spot is at the gum-tooth margin. That’s where you should place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and brush gently brush back and forth, horizontally. And that means both the cheek and the tongue sides of all the teeth. Another area to clean is the surfaces between the teeth. Sure, dental floss is great at removing food that’s stuck between the teeth. However, to really do it right, it’s best to use a dental tool that includes a small brush. That way you can better clean between teeth to remove unhealthy dental plaque at the gumline.
A teaspoon of prevention: Most patients do not know that most of the bad odors in the mouth actually come from the top surface of the tongue. The surface of the tongue near your throat is where many unhealthy bacteria reside along with remnants of decaying food particles. While you may have heard it’s important to brush your tongue, I find there’s another tool that can even more effectively remove overgrown bacteria and food remnants – a teaspoon. Just turn the spoon over and place it as far back on the surface of your tongue as is comfortable. Then, glide the teaspoon forward, gently scraping the bacterial film and microscopic food particles away. Then repeat this action two to three times.
Great oral hygiene means great dental visits
Outstanding oral care is one of those gifts that just keeps giving. When you take the time and concern to care for your teeth, gums, and mouth properly, you are less likely to have to worry about your experience at the dentist’s office. Once there, instead of having to be concerned with damage control, you’ll be able to focus on simply maintaining your already outstanding oral health. At least, that’s what almost a half century of dental practice has taught me.
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