Brushing and flossing your teeth isn’t hard to do. And doing both correctly can help prevent gum disease and tooth loss. Gum disease is caused by bacteria found in plaque and tartar. Plaque is a sticky film that forms on the teeth. It is mostly made up of bacteria, mucus, food, and other particles. When plaque isn’t removed, it hardens into tartar, which gives a home to bacteria, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Bacteria in plaque and tartar cause inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis. Tartar can only be removed by a dental hygienist or dentist.
Good oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing at least twice every day can help prevent gum infections, cavities, and tooth loss. Having your teeth cleaned and checked by a dentist or dental hygienist at least once a year also is important, the ADA says. No matter how well you brush, tartar and plaque can still build up and cause gum problems.
To brush correctly:
- Brush in the morning and before going to sleep.
- Use a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. If you can afford the cost, buy and use an electric toothbrush.
- Place your toothbrush at a 45° angle against your gums and brush each tooth 15 to 20 times.
- Move the brush gently, using short strokes. Don’t scrub.
- Brush the outer tooth surfaces using short, back-and-forth strokes.
- Brush the inner upper-front teeth by brushing vertically against them using short, downward strokes. Use short, upward strokes for lower inside teeth.
- Brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth with short, back-and-forth strokes. Replace your toothbrush when it’s worn or frayed about every 3 or 4 months, experts say. You should also get a new toothbrush after you have had a cold, strep throat, or similar illness.
- Don’t cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container. This can encourage growth of microorganisms.
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