Oral self care is essential to maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Good oral hygiene practices include regular brushing and flossing, using mouthwash (sometimes), and visiting the dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings. Here are some tips on how to care for your teeth to prevent cavities:
Brush your teeth at least twice a day: Brushing your teeth helps to remove plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that can cause cavities. Use a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Nighttime brushing is most important since the plaque on your teeth at night works extra hard to make cavities. Research shows kids under 8 do not have the fine motor skills for adequate plaque control to reduce the risk of cavities - an adult should help if you want to help your kids stay cavity-free.
Floss daily: Flossing helps to remove food particles and plaque from between your teeth and along the gum line, it also keeps away gum disease.
Use mouthwash (if appropriate): Mouthwash is like the clear coat on a carwash - it doesn't replace the scrubbing action of the brushing and flossing. There are three major types of mouthrinses: those for gum health, those for enamel strength, and prescription-based. If you are at-risk for gum disease, a medicated mouthrinse can control gum disease germs. This is prescribed by your dentist and often used in teens during orthodontics. Gum health mouthrinses include Listerine-type products and are typically not used for younger kids. Fluoride mouthrinses can be useful, but be aware that they are more diluted than toothpaste so if you use it last, then it will dilute the toothpaste used. It is best an option for those that can't tolerate a toothpaste or tooth gel and dip the toothbrush into the mouthrinse as an alternative fluoride source.
Limit sugary foods and drinks: Sugar can feed the bacteria that cause cavities. Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks, and choose water or unsweetened drinks instead. Also be aware of hidden sources of sugar: carbohydrates. Did you know that carbohydrates start to digest into sugar in your saliva? Check out this Tooth Snack Guide for tooth-healthy snacking ideas.
Chew sugar-free gum: Chewing sugar-free gum after meals can help to stimulate saliva production, which can help to neutralize acid and prevent cavities. Try choosing gum with "XYLITOL" as an ingredient - this sugar actually helps kill cavity-causing bacteria. Just be careful: Xylitol is toxic to household pets so don't let them get into your gum stash.
Visit the dentist regularly: Regular dental check-ups and cleanings can help to detect and prevent cavities before they become more serious. Your dentist may also recommend fluoride treatments or dental sealants to protect your teeth.
Remember, good oral hygiene is essential to maintaining healthy teeth and gums. By following these tips, you can help to prevent cavities and keep your smile healthy for years to come.