What is the best way to clean my teeth?

Cleaning your teeth is not just important for a great smile - it also plays an important role in promoting good overall health.

Spending a few minutes each day looking after your teeth is a very worthwhile investment in your health. If the teeth or gums are damaged, it can increase the risk of infection, which can spread from the mouth to other parts of the body. Long-term mouth infections can increase the risk of a range of serious medical conditions, including:

Brushing and flossing can help to promote good oral hygiene and prevent tooth decay and gum disease by removing dental plaque, a soft deposit containing bacteria that tends to develop on the surfaces of teeth.

Bacteria

Microscopic, single-celled organisms with DNA but no definite nucleus. Bacteria are the cause of many human diseases.

Heart disease

A class of diseases that involves the dysfunction of the heart and/or the blood vessels.

Diabetes

A metabolic disorder that is caused by problems with insulin secretion and regulation and which is characterised by high blood sugar levels. Also known as diabetes mellitus.

Gum disease

A chronic, progressive disease of the gums caused mainly by bacteria and poor oral hygiene. Early stages are generally asymptomatic, with the advanced stages characterised by loss of gum tissue, supporting bone and eventual loss of teeth.

Infection

Entry into the body of microorganisms that can reproduce and cause disease.

Choosing a toothbrush and toothpaste

  • Choose toothbrushes with small heads (these can be easier to use);
  • Choose soft bristles - these are generally recommended because they are less likely to cause injury to gums or teeth;
  • Electric toothbrushes can help to clean teeth thoroughly, and;
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed.

When it comes to choosing toothpaste:

  • Toothpaste with fluoride can help to strengthen tooth enamel;
  • Although some toothpastes offer tooth whitening, they contain only low levels of hydrogen peroxide, the ingredient that whitens teeth. If you are concerned about whitening your teeth, you can consult your dentist, and;
  • Do not use adult toothpaste to brush your children's teeth. There are special children's toothpastes with lower fluoride levels that are much safer to use in young children.

Woman smiling. 

Fluoride

A mineral commonly added to water supplies or toothpaste to reduce tooth decay.

Enamel

The hard, white outer coating of the tooth.

Brushing your teeth

For good oral health, it is important to brush your teeth:

  • 2-3 times a day, and;
  • For around 2-3 minutes each time.

It is important to use correct brushing technique, not only to make sure that your teeth are cleaned thoroughly, but also to avoid damage to your teeth and gums. It is also not advisable to brush your teeth too often, as this can lead to premature wear of the enamel.

 

Notes:

  • Move the brush gently back and forth, making short strokes, covering one or two teeth at a time. It is important not to scrub at your teeth too hard;
  • Make sure to cover the outer and inner surfaces of all teeth;
  • Remember that it is important to get bristles into the gaps between the teeth, and;
  • Rinsing is not necessary, as leaving a small amount of toothpaste actually helps to protect teeth.

Enamel

The hard, white outer coating of the tooth.

Flossing your teeth

For good oral health, it is important to floss every day. This helps to remove dental plaque that may form between teeth.

Floss is a thread-like product that may be waxed or coated to make it easier to use.

To floss your teeth:

  • Use a generous length of floss;
  • Wrap each end tightly around the middle finger of each hand;
  • Use a gentle sawing or zig-zag motion following the curves of the teeth, to pass the flow through the gap between each pair of teeth;  
  • Pass the floss up and down the surface of each tooth and under the gum line, and;
  • Use a new section of floss for each tooth.

If you find using dental floss difficult, flossing aids are available that may help. You can ask your dentist about which flossing aids may be most suitable for you.

Dentures

To clean dentures, remove them from your mouth and clean them after every meal, or at least twice a day after meals. A regular toothbrush and denture-cleaning cream or mild soap can be used to clean the denture. Avoid using regular toothpastes to clean dentures, as some are abrasive and can scratch the surface of your dentures. Make sure that you brush both the outside and the inside fitting surface of the denture. Special denture cleaning brushes are available.

Bleeding gums

Some bleeding can be normal with brushing and flossing, particularly if you have not been flossing regularly. However, if it persists, it can be a sign of gum disease or other problems, so see your dentist.

Gum disease

A chronic, progressive disease of the gums caused mainly by bacteria and poor oral hygiene. Early stages are generally asymptomatic, with the advanced stages characterised by loss of gum tissue, supporting bone and eventual loss of teeth.

Prevention

Although regular brushing and flossing can help to prevent tooth decay and gum disease, it is still recommended that you see your dentist for regular check-ups. Not only are they able to remove dental tartar, a hardened form of dental plaque that cannot be removed by brushing or flossing, they can also check the health of your mouth and teeth.

Gum disease

A chronic, progressive disease of the gums caused mainly by bacteria and poor oral hygiene. Early stages are generally asymptomatic, with the advanced stages characterised by loss of gum tissue, supporting bone and eventual loss of teeth.

Tartar

Also called dental calculus. Tartar accumulates on teeth when plaque (a biofilm produced by bacteria) hardens and becomes calcified.