The toothbrush — most of us have at least one in the house. And whether yours is electric or manual, there are certain brushing habits that could have a huge impact on your wellbeing.
“I can tell a lot about a person’s overall health just by looking at their teeth,” said Alice Boghosian, DDS and Vice President of the Illinois State Dental Society. “Their gums and their teeth are really good educators. Teeth are important. If you like to eat, you need to take care of your teeth.”
While the ADA recommends brushing twice a day for two minutes at a time, Boghosian said most people fall short. And while brushing after each meal is “preferred”, it’s not essential.
“I like to clean my teeth after I eat — is it necessary to maintain your oral health? No. Two minutes, twice a day as well as flossing is sufficient,” Boghosian said.
In addition to not brushing twice a day, Boghosian said many people store their brush improperly which can prevent it from staying clean.
“Rinse your brush very thoroughly with a stream of water and stand it upright. This makes sure the germs can dry and can be killed. Make sure it’s not touching other toothbrushes. Sometimes these toothbrushes have cases and covers where you cover them but that’s not a good idea,” Boghosian said.
So what about all those products that say they help clean your brush?
“Certainly they aren’t going to hurt,” Boghosian said. “I liken it to whether you’re using a manual toothbrush or an electric toothbrush. If you’re using a manual toothbrush properly, it should be able to do the job. If those added products make you feel better and it’s going to make you use your brush more often, have at it. Absolutely.”
But the use of a cleaning aid should not prevent you from replacing a brush that no longer serves you.
“When it comes to getting a new brush or brush head, a good way to remember it is to replace them with the changing seasons, so every 3 to 4 months,” Boghosian said. “And if you get over a cold, it can’t hurt to throw a toothbrush away after you’ve been sick. However I have not done that and I’m perfectly fine, but again, it won’t hurt.”
Here are five tips for optimal oral hygiene:
Less is more with toothpaste
According to a recent study by the CDC, we’re using way too much toothpaste, especially children. “The ADA recommends that for children ages 3-6, the amount should be pea sized. Under 3 years of age should be a smear, or the size of a rice kernel. As far as adults, my recommendation would be to stick to the pea size or maybe use a little bit more because the brush heads are all different sizes,” Boghosian said.
Use a mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol
“Alcohol can dry your mouth and your tissues in your mouth and if you have a dry mouth, you can get more cavities,” Boghosian said. “Saliva is like nature’s cavity fighter. So if you’re building plaque in your teeth and you have a lot of saliva in your mouth, it kind of rinses the teeth off. If your mouth is dry, the plaque will stick to your teeth and then you run into problems with gum disease and tooth decay.”
Don’t be too aggressive when you brush and floss
“You can actually brush too hard and if you brush or scrub too hard, you can actually wear out your teeth,” Boghosian said. “I’ve also had patients who are not flossing properly — instead of curving the floss around the tooth, they’ll keep the floss straight up and down and they’ll actually create little slits in their gums.”
Clean your tongue daily
Getting the tongue clean can be done with a brush or a tongue cleaner which is a tool made of either plastic or metal. “The tongue harbors plaque and bacteria,” Boghosian said. “Plaque is a compilation of bacteria and bacterial bi-products and all of that can keep odors in your mouth. Just like if you keep food and plaque in between your teeth. It not only causes cavities and gum disease it can cause an odor.”
Don’t ignore a chronic issue
“I had a woman whose gums were bright red and pinkish in color and they were bleeding — but she was properly cleaning and brushing — so I asked her, ‘When’s the last time you went to the doctor?’ And she said it had been a while,“ Boghosian said. “It turns out she actually had liver disease and was put on the proper medication so when I saw her for the next cleaning, her gums looked normal. I couldn’t diagnose the liver disease from an oral exam but I knew something wasn’t right based on the bleeding. Our gums and teeth can be an indicator if something else is wrong so you want to stay on top of it.”