Oral Hygiene Tips from a Dental Hygienist
I am often asked varying questions about oral hygiene, from brushing techniques to product recommendations. I’ve rounded up some commonly asked questions from my Instagram followers and compiled them into this blog post.
If you have a question for me, send me an email at email@example.com and it may be featured in an upcoming blog!
1. Should I brush my teeth before or after breakfast?
Brush before, rinse after. If you brush before breakfast, then you’ve protected your teeth before eating thanks to the fluoride in the toothpaste. If you brush after breakfast and you've had things like juice or cereal, you risk rubbing the acids or sugars into the enamel, which can cause dental decay and erosion.
If you feel you want to cleanse your mouth after eating, the best thing to do is to rinse with some water or have a piece of sugar-free gum, especially one that’s got xylitol in it, because it can help fight against dental decay.
2. Are there certain habits I may have when brushing that might damage my teeth? What tips would you give for correct brushing?
The main culprits are not brushing enough or for long enough, missing the gumline, and overbrushing,
Place the toothbrush bristles against the teeth at a 45-degree angle towards the gum line. Many of us forget to brush our gums when we brush our teeth, but brushing your gums is integral because this is where plaque will sit. Not brushing your gums properly may lead to gum disease.
When brushing, I recommend an electric toothbrush over a manual or battery powered brush as you get a far more superior clean. I use a Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean.
Hold the handle gently with a light grip and only apply light pressure. Glide the brush across your teeth and gums gently, allowing your brush to do must of the work – do not scrub as this can cause irreversible and permanent wearing away of the gums, known as recession. Don’t forget to change your toothbrush / toothbrush head every three months.
Use an electric toothbrush once in the morning and again at night-time for two minutes and ensure you are changing the brush head every three months. When brushing apply a small amount (about the size of a pea) onto your toothbrush before switching it on.
3. Should I rinse my mouth after brushing?
Spit don’t rinse. Rinsing will wash off the fluoride from toothpaste that is there to protect the teeth during the day.
4. Should I brush straight after eating something sweet or acidic, or should I wait a while?
If you’ve eaten or drunk something acidic or sugary, wait half an hour to an hour before brushing, as brushing straight after having something acidic or sugary will just spread it over the enamel, weakening it.
Try not to have anything sugary or acidic more than three or four times a day, and aim to keep all sugars and acids to mealtimes only. If you have, say, a glass of orange juice for breakfast and then don’t have anything again for a couple of hours, your mouth will neutralise itself. The saliva will bring everything back up to a neutral level and the fluoride from brushing in the morning will help. It’s when our teeth are under constant attack that we see the damage.
5. What’s the best toothpaste to use?
Always use a good fluoride toothpaste – one that has the recommended 1450 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride, as that will protect the teeth from damage.
I use Regenerate Enamel Science toothpaste, which contains fluoride but also uses technology inspired by the science behind bone repair to form a fresh supply of minerals that wrap and integrate onto teeth, regenerating enamel mineral with regular use and reversing early enamel erosion.
I also use Parla toothpaste tablets, which are designed by dentists to be good for you but also good for the planet.
If you have sensitive teeth, then a sensitive formula can help relieve the symptoms. However sensitivity can be caused by several things, so I would always recommend seeing a dental professional to find out what the cause is before investing in sensitivity toothpaste.
As for whitening toothpastes, they won’t physically whiten your teeth. In fact, they’re one of many dental products you should avoid. These types of toothpastes don’t contain any active whitening ingredients and may be missing fluoride. They ‘may’ remove surface stains, but they can be very abrasive and damage enamel (the hard-outer layer of the tooth), making it even more prone to staining.
Same goes for charcoal toothpastes. They generally are not as abrasive as whitening toothpaste, however there is no evidence to prove its effectiveness on stain removal. In fact, it may even contribute to negative aesthetic effects as the charcoal particles can become embedded in cracks in the teeth or restoration margins around crowns, veneers and fillings, attracting further yellowing and staining over time.
6. Can you explain the importance of flossing and do you recommend water flossers?
Toothbrushes are not capable of reaching in-between teeth to remove unwanted debris. In fact, brushing actually only cleans about 60% of our teeth. However, interdental cleaning with floss or brushes 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 and in front of the mirror.
If you don’t think you can commit to flossing, try an electric flosser such as the Philips Airfloss or WaterPik. These should be used as supplements to regular flossing or interdental brushing where you can.
7. What are the worst foods and drinks for your teeth and why?
Nutritional deficiencies can present themselves as signs in the mouth. Generally, mineral deficiencies affect the hard structures (teeth and bones) whilst vitamin deficiencies affect soft tissues. A common early sign of vitamin deficiency is the development of ulcers in the mouth, which vary in size and can last up to three weeks.
While all foods can form part of a healthy balanced diet, it is important to eat from all of the major food groups. Avoiding sugary and acidic food and drink (including lemon water) between meals is important, as the acids and sugars can attack tooth enamel. If you are opting for sugary and acidic food and drink, try to indulge at mealtimes only to minimize the impact. You should limit sugar or acid attacks to three or four times a day at a maximum.
Avoiding sugary snacks and drinks between meals will also help to keep blood sugars more stable and will help to avoid spikes and drops in blood sugars, which can improve energy levels and appetite regulation.
Use a straw for drinks – avoid plastic ones – and try and rinse your mouth with water after consuming dark coloured foods and drinks.
As part of an overall balanced diet, ensure you eat plenty of plants, lean protein, nuts and healthy fats, and avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates including white bread, pasta and processed meats.
If you can, cut back on alcohol and coffee. Your body will thank you and so will your teeth.
8. What would you recommend to someone who wants white teeth? Is teeth whitening a good idea?
It is important to firstly identify what is causing the discolouration, keeping in mind that teeth naturally vary in shade due to your unique makeup. Visit your dentist or dental hygienist for a professional opinion first - they will be able to assess your suitability for whitening and discuss which options are available to you.
If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, you may simply benefit from a professional clean. I carry out a treatment called ‘Guided Biofilm Therapy,’ which uses a technology called “Airflow” – a powerful but gentle combination of warm water, air and fine powder to clean the teeth. It can leave teeth looking whiter because any deposits and staining will be removed during the cleaning process.
If professional whitening is the road you’ve chosen to go down, options include in-surgery treatments that take approximately an hour or home whitening systems that gradually brighten your teeth over the course of around two weeks. Home-whitening is a one-off investment, as you get to keep your custom-made trays and you can ‘top-up’ your whitening a few times a year with professionally formulated gels.
Do not, under any circumstances, get teeth whitened by someone who is not a dental professional. By law, only registered dental practitioners can legally perform teeth whitening, and you must have a check-up before the procedure to ensure your suitability for whitening. Contact me today to book a whitening appointment.
9. How often should I visit the dentist?
You should visit the dentist at least once a year and the hygienist a once or twice a year to keep your smile as gleaming. Keep to regular dental and hygienist appointments. Regular check-ups mean there's a medical record of any changes to your oral health. You can be screened for gum disease.and dental decay, both of which are totally preventable, as well as oral cancer (over 8,300 new cases of oral cancer were diagnosed last year). Incorporating visits to your local clinic as part of your oral hygiene routine is pivotal to maintaining a healthy mouth.