The first question we get asked whenever we diagnose a dental decay in someone is “Am I not cleaning my teeth properly?” or “what is the proper way to brush teeth?” Occasionally, we even get asked if there is any “magic bullet” solution to dental decay. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic bullet, but keeping your teeth for life doesn’t have to be complicated.
Are you cleaning your teeth properly?
Before delving into how to clean your teeth properly, it is worthwhile to spend a little time to explain that there really isn’t a one size fits all approach to dental health.
Two major factors that cause tooth decay:
- The genetic makeup of your teeth and functionality of the surrounding structure
- The environment you expose your teeth to
Let’s say for example you were born with “chalky teeth”, this probably means your teeth are hypo mineralised (under-mineralised which makes them weaker) and maybe even with a thinner layer of enamel. However, if you have meticulous oral hygiene and you never allow a shred of plaque to be present on your teeth overnight, you are probably going to be ok. The opposite can also apply where you are blessed with really strong teeth and maybe you are not as diligent with your oral hygiene, with a bit of luck, you might be ok too.
Hence when we get asked the question, “Am I cleaning my teeth properly?”, my general answer is going to be different for each individual. However, it is also safe to assume that if we do everything possible to keep the teeth clean, irrespective of your genetic makeup, you are probably going to be ok unless there are extreme circumstances involved.
How to prevent tooth decay
In general, your dentist is going to recommend that you brush for 2 minutes twice a day to remove all the plaque and food particle on the surfaces of your teeth. Brush gently using a soft bristle brush is all you need to clean teeth properly. Anything that doesn’t come off with a gentle circular brushing motion is still not going to come off with a harder brush and aggressive brushing. The only way you can remove tartar (calculus or scale build up) once it’s formed is via your dentist.
Remember brushing only gets rid of those food and plaque on the top of your teeth, what about the side surfaces of your teeth where your tooth brush can’t fit in? This is where flossing comes in. The use of dental floss allows us to remove anything that is between our teeth which our tooth brush has left behind. The correct motion is a sideways motion pulling the floss against the side surface of your teeth. If the gap is big, you can use an interdental brush first to push the bulky food out and then follow up with floss.
Some people use a mouth rinse as a means of killing bacteria in our mouth. Mouth rinses like any other bactericidal chemical will do a great job in killing bacteria for a short while. However, like most medications, prolonged usage will make it less and less effective so long term usage is generally not recommended for the purpose of killing bacteria. Often times, people will use it just because it gives them the minty fresh breath after.
Water irrigators (waterpik) is another machine often asked about by patients. It shoots out a jet of water which can help to dislodge food from between the teeth. However, as the jet of water is usually not overly powerful, it will not do a better job than traditional flossing and is generally only recommended for people whose jaw has an area that is inaccessible to flossing and the traditional methods of cleaning.
More tips on cleaning your teeth properly
All the major brands produce educational materials which outline how to clean teeth properly – see the Colgate version below as a graphic guide. These manuals are also included in every oral health pack that we give to every patient after their regular scaling and cleaning appointment with us.