Caring for my Teeth

Your teeth are not just for your beautiful smile. They vary in shape and size depending on where they are in your mouth. These differences allow them to do many different jobs. Teeth help us to chew food and begin the process of digestion in the body. They help us to pronounce different words and express our thoughts clearly. Finally, teeth help to give our face its shape. A healthy smile can be a great asset; and because this is so important, it makes sense to give your teeth the best care possible.

Tooth decay can be painful and may lead to fillings and crowns. If tooth decay is not treated, the nerve of the tooth can become infected and die, causing an infection. This may then need root canal treatment or even worse; for the tooth to be removed. If teeth are lost, it may be necessary to fill the gaps with bridges, dentures or implants.

Gum disease is common and, if left untreated, may lead to damage of bone around the teeth. In later stages it may lead to loosening and falling of teeth. Gum disease is preventable, and can be treated and kept under control with regular cleaning sessions and check-ups, which prevents further problems. It is very important that you keep up a good routine at home to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Many people think that it is a high level of sugar in your diet that causes decay, but this is only partially true. It is the frequency of sugar in your diet, not just the amount, that causes problems. It takes up to an hour for your mouth to cancel out the acid caused by eating and drinking sugar. During this time your teeth are under attack from this acid. It is therefore important to limit the number of attacks by having sugary foods and drinks just at mealtimes. Chewing sugar-free gum and drinking water after meals or snacks can also help to cancel out the acid more quickly.

What good foods you incorporate in your diet also plays an important role. Foods rich in fibre have the ability to cleanse the oral cavity by increasing saliva production, thereby having a protecting mechanism.

It is important to keep your mouth clean and healthy. A simple routine can help prevent most dental problems:

Although most people brush regularly, many don't clean between their teeth and some people don't have regular dental check-ups. Few small changes in your daily routine can make a big difference in the long term oral health. Your dentist can remove any build-up on your teeth and treat any gum disease that has already appeared. But daily dental care is a must and your responsibility, and the main weapons at your disposal are the toothbrush and toothpaste.

  • brushing your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste
  • good eating habits – reduce sugary and sticky foods and increase intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Regular dental check-ups.

Mouth wash provides an additional protective mechanism to your oral hygiene. Various mouth washes are available based upon your needs. A fluoridated mouthwash can help prevent tooth decay. Your dentist may recommend an antibacterial mouthwash to help control plaque and reduce gum disease. If you find that you are regularly using a mouthwash just to freshen your breath - see your dentist, because bad breath can be a sign of unhealthy teeth and gums, or of poor general health.

Your dentist will be able to recommend a toothbrush suitable for you. However, adults should choose a small to medium-sized brush head. This should have soft to medium, multi-tufted, round-ended nylon bristles. A quick guide to buy a good size toothbrush is that the head should be small enough to reach into all parts of the mouth: especially the back of the mouth where it can be difficult to reach. Children need to use smaller brushes but with the same type of filaments.

Specialised toothbrushes are also available. For instance, people with sensitive teeth can now use softer-bristled brushes. There are also smaller-headed toothbrushes for people with crooked or irregular teeth. Some people find it difficult to hold a toothbrush, because they have a physical disability. There are now toothbrushes which have large handles and angled heads to make them easier to use. Also electric tooth brushes are available.

A power brush has a rotating or vibrating head, which provides a large amount of cleaning action with very little movement needed from the user, which can often provide a great comfort for our everyday hurry activities. However, you do need to position the brush correctly for the best results.

Tests have shown that power toothbrushes are more effective at removing plaque. Those with heads that rotate in both directions ('oscillating' heads) are the most effective. Everyone can use a power brush. They are especially useful for people with limited movement such as disabled or elderly people, who often find that using a normal toothbrush does not allow them to clean thoroughly. Power brushes can also be better for children as they too do not easily access certain parts of their mouth and also may be more likely to brush regularly because of the novelty of using a power brush. Discuss the idea with your dentist to find out if you would benefit from using a power brush.

