Oral hygiene means regularly brushing your teeth and cleaning between your teeth to keep your teeth and gums healthy. This helps to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
What is good oral hygiene?
Regular teeth brushing and cleaning between teeth helps to keep your teeth and gums healthy. These also help to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Other things that may help include:
- Dental floss or interdental brushes.
- Tongue cleaning.
- Eating a healthy diet, which includes limiting sugary drinks and foods.
- If you smoke, stopping smoking.
- Having a dental check-up at least once a year.
What's the best way to brush your teeth?
- Teeth should be brushed twice a day, once just before bed and once first thing in the morning, before you have had anything to eat or drink.
- Do not brush your teeth within thirty minutes of eating or drinking, particularly if you have eaten something sweet, as the brushing can rub the remains of the food into your teeth, rather than removing it.
- Use a soft or medium toothbrush. The hard bristles of a firm toothbrush can damage gums.
- Apply a small amount of a fluoride-containing toothpaste to your toothbrush and brush in a circular motion for two minutes.
- Spit out the toothpaste but do not wash out your mouth with water, because the toothpaste which stays in contact with your teeth provides protection for several hours after you have brushed your teeth.
Sweet things should be eaten only at mealtimes. Chemicals in the saliva help to deal with any sugary residue and acid on your teeth. It takes about an hour after eating for the acidity in your mouth to return to normal, so if you are eating sweets and sweet snacks between meals your mouth may not get much chance to recover.
Children should be taught good oral hygiene as young as possible. Teeth can be brushed with a soft brush and a small amount of toothpaste twice a day as soon as they appear.
Have regular dental checks at intervals recommended by your dentist (this is normally at least once a year). A dentist can detect a build-up of plaque and remove tartar (calculus). Early or mild gingivitis can be detected and treated to prevent the more severe periodontitis. A dentist can also advise about special coating of children's teeth to help prevent tooth decay.
Read more about maintaining good oral hygiene.
Why is it important?
Good oral hygiene helps to prevent dental problems - mainly plaque and tartar (calculus) which are the main causes of gum disease and tooth decay (dental caries). Good oral hygiene may also help to prevent or delay dental erosion.
- Dental plaque is a soft whitish deposit that forms on the surface of teeth. It forms when germs (bacteria) combine with food and saliva. Plaque contains many types of bacteria. You can remove plaque by good oral hygiene.
- Tartar (calculus) is hardened calcified plaque. It sticks firmly to teeth. Generally, it can only be removed with special instruments by a dentist or a dental hygienist.
When you eat sweet food, the sugar that comes in contact with your teeth provides food for the bacteria in the plaque. They digest it and release acid which erodes into the surface of the tooth, eventually making a hole in the hard outer enamel layer and forming a cavity in the deeper layers of the tooth.
What might happen if I don't do it?
This happens when the whole surface of the hard tooth covering, or enamel, is affected by acid. This may be the acid which is formed by plaque bacteria, but it also includes acid that we consume - for example, in fizzy drinks and fruit juice. Eventually the enamel is eroded away and the more sensitive inner layer of the tooth, or dentine, is exposed.
This is a common result of poor dental hygiene. When plaque builds up around the edges of teeth, the acid can damage the tissues around the roots of the teeth. This can make the gums inflamed so that they bleed when you brush your teeth. They can be painful and if it is not treated then the teeth may loosen and fall out.
Further reading and references
Oral health promotion: general dental practice; NICE Guidance (December 2015)
Halitosis; NICE CKS, November 2014 (UK access only)
Dental Information for the Public; British Dental Association
Yaacob M, Worthington HV, Deacon SA, et al; Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Jun 17(6):CD002281. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002281.pub3.
de Oliveira C, Watt R, Hamer M; Toothbrushing, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease: results from BMJ. 2010 May 27340:c2451. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c2451.
Slot DE, Dorfer CE, Van der Weijden GA; The efficacy of interdental brushes on plaque and parameters of periodontal inflammation: a systematic review. Int J Dent Hyg. 2008 Nov6(4):253-64.
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