Updated: May 4, 2020
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dental practices around the world are closed, opening their doors only for patients experiencing dental emergencies. Dental emergencies are classed as:
Toothache not improving with medication
Bleeding after an extraction
Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, patients are not able to see their hygienists for the recommended bi-annual cleanings. Looking after your teeth and gums at home during this time is crucial, especially with uncertainty around when dental offices may re-open. By taking care of your teeth properly during this time, you can reduce your risk of developing dental decay and gum disease.
Here are some tips on how to properly look after your teeth and gums at home:
Use an electric toothbrush once in the morning and again at nighttime for two minutes. Remember to change the brush head every three months.
Apply a small amount of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a small pea before switching on the toothbrush.
Place the toothbrush bristles against the teeth at a 45-degree angle towards the gum line. Often, we just brush the teeth, but it is important to include the gum line because this is where the plaque sits. Hold the handle gently with a light grip and only apply light pressure. Glide the brush across your teeth and gums gently, allowing the brush to do all the work. There is no need to scrub with an electric toothbrush.
Remember to brush your tongue! Up to 80% of bad breath comes from odour-producing bacteria that accumulate and hide deep within the porous surface of your tongue. You can use your toothbrush or a tongue scraper to clean the tongue.
Finally, when you’re done brushing, spit the toothpaste out but try not to rinse your mouth with water. Doing so washes away all the beneficial ingredients in toothpaste, such as fluoride, which helps to prevent dental decay. If you choose to use a mouthwash, use it at a separate time to brushing.
Toothbrushes are not capable of reaching in between teeth to remove unwanted debris. Brushing cleans only about 60% of your mouth, so interdental cleaning with floss or brushes is crucial. Cleaning between the teeth regularly helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease, which can occur when food and plaque are left lodged between teeth.
If you have the space between your teeth, then opt for interdental brushes and always use the biggest size possible – you may need more than one brush size. If your teeth are tight together then dental floss is recommended. Do this once a day, preferably at night before you brush your teeth. Stand in front of the mirror so you can see your teeth, and most importantly, ensure you commit to this daily practice.
How to use interdental brushes:
Choose the right size
Insert between the teeth gently and move the brush back and forth a few times
Change the size and curve of the brush if needed. I find it easier to keep it straight for the front teeth but angled/bent for the back teeth
Change the brush when filaments have become worn, usually around every 4 to 7 days.
How to use dental floss:
Take a piece that runs the length from your elbow to the tip on your index finger. Wind the floss around your middle fingers leaving an inch or two to work with.
Hold the floss tight between your thumbs and index fingers. Using a gentle sawing action slide the floss between the teeth.
Go all the way below the gum line and gently curve the floss in a tight 'C' shape and rub up and down. Repeat this for the other side of the tooth before coming back up and out to move on to the next space.
Use a clean section of floss as you move between teeth.
If you get the floss in but cannot get it back out – do not panic. Just gently unravel from fingers and pull the floss through.
If you notice bleeding when using an interdental brush or floss, keep going! Bleeding is a sign of inflammation from a build-up of plaque bacteria. Be persistent and it should improve after a few days, especially if you are new to cleaning in between your teeth. If it does not improve then seek help from your dentist or hygienist.
In light of COVID-19, I recommend washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before cleaning in between your teeth.
Food, Drink & Lifestyle
Food and drink play a major role in the health of your teeth. During this time when many of us are at home, it can be hard to stick to a healthy routine. Think about what you’re consuming throughout the day and how it will impact your teeth and gums.
Keep all sugars and acids to mealtimes only and aim for no more than three to four sugary/acidic attacks per day
Use a straw for drinks (avoid plastic ones) and try and rinse your mouth with water after consuming dark coloured foods and drink.
Brush 30 minutes after eating or drinking to reduce the risk of enamel erosion.
To maintain optimal oral health through foods, eat things like oily fish, milk, broccoli, spinach, oranges, nuts, carrots, eggs and avocado. Safe snacks in between meals include nuts, cheese, fresh vegetables and yoghurt.
As part of an overall balanced diet, ensure you eat plenty of plants, lean protein, nuts and healthy fats. Avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates including white bread, pasta and processed meats. Find out how poor nutrition affects your dental health.
Chewing gum is not just for freshening breath. Sugar free gum or mints increase salivary flow, which can neutralise plaque acids, help remove debris, strengthen teeth and reduce dry mouth. Opt for products containing Xylitol as an ingredient, as it can help fight tooth decay.
Make lifestyle changes like quitting smoking (read my tips!) or cutting back on red wine and coffee. Your body will thank you and so will your teeth.