[Editor’s Note: This article is part one of a three part series. You can also read part two and part three.]
The variety of choices we have for dental care products has grown rapidly in the past one hundred years. Some time-tested tools have achieved classic status. The toothbrush and toothpaste come immediately to mind. But the list hardly ends there.
Today, we have electric toothbrushes, water flossers, gum stimulators, whitening products, and denture preparations.
In this three part series we’re going to dig into the details about dental care products.
Part one of our dental care products tour will look at toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouthwash.
The history of the toothbrush goes all the way back to at least 5000 years before the current era (BCE), according to Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. It all started, he says, with the index finger, which people eventually replaced with “chewing sticks,” a name for the twigs that people simply chewed on. These were first used in ancient Babylonia around 3500-3000 BCE.
Now, flash forward all the way to the 1930s. That’s when the toothbrush, as we know it, finally arrived on the scene thanks to the invention of nylon, which quickly found its way into toothbrushes in the form of bristles.
What it does: Toothbrushes help scrape away food particles and plaque, the film that forms on teeth after eating, which is the primary cause of tooth decay.
Why it’s important: Aside from the fact that chewing on twigs is kind of gross, a sturdy, modern toothbrush is the first and best way to keep your teeth clean and healthy.
Who should use it: Only people who want to keep their teeth.
With electricity came a whole flood of inventions that just as quickly disappeared or never even saw the light of day. We’re thinking, for example, of Thomas Edison’s epic fail, the electric pen, which, rather than push ink, poked holes. (Seriously, you can look it up.) The electric toothbrush, on the other hand, is here to stay.
What it does: Just what a manual toothbrush does, but with far less manual work on your part.
Why it’s important: According to Consumer Reports, it might not be all that important. “In the past, Consumer Reports has said electric and manual toothbrushes are equally effective as long as you brush teeth thoroughly for 2 minutes, twice a day. An electric toothbrush may help, however, if you have arthritis or a dexterity problem that makes thorough brushing difficult.”
Who should use it: Anyone who is able to use a manual toothbrush should be able to use an electric one. Kids, of course, may need a little help at first. And if arthritis or another problem affects your ability to use a manual toothbrush, an electric brush may be just what you need.
When did toothpaste make it’s first appearance, you ask? According to Dr. Connelly, “ancient Egyptians were making a ‘tooth powder’ as far back as 5000 BC.” This tooth powder, he says was the first toothpaste. It “consisted of ash from ox hooves, myrrh, eggshell fragments and pumice,” he notes. Tasty.
What it does: Like soap, toothpaste lubricates and traps dirt – food particles, plaque, and other germs, in this case – so they can be rinsed away more easily, leaving the teeth clean, or at least cleaner than before.
Why it’s important: While brushing goes a long way toward getting teeth clean, brushing with toothpaste can be an even more effective combination. Dentists recommend you use toothpaste with fluoride.
Who should use it: Just about everyone. Talk with your dentist about the right type for you and your family members.
How did there get to be so many rinses to choose from? And how can you narrow it down to make the best choice?
Well, it may help to know that there are three basic categories of mouthwash: antiseptic rinses, mouthwashes that contain fluoride, and ones that offer cosmetic benefits.
What they do: The antiseptic type is intended to help fight tooth decay. It attacks plaque, the film of bacteria that would otherwise build up on the surface of your teeth. Mouthwashes with fluoride also help fight tooth decay. However, they work by making the enamel surfaces of your teeth resist plaque better. Finally, the cosmetic mouthwashes do little more than mask bad breath, though they may taste or feel refreshing as well.
Why it’s important: Using a dental rinse may be very important in some cases, and it may not be recommended at all in other situations.
Who should use it: Depending on a person’s situation and whom you ask, the question whether to use a daily mouthwash or oral rinse may have different answers.
Unlike toothbrush and toothpaste, there is some leeway for when and if to use mouthwash as part of a dental hygiene routine. So, it’s important to discuss mouthwash use with your dentist.
The Dental Care Products Overview as Just Begun
Today, many dental care products vie for our attention. We’re all pretty familiar with the top 3 covered in this post. However, do you know what all those other products are for, why they’re important, or who should be using them?
To learn more, read part two and part three of our dental care product overview.
Could a school dental care checklist help your kids do better this year? With summer vacations nearly at an end, thoughts are turning to the new school year ahead.
Parents are stocking up on back to school supplies and kids are trying on new shoes and clothes. The focus is on helping young learners put their best foot forward in the new school year.
What else can you do to ensure your child’s hungry mind can soak up all the learning that lies ahead? How about sending your kids off to school this year with bright smiles and the tools they need to build and benefit from strong oral health habits?
As the new school year begins, here are our top items to include on your back to school dental care checklist.
