How do I floss my teeth?

Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the remaining floss around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger will take up the floss as it becomes dirty. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion. Never snap the floss into the gums.

When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C-shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.
Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with up and down motions. Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth. Don’t forget the back side of your last tooth.

People who have difficulty handling dental floss may prefer to use another kind of interdental cleaner. These aids include special brushes, picks or sticks. If you use interdental cleaners, ask your dentist about how to use them properly to avoid injuring your gums.

What causes bad breath?

What you eat affects the air you exhale. Certain foods, such as garlic and onions, contribute to objectionable breath odor. Once the food is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is transferred to the lungs where it is expelled. Brushing, flossing and mouthwash will only mask the odor temporarily. Odors continue until the body eliminates the food. Dieters may develop unpleasant breath from infrequent eating.

If you don’t brush and floss daily, particles of food remain in the mouth collecting bacteria that can cause bad breath. Food that collects between the teeth, on the tongue and around the gums can rot, leaving an unpleasant odor. Dentures that are not cleaned properly can also harbor odor-causing bacteria and food particles.

One of the warning signs of periodontal (gum) disease is persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth. Periodontal disease is caused by plaque, the sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. The bacteria create toxins that irritate the gums. In the advanced stage of the disease, the gums, bone and other structures that support the teeth become damaged. With regular dental checkups, your dentist can detect and treat periodontal disease early.

Bad breath is also caused by dry mouth (xerostomia), which occurs when the flow of saliva decreases. Saliva is necessary to cleanse the mouth and remove particles that may cause odor. Dry mouth may be caused by various medications, salivary gland problems or continuously breathing through the mouth. If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe an artificial saliva, or suggest using sugarless candy and increasing your fluid intake.

Tobacco products cause bad breath, stain teeth, reduce one’s ability to taste foods, and irritate gum tissues. Tobacco users are more likely to suffer from periodontal disease and are at greater risk for developing oral cancer. If you use tobacco, ask your dentist for tips on kicking the habit.

Bad breath may be the sign of a medical disorder, such as a local infection in the respiratory tract (nose, throat, windpipe, lungs), chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, chronic bronchitis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disturbance, liver or kidney ailment. If your dentist determines that your mouth is healthy, you may be referred to your family doctor or a specialist to determine the cause of bad breath.

Eliminating periodontal disease and maintaining good oral health is essential to reducing bad breath. Schedule regular dental visits for a professional cleaning and checkup. If you think you have constant bad breath, keep a log of the foods you eat and make a list of medications you take. Some medications may play a role in creating mouth odors. Let your dentist know if you’ve had any surgery or illness since your last appointment.

Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste to remove food debris and plaque. Brush your tongue, too. Once a day, use floss or an interdental cleaner to clean between teeth. If you wear removable dentures, take them out at night. Clean them thoroughly before replacing them the next morning.

Mouthwashes are generally cosmetic and do not have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. If you must constantly use a breath freshener to hide unpleasant mouth odor, see your dentist. If you need extra help in controlling plaque, your dentist may recommend using a special antimicrobial mouth rinse. A fluoride mouth rinse, along with brushing and flossing, can help prevent tooth decay.

Look for products that carry the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. Products that display the seal have undergone strict testing for safety and effectiveness.

Canker sores and cold sores

Canker sores are often confused with cold sores. An easy way to distinguish between the two is to remember that canker sores occur inside the mouth, and cold sores usually occur outside the mouth. A canker sore (also called aphthous ulcers) is a small ulcer with a white or gray base and red border. There can be one or a number of sores in the mouth. Canker sores are very common and often recur. Canker sores usually heal in about a week or two. Rinsing with antimicrobial mouth rinses may help reduce the irritation. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can also provide relief.

A cold sore, which is also called fever blister or herpes simplex, is composed of groups of painful, fluid-filled blisters that often erupt around the lips and sometimes under the nose or under the chin. Cold sores are usually caused by herpes virus type I and are very contagious. Cold sores usually heal in about a week. Over-the-counter topical anesthetics can provide temporary relief, and prescription antiviral drugs may reduce these kinds of viral infections.