Brushing mainly removes plaque and bits of food from the inner, outer and biting surfaces of your teeth. This reduces the available food sources for the bacteria in your mouth, thereby protecting your oral cavity. Here is one way to remove plaque – discuss with your dentist the various methods which are available and which is the best for you:

  • Place the head of your toothbrush against your teeth, then tilt the bristle tips to a 45-degree angle against your gumline.
  • Move the brush in small circular movements, several times, on all the surfaces of every tooth.
  • To clean the inside surfaces of your front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several small, circular strokes with the front part of the brush.
  • Don’t forget to brush the biting surfaces of your teeth and finally brush your tongue using the back of your brush or a tongue cleaner to help freshen your breath and clean your mouth.

Preferably brush twice daily. Be sure to brush thoroughly with a good fluoride toothpaste last thing at night and at least one other time during the day. If you regularly keep getting discomfort or bleeding after brushing you should see your dentist.

Various toothpastes are available in the market. Staring from regular family toothpastes, there are many specialised toothpastes. These include anti plaque control for people who get tartar build-up, anti-cavity pastes, desensitizing toothpastes. ‘Total care' toothpastes include ingredients to help fight gum disease, freshen breath and reduce plaque build-up. ‘Whitening' toothpastes are good at removing staining to help restore the natural colour of your teeth, but are not strong enough to change the natural shade of the teeth.

Children have special tooth paste designed for them. Some children's toothpastes only have about half the fluoride that adult toothpastes have. If your children are under 7 you should monitor their bushing. Encourage them not to swallow the toothpaste and to just spit, not rinse, after brushing. To have a clean and healthy mouth you need to use the correct dental-care products. Ask your dentist to tell you what choices there are and to give their recommendations.

You do not need to cover the head of your brush in toothpaste. A pea-sized amount is enough. Children should use a pea-sized smear of toothpaste. Prefer using a fluoride toothpaste as it helps to strengthen and protect teeth, which can reduce tooth decay.

It is important to change your toothbrush every two to three months, or sooner if the filaments become worn. When bristles become splayed, it is time to change your toothbrush.

It is often considered that good oral hygiene comes from cleaning the teeth and oral tissues, but many forget that most food gets stuck between the teeth. Hence, regular cleaning between teeth is important. Cleaning in between your teeth removes plaque and bits of food from between your teeth and under your gumline - areas a toothbrush can't reach.

You can clean between your teeth with various other methods. These include ‘interdental' brushes, dental floss etc. When flossing or using interdental brushes, keep to a regular pattern and remember not to miss any teeth. It helps to look in the mirror. Don't forget the backs of your last teeth. It is also very important to clean around the edges of any crowns, bridges or implants. Ideally, you should clean between your teeth at least once a day. Your dentist can show you how to clean between your teeth properly.

Interdental brushing

Interdental brushes come in various sizes. It may be helpful to ask your dentist to show you the correct size based upon your oral cavity. Hold the interdental brush between your thumb and forefinger. Gently place the brush through the gap between your teeth. Do not force the brush head through the gap. If the brush splays or bends then it is too big - you will need a smaller brush head for this space.


Break off about 45 centimetres (18 inches) of floss, and wind some around one finger of each hand. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers, with about an inch of floss between them, leaving no slack. Use a gentle ‘rocking' motion to guide the floss between your teeth. Do not jerk the floss or snap the floss into the gums. Hold the floss against the tooth. Gently scrape the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on the other side of the gap, along the side of the next tooth.

Oral irrigators are simple devices which use a stream or jet of water to remove plaque and food debris from around your teeth. They can be particularly helpful if you wear an orthodontic appliance (‘brace') or a fixed bridge that is difficult to clean, or if you have deep seated gum infections or find it difficult to use interdental brushes or floss.

Last updated on 29 November, 2018.

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