Updated: Sep 3, 2019
Oral hygiene can be perhaps one of the most put off aspects of a person's lifestyle. It's most likely you already know what the term means or at least are aware of it - taking care of the insides of your mouth - teeth, gums, tongue, etc. But many people's definition of oral hygiene only goes as far as 'brush your teeth'. It is not as simple as that. There are many other actions that form part of it, which most people are likely not undertaking.
Having a good oral hygiene breaks down to 2 things - following the right processes to retain everything in good condition (your teeth, your gums, etc.) and forming the habits and lifestyle to sustain these processes. In this article we will go over what you can do TODAY to form these processes and habits for a better oral health.
Why should I bother?
Everything you do starts with a why. So, it is good to firstly clarify the reason or several reasons why you should bother to maintain good oral hygiene.
HEALTH - you prevent yourself getting tooth decay, gum disease or even tooth removal, all of which are painful experiences. Your health is the most important thing at the end of the day and oral health forms part of it.
SELF ESTEEM - taking care of your teeth means you end up with a shining, beautiful smile that you love when you look in the mirror. Furthermore, you will feel better because you know you're being proactive in sustaining a better lifestyle.
BE A ROLE MODEL - if you have children, you are the person they will look up to. By taking care of your oral hygiene, you can influence them to make the same positive choices and avoid unnecessary visits to the dentist.
LESS STRESS - better oral hygiene means less problems therefore less visits to the dentist, so you save yourself time and effort. Especially if visiting the dentist makes you anxious, taking care of your oral health means you'll have one less thing to stress over.
Basically, by taking care of your teeth, you are investing in your wellbeing and doing your future self a massive favour.
Why people don't do it
This boils down to lack of education, lack of awareness or both - it's basically a psychological issue. In general, bad habits are most easily acquired from your peer group. If you are in a household that consumes a lot of high sugar content food, it is likely that you do as well. Processed foods are more accessible than ever before and this makes it easier to over consume food with high sugar content. Think about how much sweets, candies, chocolate you have in your cupboards. If that amount is high you could be setting yourself up for poor oral hygiene habits because of how accessible you make those foods to yourself.
Our attention span is also decreasing, and this makes it harder to make content that catches people's attention on learning about oral hygiene, which can be often a dry topic. It is also a subject that is very rarely discussed in peer groups, perhaps because you or others feel self-conscious talking about personal experiences. People learn the easiest from example, and the fact that oral hygiene is not an openly discussed topic, just means it is harder for the awareness of it to spread.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to take actions towards a lifestyle that promotes a good oral hygiene, and at the end of the day to pat yourself on the back for being proactive.
Here are some actions you can take TODAY for a better oral hygiene
Brush your teeth before you go to bed and then at least one other time during the day, for 2 minutes at a time using fluoride toothpaste
Spit out after brushing and do not rinse right away, so that the fluoride toothpaste stays a bit longer on your teeth
Go to your local supermarket and get a pack of 'interdental' brushes or floss (interdental brushes are preferred for a better result) and use it before you go to bed - brushing alone only cleans 60 percent of the surface of your teeth
Go to your local supermarket and get a mouthwash - many mouthwashes contain antibacterial ingredients that help prevent gum disease. Do not use mouthwash straight after brushing your teeth, but instead in between times you brush them - this means that your teeth and gums are protected for longer
What can you do about it in the long term?
Cut down how often you eat foods and drinks with very high sugar content - for some people this can be one of the hardest actions to take because it requires a change to a diet that is richer in fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed foods
Remember: it is not the amount of sugar at a single given time that increases risk of decay, but instead how often in your diet that your teeth are exposed to high levels of sugar
Drinking water with and after meals can help cancel out acid from eating sugary food
If you are a smoker, then an obvious step would be to quit. However, this is easier said than done and your best bet may be to consult with a professional who has experience in helping to stop this habit
Use a straw when you drink fizzy or acidic drinks - it reduces the amount of acidic liquid that is in contact with your teeth
It is recommended to not brush your teeth for at least one hour after eating or drinking, as the enamel will be softened for a short period. Waiting will allow the saliva to restore it to natural mineral balance.
If you chew gum, choose a sugar-free one - it makes your mouth produce more saliva and prevents it from drying out
Invest in an electric toothbrush - tests have shown that the rotating action of electric brushes is more effective at removing plaque than a manual brush, and the electric ones can remove twice as much plaque.
Visit your dentist regularly to get checked up
Change your toothbrush at least every 3 months
Make the things listed above (brushing, flossing, food choices, visiting the dentist) into habits, so that you can integrate them into your lifestyle - you can try to use habit tracking apps or templates to ease the process of achieving this
Most importantly - remind yourself that oral hygiene is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle and that you are undertaking these actions because you want to take better care of your own body
Brushing your teeth and using Interdental or TePe brushes
This explains how to brush with a manual toothbrush, but it is recommended to invest in an electric one due to them being more effective at removing plaque. Use a toothbrush with a small to medium sized head with multi-tufted soft to medium bristles.
How to brush your teeth:
Hold the toothbrush head against your teeth, tilted at an angle against your gumline.
Move the brush in circular motions repeatedly on all surfaces of the teeth
Repeat on the inside of the teeth by tilting the brush vertically and making small, circular motions
Brush the biting surface of the teeth
Don’t forget to brush your tongue (this will freshen your breath)
Interdental brushes are a tool used to clean the spaces between your teeth – they are now widely considered much more effective than normal flossing. They come in various sizes, so speak with your dentist to find which size is correct for your mouth.
How to use a TePe brush:
Hold the brush with your thumb and index finger
Gently place it through the gap between your teeth. Don’t try to force it – if the brush bends then it is too big, and you need a smaller size for this space
When you start cleaning between your teeth, your gums might be sore and bleed but don’t stop, as this is usually a sign of gum inflammation – you should notice improvement within a few days