The timing of this article couldn’t be better from this dental hygienist’s point of view. We are just wrapping up September, which in our world is Dental Infection Control Awareness Month (see last year’s health watch column) and we’re about to kick off October, National Dental Hygiene Month (NDHM).
The American Dental Hygienists’ Association and its partners work to raise public awareness about good oral health year round, but especially during NDHM. In addition to focusing on the four components of good oral health maintenance — brushing teeth twice daily, cleaning between the teeth every day, rinsing with mouthwash and chewing sugar-free gum — NDHM also celebrates the important role that dental hygienists play in preventive oral health care, patient education and improving the public’s oral and overall health. So, if you happen to be visiting your dental hygienist this month, don’t be surprised if there’s an added emphasis on prevention and overall health.
My advice for today’s column: The Daily 4
1. Brush twice a day. Two is the magic number — twice a day, for two minutes at a time. This reduces the biofilm, the sticky white stuff that causes gum disease and cavities. For best results, point the bristles of your brush toward the gumline at a 45 degree angle and use short vibrating strokes to cover 2 to 3 teeth at a time; don’t scrub. Pay particular attention to the inside of the bottom back teeth, as the tongue likes to fight your toothbrush and prevent it from reaching the gumline back there.
2. Clean between your teeth every day. Once is sufficient when done properly. Floss works well for many, but it isn’t the only device available for effective cleaning. Try toothpicks, soft picks — a rubber toothpick, or interdental brushes to reach the surfaces the toothbrush can’t.
3. Rinse. Use an antimicrobial rinse for 30 seconds twice a day. The rinse reaches the tissues and spaces not related to teeth — like the mucosa and top surface of the tongue. Rinsing with water is helpful, rinsing with an antimicrobial is even more effective, and if you are prone to cavities, rinsing with a mouthwash that contains fluoride will be beneficial to you.
4. Chew. Chewing sugar-free gum after meals and snacks helps protect teeth and complements a healthy oral care routine. Chewing stimulates the salivary glands to increase their flow rate by up to 10 times during the first few minutes of chewing, and the flavors in sugar-free gum also increase the quantity of saliva in the mouth. This helps to clean out food particles and neutralizes biofilm acids on the teeth. This acid is what’s responsible for demineralization of the tooth, which is the start of a cavity. A word of caution here — if you’re bothered by TMJ issues (and if you are, you’ll know what TMJ means) don’t chew the gum for a long period of time. Right after eating, for 5 to 10 minutes will be beneficial.
Janine Sasse-Englert is the director of the Sheridan College Dental Hygiene Department.