What is plaque?

Many of the foods you eat cause bacteria in your mouth to produce acids. Sugared foods, such as candy and cookies, are not the only culprits. Starches, such as bread, crackers, and cereal, also cause acids to form. If you snack often, you could be having acid attacks all day long. After many acid attacks, your teeth may decay.

Plaque also produces substances that irritate the gums, making them red, tender or prone to bleed easily. After awhile, gums may pull away from the teeth. Pockets form and fill with more bacteria and pus. If the gums are not treated, the bone around the teeth can be destroyed. The teeth may become loose or have to be removed. In fact, gum disease is a main cause of tooth loss in adults.

One way to prevent tooth decay and gum disease is to eat a balanced diet and limit the number of between-meal snacks. If you need a snack, choose nutritious foods such as raw vegetables, plain yogurt, cheese or a piece of fruit.

What causes tooth decay?

As you eat and food passes through your mouth, it meets the germs, or bacteria, that live in your mouth. You may have heard your dentist talk about plaque. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria.

These bacteria love sugars and starches found in many foods. When you don’t clean your teeth after eating, plaque bacteria use the sugar and starch to produce acids that can destroy the hard surface of the tooth called enamel. After a while, tooth decay occurs. The more often you eat and the longer foods are in your mouth, the more damage occurs.

Tips for good oral hygiene

To get a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods. Choose foods from each of the five major food groups:

  • breads, cereals and other grain products
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • meat, poultry and fish
  • milk, cheese and yogurt

Limit the number of snacks you eat. Each time you eat food that contains sugars or starches, the teeth are attacked by acids for 20 minutes or more. If you do snack, choose nutritious foods, such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt, or a piece of fruit.

Foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm. More saliva is released during a meal, which helps wash foods from the mouth and helps lessen the effects of acids.

Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste that has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance.

Clean between your teeth daily with floss or inter dental cleaners.

Visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist can help prevent problems from occurring and catch those that do occur while they are easy to treat.

What can I do to prevent tooth erosion?

Because there are different reasons why you may experience tooth erosion (swishing carbonated drinks, drinking a lot of juice or wine, eating disorders), talk to your dentist about your habits so that a plan for preventive action can be determined. Be smart about how you consume acidic foods and you can continue enjoying the things you like. Here are some general ways to protect your teeth:

  • Reduce or eliminate drinking carbonated drinks. Instead, drink water, milk or tea – but skip the sugar and honey! If you must consume acidic drinks, drink them quickly and use a straw so that the liquid is pushed to the back of the mouth. Don’t swish them around or hold them in your mouth for long periods.
  • Don’t let acidic foods linger in your mouth; swallow them as soon as you’ve chewed them enough so that they are ready to digest. Instead of snacking on acidic foods throughout the day, eat these foods just during meal times in order to minimize the amount of time the acid is on the teeth.
  • After consuming high-acid food or drinks, rinse with water to neutralize the acids.
  • Chew sugar-free gum to produce more saliva, as this helps your teeth remineralize.
  • Brush with a soft toothbrush and be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride.

Your dentist may also recommend daily use of a toothpaste to reduce sensitivity (over-the-counter or prescription strength) or other products to counter the effects of erosion.

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

What are some signs of tooth erosion?

Acid wear may lead to serious dental problems. It is important to notice the signs of tooth erosion in its early stages (sensitivity, discoloration and rounded teeth) before more severe damage occurs (cracks, severe sensitivity and other problems).

  • Discoloration. Teeth can become slightly yellow because the thinning enamel layer exposes the underlying dentin.
  • Rounded teeth. Your teeth may have a rounded or ‘sand-blasted’ look.
  • Transparency. Your front teeth may appear slightly translucent near the biting edges.
  • Advanced discoloration. Teeth may become more yellow as more dentin is exposed because of the loss of protective tooth enamel.
  • Cracks. Small cracks and roughness may appear at the edges of teeth.
  • Cupping. Small dents may appear on the chewing surface of the teeth. Fillings also might appear to be rising up out of the tooth.

