As with everything else, dentistry moves in fashions. Since we lead with our faces and speak with our teeth, when everything else can be covered up (even our hands), it is greatly satisfying to have great teeth, gums and breath, and to keep them for life.
There are many things that you encounter at the local supermarket, pharmacy or your dental surgery which can be used to to keep your teeth and gums healthy and your breath fresh.
The toothbrush you choose is a great place to start – a soft or medium brush with end rounded bristles is best for your teeth and gums. Using a hard bristle brush with very firm horizontal strokes and harsh toothpaste is akin to scrubbing off the duco on your car. It tends to wear the enamel off the base of the teeth along the gum line, resulting in severe tooth abrasion.
Once you have removed the enamel, it does not grow back, and once the gums have been worn down in this way (and it requires little to wear the fragile gums) it leaves the tooth root exposed and can leave you with cold-sensitive teeth).
Your dentist can assist with this problem, but you can help yourself by avoiding the situation in the first place.
So, how to brush? There are as many ways to brush as there are experts to tell you.
It is most important to understand just what it is you are trying to do, and why, then choose a technique that best suits your circumstance.
Plaque is the great enemy that you are trying to vanquish. It is a rich mixture of
bacteria, saliva, glycoproteins, old food debris and associated junk that needs to be physically removed twice a day. The plaque does not hang around the shiny surfaces of your teeth (which have been cleared by the lips) but it is held on the hard-to-reach surfaces, where you cannot see, between and behind your teeth. If you do not clear this plaque build-up, then food will stay and rot and stink, then eventually when the bacterial acids break down the enamel, the teeth themselves will rot.
With a bit of understanding of what is required, your technique will become hardened into a habit. The essence of it is a circular brushing motion, which is necessarily slow, but which gently scours the gum-line and which brushes away all the accumulated plaque which has been brought out by your dental floss from the crevices between the teeth.
This brings me to flossing. Who has not been told by a dentist or dental hygienist, the vital importance of flossing; the ‘F’ word of the dental lecture. It is difficult to manipulate, hard to use, and totally impossible to view with any affection.
We recommend using REACH Dentotape by Johnson and Johnson. It is three times thicker (in one direction) than any comparable floss, and if we could find a thicker floss, we would recommend that. To use just run off 30 cms of the floss, cut it, and tie the ends together. You now have a loop of floss that does not cut off your circulation by wrapping a tourniquet around your two index fingers (which you will need for other tasks soon), and which you can insert gently between each tooth in turn.
It is necessary to pass down each tooth in turn, wrapping it to the front of the mouth or the back, so that a C-shape assaults each tooth and brings the plaque onto the front of the tooth to be able to be brushed away by your toothbrush. Simple – but not so easy – it requires sustained practice until it becomes second nature … as it should.
It will take time to alter your habits – they are habitual. Eventually, you will ideally spend about five minutes in the bathroom, flossing, brushing and scraping, and you will have learned to lock the bathroom door, or taken a magazine in there or whatever gets you over the boring aspects of this new routine. And you can at least reflect that your dental bills are not now so high as they may have been in the past.
It is important that you “floss before you brush” and that you scrape your tongue last thing before going to bed. You need to scrape because there is an enormous amount of bacteria hiding in the surface of the tongue; if you have spent so much time and effort in cleaning the bacteria off your teeth, you might as well finish the job properly.
I had much satisfaction using an old butter knife to scape every night, but this was whipped away by British Customs one time. At our surgery we keep excellent plastic scrapers in a range of colours which we are happy to give away at the end of your appointment – the back of your toothbrush is really not the best instrument for this task.
An added benefit to cleaning your tongue, is that you go to bed with a pink tongue – which in itself is nice, and wake up the following morning without “morning breath” – a godsend to all associated.