According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90 percent of teens and adults in the U.S. have had a cavity. At any time, more than one in four cavities are untreated. Despite this, you’ve likely encountered a few people that receive an A+ report card from the dentist each visit. While genetics play some role, healthy routines and practices are usually behind excellent dental health. Here are some habits that most star dental patients have in common.
1. Brush Properly
Brushing your teeth at least twice a day is an essential habit to develop to ensure your teeth stay healthy. Brushing removes plaque–the soft, sticky film that builds on the teeth after bacteria mix with saliva and food. Over time, plaque will erode the tooth, creating a slight depression or hole known as a cavity.
Properly brushing your teeth is essential. This means reaching all surfaces of your teeth, including the outer portions, inner sections, and chewing surfaces. You should move the brush in a circular motion and avoid “sawing” back and forth. The process should last for between two and three minutes. You might be surprised by how long that is—most people do not brush for the amount of time recommended.
The American Dental Association recommends using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled brush can damage tooth enamel and the gums. People tend to brush harder and apply more pressure when using a soft-bristled brush, which is also harmful to the gums and teeth. You don’t need to apply very much pressure while you brush—even if you wear braces. A steady scrubbing motion will do a lot more than a firm press.
2. Floss Every Day
Flossing helps remove the harmful bacteria between your teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach. The CDC reports that only about one in three people floss every day, despite being one of the most important habits for dental health. The overgrowth of harmful bacteria can cause various oral health issues and erode your enamel and gums. Gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath are the more significant consequences of not flossing, but other serious conditions can also develop.
The time of day you floss doesn’t matter as much as remembering to do it, but many people prefer to floss at bedtime to prevent food particles and bacteria from remaining on the teeth overnight. Plaque usually hardens on the teeth within 24 to 36 hours, making it much more difficult to remove at that point. Debris between the teeth can range from noticeable to microscopic, so you need to floss even if you don’t feel anything stuck.
To floss correctly, break off a large strand at least a foot long, and wind it between two opposing fingers until it shortens to just one or two inches. After placing it between the teeth, glide it gently up and down the side of each tooth. It should curve at the tooth’s base to create a “C” or backward “C” shape on each side. Don’t try to push the floss down into your gums. Flossing “harder” won’t lead to better results.
3. Use Flouride
Fluoride is a natural element that fights harmful bacteria and provides a protective barrier for your teeth. A lack of fluoride can lead to tooth decay, even if you otherwise take care of your teeth. Today, many options exist for getting the needed fluoride. About 75 percent of U.S. municipalities put fluoride in their water, so one way might simply be to turn on the tap. (You can contact your city government if you are unsure whether your water contains fluoride.)
Other options include a fluoride paste that a dentist can prescribe or fluoride-fortified toothpaste and mouth rinses. The fluoride content of toothpaste will appear on the side of the tube and should contain between 1,350 and 1,500 parts per million (ppm). Children should not use fluoride toothpaste. A standard over-the-counter mouthwash contains breath-freshening ingredients such as mint flavoring, but it doesn’t contain fluoride unless the label says so.
4. Clean Tongue
In addition to your teeth, plaque can form over your tongue. Regularly scrubbing or scraping the surface of your tongue eliminates a lot of bacteria and the nutrients on which they feed. An overgrowth of these bacteria in your mouth affects the health of your gums and teeth as well. Many dentists recommend adding tongue cleaning to your oral hygiene routine, and it is even more important while wearing braces.
You can use your toothbrush or purchase a tongue scraper. It’s most effective to clean the tongue between brushing and rinsing. If using a toothbrush, scrub the tongue similar to how you clean your teeth (remembering not to use too much pressure). If using a scraper, run it from back to front and rinse it after each scrape.
5. Go to the Dentist
Behind every person with a healthy smile is a calendar marked with the date for an annual dental checkup. Your hygiene appointments are integral to ensuring that your teeth stay in good shape. A dental hygienist removes plaque build-up that you can’t brush or floss away, and the dentist checks your teeth to detect problems in their early phases. In most cases, when you notice a problem with your teeth, it has already progressed past its minor stages.
Wearing braces makes your teeth more susceptible to the accumulation of plaque and tartar, so your orthodontist might recommend that you schedule hygiene appointments with your dentist more than once a year. It is crucial to keep attending your regularly scheduled dentist appointments while receiving orthodontic treatment.
6. Drink Water
People who have excellent dental habits are more likely to be seen carrying around a water bottle. To improve your dental health, drink plain water as often as possible. The water will rinse away food particles and debris and hydrate your mouth and gums. Indeed, hydration is healthy for your body and your mouth as well.
Water does not stain or degrade the teeth, so you don’t have to worry about any adverse side. While you should limit the amount of sugary and tooth-staining drinks in your diet, if you decide to have a beverage like soda, tea, or coffee, it’s better to have it all at once, rather than sipping it throughout the day.
7. Eat Crunchy Fruits and Vegetables
What you eat can affect your dental health in addition to physical health. Fruits and vegetables high in fiber and coarse in texture–-such as apples, pears, celery, and carrots—help scrub tooth surfaces and remove some accumulated plaque. These crunchy foods also require heavy chewing, stimulating the production of protective saliva. In addition, the healthy vitamins and minerals in these foods will improve your overall health, which will benefit your mouth as well.
8. Replace Toothbrush
The ADA recommends that people change their toothbrushes every three to four months or when the ends start to look frayed—whichever comes first. One of the reasons you should throw out your toothbrush after this length of time is that the bristles lose their cleaning ability. They may fall out or change shape. Once the bristles become splayed, they won’t maintain their performance. Frayed bristles don’t reach the spots between the teeth and along the gum line effectively.
9. Wait Before Brushing
You might envision dental health nuts sprinting to their toothbrushes after every meal, but that’s not the recommended protocol for excellent dental hygiene. Many foods and beverages (especially ones high in acidity) temporarily soften the enamel of the teeth. Brushing immediately after a meal could remove some of the enamel, making your teeth more susceptible to decay over time. If possible, wait about 30 minutes after eating before brushing your teeth.
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