Top tips for taking care of your teeth
Most of us know the basics of oral hygiene. We share some obvious and not-so-obvious tips for looking after your teeth.
There are plenty of studies that suggest oral health may be important for our overall health. The link between poor dental care and heart health has long been researched and debated. There are also possible connections between poor oral health and chronic diseases including diabetes, respiratory illnesses, stroke and dementia.
An Australian Institute for Health and Welfare report found people with a chronic condition were around twice as likely as those without a chronic condition to report toothache.
So, don’t wait until a week before your next dental appointment to look after your teeth. Here are my tips for kick-starting good oral health habits today that favour your overall health in the long run.
1. Brush, brush, brush
I don’t have to lecture anyone these days about brushing their teeth. You probably know to brush your teeth morning and night, or after every meal.
What’s key is your technique. If you’re in the habit of using the wrong technique, not only will it be less effective but potentially damaging to both your teeth and gums. And don’t forget to brush your tongue which (surprisingly) harbours a lot of bacteria!
If you’re not sure whether you use the correct technique or need a refresher, get your dentist to give you a demo or follow these simple steps:
- Aim your brush at a 45˚ angle to the gum line
- Move your brush gently in a circular motion to clean all surfaces of your teeth, including the backs and where your teeth meet your gums
- Avoid side-to-side scrubbing which can damage teeth and gums
I'm sorry to say this but unfortunately no amount of expert brushing will help you avoid flossing your teeth.
No matter how well you brush, the fact is your toothbrush’s bristles don’t get between your teeth. So you need to floss daily to avoid decay and gum disease later down the track.
If you’re not as familiar with flossing as you could be, here are some tips to help as there's a bit of an art to it:
As with brushing, your dentist can also show you the correct way to floss.
- Slide floss between your teeth with a gentle sawing action, and gently work it up and down, against the surfaces of each tooth.
- For each tooth, push the floss down just under your gum line (rather than snapping it down between your teeth which might traumatise the gum and cause bleeding).
- After flossing, rinse your mouth out with water to remove any leftover food.
My patients often ask me if mouthwash is effective or just a dental gimmick.
Mouthwashes can keep your teeth in good order but only if used as intended – not just to cover garlic breath! An alcohol-free mouthwash can help control bacterial build-up. And if you’re prone to decay, your dentist might recommend a mouthwash with fluoride.
But watch out for mouthwashes with the ingredient chlorhexidine gluconate. You should only use these for short periods because they can stain your teeth (and dentures if you have them).
4. A healthy diet
Good oral health and sugary foods generally don’t mix. So, try steering clear of a diet high in sugar including carbonated drinks. Bacteria in your mouth uses sugars to make acid which in turn results in decay. Carbonated drinks, even if they’re sugar free, are usually acidic and erode the enamel on your teeth by removing much needed calcium.
If you can’t give up the carbonated drinks, at least get in the habit of drinking through a straw to minimise the contact with your teeth.
Drinking water after you eat can also help keep your teeth in shape. Flushing your mouth out with water gets rid of food that’s otherwise stuck on your teeth for long periods (leading to decay) and may prevent stains from things like coffee, tea and alcohol.
5. Seek some sun
What better excuse to enjoy some sunshine than boosting your oral health? Your skin needs exposure to the sun to synthesize vitamin D3, which is important for calcium absorption, and healthy teeth and gums. Australian health recommendations say you can get out in the sun without sunscreen most days of the week when the UV index is below 3.
Of course, following these tips doesn’t mean you can avoid the dentist – a regular appointment is important especially as brushing and flossing won’t remove every trace of plaque. So a trip to your local dentist is great not only for a thorough clean but to pick up any underlying problems.
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