Brush Smarter, Not Harder

Before I went to dental school, I would search for the hardest bristled toothbrush on the market so I could get that scrubbed-clean feeling everyday. Little did I know, hard-bristled toothbrushes were so hard to find because of how detrimental they are to teeth. Although a tough toothbrush may leave you feeling extra clean, it may be due to the fact that you have just worn down a layer of enamel without meaning to; so always buy the softest bristled toothbrush you can find!

Enamel, the outer surface of our teeth, cannot be replaced by the body once it has been lost.  What that means is, if we wear away enamel, the only way to replace it is with a dental restoration, like a filling. Wear and tear affects everything–especially if we speed it up with a tough toothbrush–and as enamel becomes thinner and thinner over time, it’s easier and easier for bacteria to break through the enamel into the next layer of tooth, known as dentin. Dentin is much softer than enamel, and it is the sensitive layer of our tooth. Therefore, once the enamel has been worn away to expose dentin (you may see a light golden brown color where it is showing through) it can be very sensitive, not to mention it becomes an easy access point for bacteria to attack.  Once bacteria have made it to dentin, they can travel very quickly due its softness.  And although bacteria are tiny, they seem to be clever…what I mean by that is that bacteria head directly for the nerve in the center of the tooth once they have entered dentin. If bacteria reach the nerve in the middle of the tooth, that’s when we have the discussion of root canals, extractions, and abscesses.  These are the conversations we would much rather prevent than have!

So the next time you’re in the oral hygiene aisle, look for the softest bristled brush you can find.  They remove the same amount of plaque, but none of the tooth; just the way we like it! And remember, you want to aim the tip of the bristles at a diagonal, 45-degree angle towards the gumline.  Move the brush in small circles, working your way from the back of your mouth to the front. It’s easy to get into habits where you end up missing some spots and over-brushing in others, so here’s an easy way to avoid the mistakes:

  • The ideal brushing time is two minutes, so one minute for the top, and one minute for the bottom. That means 30 seconds for each quadrant (upper left, lower left, etc.).
  • Each quadrant of teeth has three visible sides: tongue (or palate) side, biting side, and cheek side.
  • If you count ten seconds as you work your way from back to front focusing on each visible side, you’ll have completed exactly 30 seconds per quadrant and you won’t have forgotten anywhere.
  • Repeat that in each quadrant and you’ll find that you’ll maintain a healthy mouth (and healthy body) because of it.
Dental Readiness: It

However, all that hard smart brushing only gets you so far.  If you can see three surfaces (tongue, biting, and cheek), you may forget about the front and the back (where the teeth touch each other). Flossing may be annoying, time consuming or painful, but that’s usually because you don’t do it very often…don’t feel guilty, most people don’t floss often or even correctly when they do.  However, studies show that if you had to brush everyday or floss everyday, you’d have fewer cavities if you chose to floss.  Shocking, I know, but think about how often food gets stuck to the visible part of your teeth–probably not that frequently.  Now think about what you see stuck to the floss when you do decide to try to get that pesky piece of popcorn out. Yeah, that’s likely last night’s dinner…or even scarier, last week’s dinner. If that wasn’t gross enough, think of it this way: how clean would you feel if you showered but kept your arms clamped firmly at your sides the whole time?  Sure your head, chest, and back may get sufficiently clean, but how disgusting would you feel if you never washed your armpits?  Flossing cleans the armpits of your teeth, and your mouth won’t be clean if you avoid doing it. And if you floss daily for two weeks, that discomfort, bleeding, and awkwardness will go away.  Bleeding gums are not normal, they are a sign of inflammation called gingivitis, and all it takes is some brushing and flossing to get rid of it. If you don’t get rid of it, it will progress to periodontitis (where you start to lose bone and gum attachment), but that may be for a different blog entry.

The important take-home of today is how to brush and floss correctly, so here you go: get a clean piece of floss (about 18 inches), and push the floss through the contacts of your teeth. Critical tip: Push the floss against the back-most tooth to form a C-Shape of the floss around the tooth, then scrub up and down a few times. Then pull the floss against the forward-most tooth, and scrub up and down a few times. Then pull the floss back up through the contacts. If the floss is covered in plaque and food, move to a clean portion of the floss and do it again until those teeth are clean, then move on to the next area. Our teeth are curved, so the C-Shape in the floss allows us to clean the undersides of the curves, which is where the cavity-forming, bad-breath making bugs hang out.

Use the tips listed above for a couple of weeks, and you’ll be in the habit of proper oral hygiene. It may be awkward or uncomfortable at first, but that will soon go away, and you will likely begin to love the way it feels.  If you have any questions, don’t be shy! Ask your dentist or hygienist so we can explain how to keep your teeth and body healthy.

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