It is a good idea to see your dentist at least once a year. They can detect early signs of health problems, such as cavities, gingivitis, or even diabetes. Because of the coronavirus, they may only be open for dental emergencies. But don’t worry – good dental hygiene begins at home.
How to clean your teeth at home
Your goal is to get rid of plaque. This is a clear film that clings to your teeth. It is mainly composed of bacteria that release acid when you eat or drink. These bacteria like sugar. Over time, this acid can break down the hard coating, or enamel, on your teeth. This can lead to cavities. It can also seep into your gum line. You can get gingivitis. This is an infection in your gums.
Plaque buildup can turn into tartar or calculus. This is the hard stuff that the dentist scraps off in his cleaning. They will use a special tool and a technique called scaling. This is not something you should try at home. To keep your teeth and gums in good shape, you can:
Brush at least twice a day. You can use an electric toothbrush or a regular toothbrush with soft bristles. Brush gently for 2 minutes.
Use fluoride toothpaste. Ask your dentist if you need more fluoride. They can give you a prescription for a special kind.
Replace your old toothbrush. Get a new one every 3-4 months. Change it earlier if the bristles start to wear out.
Clean between your teeth once a day. Your dentist may tell you to use an “inter-tooth cleaner.” This includes tools such as:
- String floss
- Floss picks
- Water flossers
Don’t use your fingernail, a safety pin, or any other household item.
Add a mouthwash. You will want a therapeutic or antiseptic rinse. It helps control plaque, gingivitis, bad breath, germs, and tooth decay. Kids younger than six should not use mouthwash. They may swallow it. Look for one with ingredients like:
- Cetylpyridinium chloride
- Essential oils (eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, thymol)
- Don’t smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco.
- Manage health conditions such as diabetes.
- Cut back on sugar, including sweet snacks and drinks.
Can an Electric Toothbrush Help?
A regular toothbrush works just fine when you use it the right way. But a powered version can make it easier to do a good job of cleaning your teeth. You may want one if:
- You can’t hold things very well. That includes if you are elderly, have arthritis, or any issue that makes it harder to hold things.
- You want to be sure you brush long enough. Your electric toothbrush will likely have a timer. It will let you know when you have brushed for 2 minutes. Some buzz every 30 seconds.
Should You Worry If Your Gums Bleed?
It is normal to see some red if you haven’t flossed in a while or ever. It can take a week or so for your gums to get used to the new routine. You should keep flossing but do it gently.
If you keep bleeding every time you brush or floss, that could signify gingivitis or more serious gum disease. Give your dentist a call.
Do You Need to Scrape Your Tongue?
There is no scientific evidence that scraping is a good way to remove germs, like the kind that cause bad breath (halitosis). But there is nothing wrong with cleaning your tongue. You can buy a special scraper or use your toothbrush.
What to Do When You are Sick
Even if you don’t feel well, you should still try to brush your teeth twice a day. You can also:
- Use sugar-free cough drops.
- Rinse with water or diluted mouthwash if you throw up.
- Ward off the dry mouth with plain water (no sugar or acidic lemon).
It is unlikely that you will reinfect yourself. So you don’t need to throw out a new toothbrush. Don’t share your toothbrush with anyone.
What Is a Dental Emergency?
There are some problems you should not handle yourself. Give your dentist a call if you have:
- Serious pain or swelling in or around your mouth
- Bleeding that won’t stop
- Signs of infection (swelling, redness, pain)
- A broken tooth or crown
- Problems with your dentures
Call your dentist before you go to their office. Tell them if you have other symptoms, like a cough, fever, or shortness of breath. That could signify you have a viral infection like the flu or COVID-19. They’ll give you advice on the next steps to take.