What to Include on Your Back to School Dental Care Checklist
There are a number of things you can include on your own school dental care checklist. Here are some you won’t want to miss:
1. The top item: a regular dental exam
Having a clean bill of oral health will help your child do their best in school. To keep teeth their healthiest, most dentists and health professionals agree you should take kids to the dentist twice a year for a regular exam.
Plan ahead to ensure your child gets in to see the dentist every 6 months. Like their report cards, your kids’ teeth are always subject to change. To ensure kids’ teeth stay their healthiest, nothing can replace routine teeth cleanings and exams done by a professional dental hygienist. Think of it as a crucial part of your family’s dental health regimen.
2. A strong daily dental care routine
Are you stocked up on toothpaste, floss, mouthwash? Research has proven that a regular daily routine can help prevent cavities and periodontal disease. Like pencils, paper, and crayons, these tools are essential for your child’s healthy growth.
Ask your dentist what toothpaste and rinse she recommends for her patients and the type of brush and floss you should be using. Then, plan ahead. Keep extra supplies on hand and make a note on your calendar to replace older toothbrushes or brush heads as the seasons change.
Then, brush up on your child’s oral health habits. After all, basic dental care begins with brushing. Using a proper brushing technique is the best protection against plaque, the bacteria that forms on teeth and gums after eating. Also, review the proper way to floss with your child. Flossing teeth is the best way to remove stubborn bacteria from between the teeth and gum line.
Need a full review? Check out our basic oral hygiene overview.
3. Lunch and snack foods that promote good health
It’s a well documented fact that oral health is directly related to overall health. As a result, the foods we eat can be as vital to oral health as regular brushing, flossing, and dental exams.
So, be sure your child eats healthy foods and snacks during the school day. With some organization and planning, you can ensure your child has delicious foods and snacks that support good oral health. A well-balanced diet is always the wisest choice, but vitamins A, C and D are generally known as key essential nutrients for oral health.
In addition, teeth rely on minerals for optimal health, and calcium is among the most important minerals for oral health. Like bones, which provide structural support for the body, calcium gives external structure to the teeth. Check out this article for more about choosing foods for dental nutrition.
4. A properly fitted mouth guard
Regular dental exams, a strong daily routine, and the right foods to support oral health are powerful ways to safeguard your child’s oral health. However, now and then they could use some extra help. That’s why you should ensure your child wears a properly fitted mouth guard when needed.
Mouth guards help keep teeth safe while playing highly physical or contact sports. When a properly fitted mouth guard is used, it helps displace the force of a blow, which can significantly reduce the odds of injury to your child’s mouth and teeth. Mouth guards protect teeth by causing the energy from a blow to spread out so injuries such as chipped or broken teeth, nerve damage, or tooth loss can be reduced.
What other dental care items are you including on your back to school list?
Read next: Oral Health and Bullying: How Dentists Can Spot Verbal Abuse
If you have a BFF – a “best furry friend,” that is – then you’ve probably noticed the trend in insurance policies for pets. Well, there’s another trend many pet care professionals would love you to adopt: daily preventive dental care for dogs and cats.
The American Pet Products Association estimated that U.S. spending on pet-related expenses topped $55.53 billion in 2013, and nearly a quarter of that amount ($14.21 billion) went toward veterinary care. Both numbers represent spending increases over 2012.
If you have pets, then you’ve probably seen a few pet store and vet bills as well. And like many pet owners, you may be responding to rising costs with a focus on prevention.
Pet dental emergencies are on the rise. Preventing pets from landing in the veterinary ER is a major focal point of National Pet Dental Health Month, which takes place in February. So there’s no better time to draw attention to proper oral care for pets.
However, as the American Veterinary Medical Association (one of the sponsors of the month-long event) reminds pet owners, “While February is National Pet Dental Health Month, dental health should be a daily habit for pet owners all year long.”
Making pet dental care a daily habit
A daily habit? When you think about it, it makes good sense. Like dental care for people, taking care of your pets’ teeth is very important, both for their dental health and for their overall health. Numerous pet health issues have been associated with poor oral health.
But how do you make dog dental care or cat dental care a daily habit? When it comes to establishing a new habit, preparation is key. With that simple but powerful principle in mind, here are some ways you can get prepared to make pet dental care part of your daily routine.
Set a regular time
To get into the habit of taking care of your pet’s teeth every day, choose a time that meets your needs. Plan your pet’s oral care at the time that will be most convenient for you.
If you have to rush off to work in the morning, set aside time in the evening. If mornings are better for you, do it then. Whatever you decide, be sure you set yourself up to succeed.
Plan to devote at least 5 minutes to your pet’s dental routine. It may also help to pick a time when your pet is normally in a more restful frame of mind, such as after a long walk or play session.
