Want to spend less time in the dentist’s chair? The best way to keep the dentist away is to up your at-home care routine. Brushing at least twice a day and flossing daily is a great start. Focusing on those two actions will keep most of us down to just two professional cleanings a year. Now, if you really want to take your dental health to the next level, there are a few things you can do at home to ensure whiter, brighter, healthier teeth.
Walking down the oral care aisle can make your head spin. The toothpaste choices alone are overwhelming. Should you choose the product that promises to fight plaque and gingivitis or go with the one that touts teeth-whitening results? Do you want toothpaste with baking soda, peroxide, fluoride, zinc or charcoal? You want to make the best choice for your teeth, but how do you figure out what that is?
Choosing the Right Toothbrush
When it comes to clean teeth, the toothbrush is your No. 1 basic tool that’s not so basic. Toothbrushes can cost anywhere from 99 cents to $199. There are manual, battery-powered and electric choices. Some models even connect to an app that guides you through brushing and shows you what you’ve missed. Is a high-tech toothbrush worth the splurge? DJ Dailey, DDS, of Smile Dailey in Little Rock, says yes.
“In reality, the best toothbrush is one that you will use,” he notes. However, his personal preference is an electric toothbrush like the Philips Sonicare. Electric toothbrushes have the advantage of timers that ensure people brush for two whole minutes and sensors that alert us when we’re brushing too hard. Harsh brushing can contribute to gum recession and abrasions on teeth.
“The cost of the toothbrush is generally less money than it would cost to have a cavity filled, so they are well worth the investment,” he says.
Shopping for Toothpaste
Toothpaste should be a simple purchase, right? But, when you take a look at all the options, you might start to wonder if you’re missing out on something better. Could there be something out there that would give you a brighter smile? And what about those products that target gum disease, bad breath and cavities? Are they better? Rest assured, most kinds of toothpaste on the market are not too different from each other. If you’re not sure what to buy, just remember one word: fluoride. According to Dailey, fluoride is one of the most important ingredients. It helps strengthen the enamel and can keep early decay from getting worse. Toothpastes that market themselves as “natural” generally work well, but don’t contain fluoride, and some users say their teeth don’t feel as clean.
For sensitive teeth, Sensodyne or another product with potassium nitrate is a good choice. If you’re looking for a whiter smile, whitening toothpastes aren’t the solution. They typically don’t contain enough peroxide to whiten teeth within a two-minute brushing, and they’re too abrasive for everyday use.
Mastering the Mouthwash Choice
Using mouthwash is a great way to fight periodontal disease while keeping bad breath away. Dailey’s favorite product is Tooth and Gums Tonic because it is an antimicrobial, non-staining and alcohol-free rinse that is all-natural and made with essential oils. He recommends patients stay away from rinses that contain alcohol, especially if they have any issues with dry mouth or are taking medications that cause dry mouth. The alcohol can make the mouth drier and can contribute to cavities forming.
For kids, mouthwashes with a coloring agent that stains any plaque that is left after brushing are a great tool for showing them areas they missed.
Similar to toothbrushes, there’s a wide margin in price when it comes to flossers. Some people swear by pricey water picks while others are content to use the good old traditional dental floss. This dental category is another example where a dentist would say the best tool is the one you’ll use.
Dailey chooses to use a water flosser for himself, explaining that as we age, the spaces between our teeth get larger and begin to trap more food and plaque. The perfect combo routine is to start with traditional floss and follow it up with a water flosser. Floss picks work in a pinch, but they’re the least helpful of the bunch. They often push food and debris further in between the teeth and can carry bacteria from one tooth to another. When you floss, you should always use a clean section of floss for each tooth.
Don’t Forget the Tongue
You’re not going to want to skimp out on cleaning your tongue because, according to Dailey, “The tongue holds a third of the bacteria in your mouth.”
You should clean your tongue every time you brush your teeth. Doing so will reduce unwanted mouth bacteria that cause bad breath, plaque buildup and a white-coated tongue. Some studies show that tongue scrapers are the best way to clean this area, but you can also use a simple toothbrush. Position your toothbrush at the back of your tongue and brush lightly forward and backward along your tongue. Spit out saliva that appears and then rinse your toothbrush with warm water before storing. If using a metal tongue scraper, pass it over your tongue from back to front to remove the plaque sitting on the top of the tongue.
Taking care of your child’s teeth is not all that different from taking care of your own. The most important thing is consistency. That includes making sure their teeth get brushed twice a day with a small amount of fluoride (after age 3) and flossing daily. For babies and toddlers, measure out a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice, and brush teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush.
According to Garrett Sanders, DDS, a pediatric dentist at Pediatric Dental Associates and Orthodontics in Fayetteville, one of the biggest misconceptions parents have is that baby teeth don’t matter because they’re going to fall out anyway. But abscess and dental pain can happen even before age 3. Premature tooth loss can lead to orthodontic problems and other long-term issues down the road, so it’s always best to maintain teeth to the end of their normal lifespan.
One of the most important things parents can do to maintain their kids’ dental health is to watch the sugar intake. It can be hard to turn down a child’s request for a second sippy cup of apple juice, but tough love might be the best choice. Many well-intentioned parents give their children fruit juices and fruit-flavored snacks thinking these are healthy options. The problem is, “Bacteria don’t discriminate between different types of sugar much, and so even ‘healthy’ sugars still can cause cavities,” Sanders explains. Sippy cups and bottles release liquid slowly, allowing the sugar to pool in the mouth and trigger tooth decay. Keep juice intake to less than 6 ounces a day for healthier teeth.