Proper oral hygiene is essential for healthy teeth and gums. People older than 35 lose more teeth from gum disease than from cavities. Gum disease (periodontal disease) is a broad term that encompasses several different gum conditions, including gingivitis and periodontitis. Many adults are affected at some point in their lives. The best way to prevent periodontal disease, as well as cavities, is through a regimen of thorough daily brushing and flossing.
Most cases of periodontal disease develop because of bacterial plaque that builds up on the teeth. When plaque hardens, it causes tartar to form, which gradually destroys the tissues and bone that support the teeth. The risk of developing gum disease can be reduced by practicing good oral hygiene, which includes carefully brushing the teeth at least twice a day, and flossing them at least once a day. Proper brushing and flossing techniques should be used to ensure that teeth are adequately cleaned.
The outer surfaces of the teeth should be brushed using small, circular strokes that cover two to three teeth at a time. The toothbrush, which should have soft bristles, should be positioned at a 45-degree angle to the gum line. Gentle pressure should be applied to make sure the toothbrush reaches the end of each tooth, where it meets the gums.
To effectively clean the front teeth, the brush should be placed in a vertical position and short strokes should be used. These up and down motions should be repeated over all teeth and gums in the front of the mouth.
The molars are used for chewing. Applying gentle pressure, the toothbrush should be moved back and forth, focusing on two to three teeth at a time. The brush should be repositioned frequently to ensure that it is reaching all surfaces. When brushing is complete, the mouth should be rinsed well to remove any food particles or plaque that might have been loosened.
Periodontal disease often begins as an inflammation of the gums. This inflammation is usually caused by a buildup of bacteria plaque between the teeth and gums. Flossing is one of the most effective methods for removing plaque from the hard-to-reach surfaces between the teeth and near the gums. A proper flossing technique is important.
Approximately 18 inches of floss should be used. The floss should be placed between the teeth by using a gentle back-and-forth motion. The floss should be moved to the gum line, and then moved around the edge of the tooth. A sliding up-and-down motion that extends the floss slightly into into the gum line should be used. The floss should then be lifted above the gums, and contoured around the edge of the next tooth, repeating the process. Both sides of every tooth should end up flossed. The floss should not be pressed too firmly into the gums, or it may cut the delicate gum tissue.
After flossing is complete, the mouth should be rinsed with water to get rid of any plaque or food particles that were dislodged. When a person first starts a flossing routine, the gums may bleed or feel sore. With daily flossing, gums become less sensitive, and the bleeding should stop.
After a dental treatment, teeth may become sensitive to hot and cold. This is usually short-lived as long as the mouth is kept clean. If teeth are regularly very sensitive, the problem should be discussed with a dentist, who may recommend using medicated toothpaste, or a mouth rinse designed for sensitive teeth.
Seeing a dentist for a professional cleaning on a regular basis is essential to maintaining good dental health. A dentist can remove plaque and other substances that have built up on the teeth over time, and can recommend other preventive techniques to help maintain good oral health.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development