Dental Hygiene: Can Brushing and Flossing Affect My Overall Health?


Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly is important for your oral health and the prevention of tooth decay. Dr. Anna Shirley, DDS, shared some advice on how to achieve good oral hygiene.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth at least twice daily and flossing once daily. Brushing in the morning and in the evening before you go to bed is important for optimal dental health. Flossing daily is also crucial because it cleans the surfaces between the teeth that the toothbrush can’t reach. This helps prevent cavities that form between your teeth, and it also keeps your gum tissue healthy.

A cavity is formed by a combination of acid-producing bacteria that live in your mouth and a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. The bacteria feed off the sugars and carbohydrates from food and drinks, and produce an acid, which then causes a cavity. Brushing and flossing removes the food and debris that the bacteria need to produce cavities, making it important to brush and floss regularly. If you go several days without brushing and flossing your teeth, the bacteria in your mouth will increase, which will then disrupt your mouth’s natural pH level. This, in combination with the plaque thickening on your teeth, will likely cause bad breath. Your gums will then become irritated and will bleed more easily when you do brush.

Many patients are not clear on what type of toothbrush to use. The American Dental Association has their own seal of acceptance on certain products. So a toothbrush with this seal means it’s been tested in scientific studies to make sure it’s safe and effective. Soft bristle toothbrushes are recommended because hard bristle toothbrushes are abrasive to your teeth and can cause the enamel to wear. You should brush for at least two minutes, making sure you clean every surface of the tooth, from the gum line to the chewing surfaces. Battery-operated toothbrushes are great alternatives to regular toothbrushes, especially for those who have physical impairments. They also work wonders for children and those with braces. Battery-operated toothbrushes won’t guarantee a clean mouth, however. No matter what type of toothbrush you use, technique and the time spent brushing your teeth will make the biggest difference in oral hygiene.  

Although mouthwash isn’t a substitute for brushing and flossing your teeth, it can reduce plaque and help remove any remaining food particles that you may have missed during brushing and flossing. A mouthwash with fluoride is recommended and can make teeth more resistant to decay. Mouthwash can also make your breath fresher. When giving mouthwash to children, make sure they’re able to spit it out and that they don’t swallow it.

Over 70 years of research consistently proves that fluoride is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay in both children and adults. Fluoride gets incorporated into the tooth structure and makes the enamel (outer layer of the tooth) more resistant to the acid that causes tooth decay. You get fluoride from drinking water, toothpaste, mouthwash and professional fluoride applications during your routine dental visits. Fluoride is safe when used as directed. Just make sure children don’t drink their mouthwash or swallow any toothpaste.

A cavity doesn’t form from having bad luck or bad genes. Cavities are 100% preventable. Brushing and flossing regularly, restricting sugar intake and going to routine dental check-ups twice a year are all ways to prevent tooth decay and to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

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