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Caring for Your Teeth and Gums

With proper care, your teeth and gums can stay healthy throughout your life. The healthier your teeth and gums are, the less risk you have for tooth decay and gum disease.

How can I care for my teeth and gums?

There are four basic steps to caring for teeth and gums:

  • Brushing
  • Flossing
  • Eating right
  • Visiting the dentist
Brushing
Tips for brushing

Brush at least twice a day. If you can, brush after every meal. Brushing removes plaque, a film of bacteria that clings to teeth. When bacteria in plaque come into contact with food, they produce acids. These acids lead to cavities. To brush:

  1. Place a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste on the head of the toothbrush. (Use a soft toothbrush.)
  2. Place the toothbrush against the teeth at a 45-degree angle to the gum line.
  3. Move the brush across the teeth using a small circular motion. Continue with this motion cleaning one tooth at a time. Keep the tips of the bristles against the gum line. Avoid pressing so hard that the bristles lie flat against the teeth. (Only the tips of the toothbrush clean the teeth.) Let the bristles reach into spaces between teeth.
  4. Brush across the top of the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Make sure the bristles get into the groves and crevices. Be sure to clean the back teeth.
  5. Use the same small circular motion to clean the backside of the upper and lower teeth – the side that faces the tongue.
  6. To clean the inside of the bottom front teeth, angle the head in an up-and-down position toward the bottom inside of the mouth and move the toothbrush in a small circle.
  7. For the inside of the top front teeth, angle the brush in an up-and-down position with the tip of the head pointing toward the roof of the mouth. Move the toothbrush in a small circle.
  8. Give your tongue a few gentle brush strokes, brushing from the back of your tongue forward. Do not scrub. This helps remove bacteria and freshens your breath.
  9. After brushing your teeth for two to three minutes, rinse your mouth with water.
  10. Replace your toothbrush with a new one every three to four months.
Tips for flossing
Flossing

Floss once a day. Flossing gets rid of food and plaque between the teeth, where your toothbrush cannot reach. If plaque stays between teeth, it can harden into tartar, which must be removed by a dentist. To floss:

  1. Remove about an 18-inch strip of floss from the dispenser.
  2. Wind the floss around the middle fingers of each hand, leaving a 1-inch section open for flossing. Floss the top teeth first, then the bottom.
  3. Place the floss in your mouth and use your index fingers to push the floss between the teeth. Be careful not to push too hard and injure the gums.
  4. Move the floss up and down against the tooth and up and around the gum line. The floss should form a C-shape around the tooth as you floss.
  5. Floss between each tooth as well as behind the back teeth.
  6. Use a clean section of floss as needed, and take up used floss by winding it around the fingers.
How can I eat right to prevent tooth decay?

Eat a variety of foods but eat fewer foods that contain sugars and starches. These foods produce the most acids in the mouth and the longer they stay in the mouth, the more they can damage the teeth. Hard "sucking candies" are especially harmful because they stay in the mouth a long time.

Snacking on sugary foods can lead to tooth decay because most people don't brush after snacks. Starchy snack foods, like potato chips, stick to the teeth. Avoid snacking on:

  • Candies, cookies, cakes, and pie
  • Sugary gum
  • Crackers, breadsticks, and chips
  • Dried fruits and raisins
What else can I do to protect my teeth?

You can also ask your dentist about dental sealants. Sealant is a material used to coat the top, chewing surfaces of the teeth. This coating protects the tooth from decay and usually lasts a long time.

How often should I go to the dentist?

Visit your dentist at least once every six months. To maintain healthy teeth and gums, it's important to have regular check-ups and professional cleanings. You should also see your dentist if you have pain in your teeth or mouth, or bleeding, swollen gums.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/23/2009...#11186.


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