If you’re like most people, you brush twice a day. But if you mindlessly move your toothbrush around your mouth, your oral hygiene routine may be ineffective or worse: It may be harming your tooth enamel. Keep reading to learn the best way to floss and brush to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Bone Up on Brushing
Humans have been brushing their teeth since 3500 B.C. In ancient Babylonia people chewed on the ends of sticks to create a frayed end for tooth scrubbing. Over time and across cultures, people have constructed toothbrushes out of sticks, bones, and animal hairs, and made toothpaste and tooth powder out of everything from ox-hoof ash to burnt eggshells. In the last 150 years or so, tooth brushing has become a much more common practice with the help of modern brushes and paste. In 1873 Colgate was the first to mass produce toothpaste, selling it in jars. Sixty-five years later, the modern nylon toothbrush was born.
It seems like we’d have mastered oral hygiene by now, but many of us have room for improvement. Ninety-one percent of American adults have decay in their permanent teeth, and 47 percent of people over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease. If it’s been a while since anyone showed you how to brush and floss, it may be time for a refresher course on the current recommendations for optimizing oral health.
Don’t Let These Mistakes Harm Your Oral Health
If you brush and floss as recommended but still have concerns about your dental health, you may be making one of these common mistakes.
Disregarding your diet
Yes, oral hygiene is essential, but a good diet is crucial for healthy teeth and gums. Cultures that eat traditional diets have very low rates of tooth decay. As soon as sugars and processed carbohydrates are introduced, dental cavities increase. Deficiencies in iron, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and other nutrients are also known to cause cavities, gum disease, and other oral diseases.
Aim for a balanced diet of minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and protein. Limit eating between meals, and if you do snack, choose raw vegetables, firm fruit, or nuts. It’s okay to enjoy occasional refined carbs or sweet treats, but your teeth are likely better off if you eat them with a meal. One study suggests eating sugar with a meal doesn’t increase the risk of tooth decay, but snacking on sugar or refined carbs between meals does.
Not minding your microbiome
Are you trying to eradicate the germs in your mouth with a heavy-duty antibacterial mouthwash or antimicrobial toothpaste? Hold up! Germs are not the enemy we once thought they were. In fact, most of them are your friends.
You’ve probably heard of the human microbiome, the trillions of bacteria and fungi that live in and on our bodies. Hundreds of species of organisms live in your mouth, and they’re organized in ecosystems that could be compared to forest ecosystems. When your oral ecosystems are balanced and healthy, microbes work symbiotically to maintain health throughout your body. For instance, some of your oral microbes help reduce blood pressure.
Bottom line? You want most of the microbes in your mouth to stay put to keep pathogenic bacteria in check. Be cautious about disrupting your oral microbiome with antibacterial mouthwash, antibacterial toothpaste, or antibiotics (unless absolutely necessary).
Doing too much of a good thing
If you squeeze a big dollop of toothpaste on your brush several times a day, scrub your teeth like you’d scour a dirty sink, or clean your teeth the minute you finish a meal, you may harm your tooth enamel. Even brushing with a soft brush and toothpaste has been shown to cause some enamel erosion.
To keep your enamel strong, avoid acidic beverages such as juice and soda, and wait about an hour after eating to brush. Acidic meals soften your tooth enamel and make it more likely to erode when brushing. Use only a pea-sized amount of a non-abrasive toothpaste, hold your toothbrush with a loose grip, and brush gently. Some studies suggest fluoride may help deter enamel erosion, but more current research implies it doesn’t make a difference. (However, fluoride is helpful for cavity prevention, according to studies.)
It’s often said that the mouth is a mirror of health or disease in the body. By stepping up your oral hygiene, you’ll not only have a brighter smile, fresher breath, and healthier gums, you may improve your overall health.