Taking Care of Your Teeth
Teeth for a Lifetime
Thanks to better at-home care and in-office dental treatments, more people are keeping their teeth throughout their lives. Some diseases and conditions can make dental disease and tooth loss more likely. But most of us have a good deal of control over whether we keep our teeth into old age. The most important thing you can do is to brush and floss your teeth each day. Most mouth woes are caused by plaque. Plaque is a sticky layer of bacteria, bits of food and other organic matter that forms on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque make acids that cause cavities. Plaque also leads to periodontal (gum) disease. This can become a serious infection. It can damage bone and destroy the tissues around your teeth. The best defense is to remove plaque before it has a chance to build up and cause problems. Brushing removes plaque from the large surfaces of the teeth and from just under the gums. Flossing removes plaque from between your teeth. You also can use other tools to keep your mouth and teeth clean. Brushing
Most of us learned to brush our teeth when we were children. We have stuck with the same brushing technique into adulthood. Unfortunately, many of us learned how to brush the wrong way. And even if we learned the right way, we might not always stick to it. Brushing correctly is tricky. You want to remove plaque without brushing too hard and damaging your gums. There are different ways to brush correctly. Your dentist or dental hygienist can show you the method that might be best for you. The modified Bass technique (below) is among the most popular for adults. Parents should supervise their children's brushing until age 9 or 10. Here are a few general pointers about brushing. * Brush at least twice a day — One of those times should be just before you go to bed. When you sleep, your mouth gets drier. This makes it easier for acids from bacteria to attack your teeth. Also try to brush in the morning, either before or after breakfast. After breakfast is better. That way, bits of food are removed. But if you eat in your car or at work, or skip breakfast, brush first thing in the morning. This will get rid of the plaque that built up overnight. * Brush no more than three times a day — Brushing after lunch will give you a good midday cleaning. But brushing too often can damage your gums. * Brush lightly — Brushing too hard can damage your gums. It can cause them to recede (move away from the teeth). Plaque attaches to teeth like jam sticks to a spoon. It can't be totally removed by rinsing, but a light brushing will do the trick. Once plaque has hardened into calculus (tartar), brushing can't remove it. If you think you might brush too hard, hold your toothbrush the same way you hold a pen. This encourages a lighter stroke. * Brush for at least two minutes — Set a timer if you have to, but don't skimp on brushing time. Two minutes is the minimum time you need to clean all of your teeth. Many people brush for the length of a song on the radio. That acts as a good reminder to brush each tooth thoroughly. * Have a standard routine for brushing — Try to brush your teeth in the same order every day. This can help you cover every area of your mouth. If you do this routinely, it will become second nature. For example, you can brush the outer sides of your teeth from left to right across the top, then move to the inside and brush right to left. Repeat the pattern for your lower teeth. * Always use a toothbrush with "soft" or "extra soft" bristles — The harder the brush, the greater the risk of harming your gums. * Change your toothbrush regularly — Throw away your old toothbrush after three months or when the bristles start to flare, whichever comes first. If your bristles flare much sooner than every three months, you may be brushing too hard. Try easing up. * Choose a brush that has a seal of approval by the American Dental Association — The type of brush you...
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