What causes tooth erosion?

Tooth erosion may occur when the enamel on your teeth is weakened by the acid found in many foods and drinks. Usually the calcium contained in saliva will help remineralize (or strengthen) your teeth after you consume small amounts of acid; however, the presence of a lot of acid in your mouth does not allow for remineralization. Acid can come from many sources, including the following:

  • Carbonated drinks. All soft drinks (even diet varieties) contain a lot of acid and can dissolve enamel on your teeth very quickly.
  • Fruit juice and wine. Juice and wine have similar effects on your teeth because they contain acid.
  • Fruit, pickles, yogurt and honey. These foods are acidic; don’t let them linger in your mouth. Swallow them as soon as you’ve chewed them enough.
  • Bulimia and acid reflux. Bulimia and acid reflux also can cause tooth damage from stomach acids coming into contact with teeth. Medical and dental help should be sought for anyone who suffers from either of these conditions.

What is tooth erosion?

Tooth erosion, or tooth wear, is the loss of tooth structure caused by the weakening of dental enamel. Dental enamel is the thin, outer layer of hard tissue that helps maintain the tooth’s structure and shape. When the enamel weakens, it exposes the underlying dentin (the tissue that makes up the core of each tooth), causing the teeth to appear yellow.

At what age should I take my child to the dentist?

The American Dental Association recommends that you take your child to the dentist by age one. The earlier, the better. The dentist can see if there are any areas of decay, advise you on how to brush your child’s teeth, and determine how much fluoride your child should get

Since my baby doesn’t have any teeth, do I still need to clean his mouth?

Yes. It is really important to clean your child’s mouth after every feeding. Just take a damp washcloth and gently wipe the baby’s gums. This takes away plaque and bacteria.

Can baby teeth get cavities?

Yes. As soon as teeth form, they are at risk for decay. One serious reason for this is baby bottle tooth decay. This happens when babies are given bottles while they sleep or nap. The fruit juice, milk or sugar water pools around the teeth for long periods of time, and the teeth are attacked by the acids. If you have to give your child a bottle to nap or go to bed, make sure it just has plain water in it.

Brushing your child’s teeth

Parents need to make sure their children are brushing their teeth regularly. Most children can brush on their own by the age of 6 or 7, but until that time, parents need to make sure their children only use a pea-size of fluoridated toothpaste on their toothbrush. Children should also spit out any left over toothpaste and should rinse well after each brushing. Your child should brush his teeth two times a day unless your dentist directs you differently.

Your dentist should recommend a toothbrush for your child. Children need to have smaller toothbrushes to fit in their mouths. The bristles should be soft so they don’t harm gums. A toothbrush should be thrown out every 3 to 4 months, or when the bristles become frayed.

Flossing?

Flossing should start as soon as two teeth touch each other. A toothbrush cannot get in between the teeth, so it is important to floss once a day to get rid of the plaque that forms.

Sealants

Decay is most likely to occur on the surfaces of the back molars. A dental sealant is a clear material that is applied to prevent decay from happening. The bacteria and acid that attacks enamel cannot get through the protective barrier of the sealant, and teeth can remain decay-free for a lifetime.

Fluoride?

Fluoride is one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay. Fluoride is a mineral that combines with the enamel of the tooth to strengthen it. It is important that children get fluoride during the time when their teeth are forming. Children can get fluoride in a number of ways: they can drink water, take tablets, or use toothpaste or mouthwash that contain fluoride. Studies have shown that children who drink fluoridated water from the time they are born have 40-50% fewer cavities.

Mouthguards?

If your child is active in sports, you might want to consider having a mouthguard made. This can protect your child from injuries to the face, tongue, and lips, or from broken or knocked out teeth, and even fractures to the jaw. Ask your dentist to recommend a type of mouthguard for your child.