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Expert tips on brushing your teeth and proper oral hygiene

Make a habit of replacing your toothbrush every three to four months — say, when the season changes.
| stock.adobe.com

The toothbrush — most of us have at least one in the house. And whether yours is electric or manual, there are certain brushing habits that could have a huge impact on your wellbeing.

“I can tell a lot about a person’s overall health just by looking at their teeth,” said Alice Boghosian, DDS and Vice President of the Illinois State Dental Society. “Their gums and their teeth are really good educators. Teeth are important. If you like to eat, you need to take care of your teeth.”

While the ADA recommends brushing twice a day for two minutes at a time, Boghosian said most people fall short. And while brushing after each meal is “preferred”, it’s not essential.

“I like to clean my teeth after I eat — is it necessary to maintain your oral health? No. Two minutes, twice a day as well as flossing is sufficient,” Boghosian said.

In addition to not brushing twice a day, Boghosian said many people store their brush improperly which can prevent it from staying clean.

Always rinse your toothbrush thoroughly with a stream of water and stand it upright. Let it air dry (never cover it) and make sure it’s not touching other toothbrushes. | stock.adobe.com

Always rinse your toothbrush thoroughly with a stream of water and stand it upright. Let it air dry (never cover it) and make sure it’s not touching other toothbrushes. | stock.adobe.com

“Rinse your brush very thoroughly with a stream of water and stand it upright. This makes sure the germs can dry and can be killed. Make sure it’s not touching other toothbrushes. Sometimes these toothbrushes have cases and covers where you cover them but that’s not a good idea,” Boghosian said.

So what about all those products that say they help clean your brush?

“Certainly they aren’t going to hurt,” Boghosian said. “I liken it to whether you’re using a manual toothbrush or an electric toothbrush. If you’re using a manual toothbrush properly, it should be able to do the job. If those added products make you feel better and it’s going to make you use your brush more often, have at it. Absolutely.”

But the use of a cleaning aid should not prevent you from replacing a brush that no longer serves you.

“When it comes to getting a new brush or brush head, a good way to remember it is to replace them with the changing seasons, so every 3 to 4 months,” Boghosian said. “And if you get over a cold, it can’t hurt to throw a toothbrush away after you’ve been sick. However I have not done that and I’m perfectly fine, but again, it won’t hurt.”

Here are five tips for optimal oral hygiene:

According to the ADA, kids should not use more than a pea-sized dollop of toothpaste when brushing their teeth. | stock.adobe.com

According to the ADA, kids should not use more than a pea-sized dollop of toothpaste when brushing their teeth. | stock.adobe.com

Less is more with toothpaste

According to a recent study by the CDC, we’re using way too much toothpaste, especially children. “The ADA recommends that for children ages 3-6, the amount should be pea sized. Under 3 years of age should be a smear, or the size of a rice kernel. As far as adults, my recommendation would be to stick to the pea size or maybe use a little bit more because the brush heads are all different sizes,” Boghosian said.

Use a mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol

“Alcohol can dry your mouth and your tissues in your mouth and if you have a dry mouth, you can get more cavities,” Boghosian said. “Saliva is like nature’s cavity fighter. So if you’re building plaque in your teeth and you have a lot of saliva in your mouth, it kind of rinses the teeth off. If your mouth is dry, the plaque will stick to your teeth and then you run into problems with gum disease and tooth decay.”

There's a correct way and wrong way when it comes to flossing your teeth. And it matters. | stock.adobe.com

There’s a correct way and wrong way when it comes to flossing your teeth. And it matters. | stock.adobe.com

Don’t be too aggressive when you brush and floss

“You can actually brush too hard and if you brush or scrub too hard, you can actually wear out your teeth,” Boghosian said. “I’ve also had patients who are not flossing properly — instead of curving the floss around the tooth, they’ll keep the floss straight up and down and they’ll actually create little slits in their gums.”

Brush your tongue, as well as your teeth, for optimal bacteria fighting and cleaning. | stock.adobe.com

Brush your tongue, as well as your teeth, for optimal bacteria fighting and cleaning. | stock.adobe.com

Clean your tongue daily

Getting the tongue clean can be done with a brush or a tongue cleaner which is a tool made of either plastic or metal.  “The tongue harbors plaque and bacteria,” Boghosian said. “Plaque is a compilation of bacteria and bacterial bi-products and all of that can keep odors in your mouth. Just like if you keep food and plaque in between your teeth. It not only causes cavities and gum disease it can cause an odor.”

Don’t ignore a chronic issue

“I had a woman whose gums were bright red and pinkish in color and they were bleeding — but she was properly cleaning and brushing — so I asked her, ‘When’s the last time you went to the doctor?’ And she said it had been a while,“ Boghosian said. “It turns out she actually had liver disease and was put on the proper medication so when I saw her for the next cleaning, her gums looked normal. I couldn’t diagnose the liver disease from an oral exam but I knew something wasn’t right based on the bleeding. Our gums and teeth can be an indicator if something else is wrong so you want to stay on top of it.”