Choose a comfortable place
To help you succeed in making dental care a part of your daily routine, choose a comfortable place where you can have your pet’s full attention. If you’ve chosen a regular time, you may already have a specific place in mind. If not, think about a place where you and your pet already spend quiet time together.
If the two of you enjoy snuggling on the couch in front of the TV, that may be the ideal place for daily dental care. In the habit of spending time together on the back porch before coming in from a run? Make that the spot for your dental date each day.
The point is: tap into the good vibe you and your pet already associate with a favorite time and place to make daily dental care an enjoyable part of the time you get to spend together.
Keep it together
Finally, to keep your new habit on track, get organized. You don’t want to spend any extra time getting your supplies together or searching for something that’s missing. Avoid distractions by making a kit of everything you’ll need for your pet’s dental care regimen. Then, keep the kit in the location where it will be used.
Your pet’s daily dental care kit doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy specialty products designed for pets, or you may use simple household items like a bit of gauze instead of a toothbrush or a paste of baking soda and water instead of toothpaste.
Just be aware that there is one thing no pet dental kit should ever contain: human toothpaste. Some ingredients can make cats and dogs sick. To stay on the safe side, never use human dental products for your pet.
Learn more about pet dental care
Just as a daily dental care routine helps to keep you and your family healthy, daily dental care can be a great first step toward protecting your pet’s health. But like oral care for humans, it’s really only a start. To learn more, talk with your veterinarian.
Ask your vet about the specific items your pet dental care kit should contain. And while you’re at it, ask about regular dental checkups, any dental warning signs you should be on the lookout for, and what oral conditions or symptoms should prompt you to call for an appointment right away.
Do you brush your pet’s teeth regularly? What tips can you share?
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Learn about human oral care and dental insurance basics in the Dental Resources section.
Have you run out of a basic oral hygiene product? No problem.
There are a number of fairly common household items that can stand in for your favorite toothpaste or dental floss until you can make it to the store.
Here are a few time-tested tips and tricks for making do with what you (probably) have on hand the next time you run out of dental care basics or – bummer! – your 2 year old accidentally drops your toothbrush into the john.
Oral care without a toothbrush:
- Use your finger: place a dab of toothpaste on your pointer finger and rub all the surfaces of your teeth
- Try a wash cloth: Wrap a terry wash cloth around a fingertip, apply paste, and use the improvised brush to brush as normal
- Chew sugar free gum: Chewing sugar free gum when you can’t brush can help to reduce plaque and prevent cavities
Oral care without toothpaste:
- Do without: use your toothbrush dry or with a little water to brush as you normally would
- Use baking soda or sea salt: dampen the bristles of the toothbrush and dip them into a shallow dish of either baking soda, sea salt or a mixture of both, and go to it – Gently!
- Use coconut oil: place a small amount of coconut oil (which recent studies suggest can help fight tooth decay) on your toothbrush and brush as usual
Oral care without floss:
- Try a toothpick: while a toothpick is certainly not the recommended method for cleaning between teeth, it’s still better than nothing when there’s no floss on hand
- Use a length of sewing thread: gently draw the thread between your teeth as you would with dental floss, but be careful that it does not snap up against the gum too aggressively
- Use a piece of paper: while not really workable for cleaning all your teeth, a piece of paper may help to dislodge articles between front teeth when dental floss or another interdental device is unavailable: careful though – paper can cut
Oral care without mouthwash:
- Make a baking soda or sea salt rinse: add a teaspoon of either baking soda or sea salt to a cup of water, gargle and spit, and then rinse with clean water
- Try vinegar: like salt, vinegar is one of the most ancient of mouthwash ingredients; simply gargle, spit, and rinse
- Raid the liquor cabinet: in a pinch, an alcoholic beverage such as vodka or brandy can be used as an effective oral rinse
Don’t put off replacing basic oral hygiene products
Of course, none of the tips and tricks above are meant to be permanent replacements for dentist-approved oral care products. However, the next time you forget to pack a toothbrush or discover there are only 2 inches of dental floss left, at least you’ll have some ideas to help you get by.
And here’s a final tip – stock up on the items you use, and you’ll never have to try any of the tips in this post.
So, what do you use when you run out of an oral hygiene product?
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It’s estimated that 75% of Americans have some form of periodontal disease, which is the most common cause for adult tooth loss. That’s especially surprising in this day and age, because the means for prevention is well known: regular basic oral hygiene. So, let’s take a few minutes to review…
The top 5 dental care practices for good oral health
A regular, daily oral care routine has been shown to help prevent cavities and periodontal disease. Add to that regular exams and smart choices about longer-term oral health strategies, and you can keep your teeth healthy for your entire lifetime.
With that in mind, here are the top 5 dental hygiene practices you need to follow to protect and preserve your oral health.
1. Brush your teeth, of course, but be sure you do it properly
Basic dental care begins with brushing. To provide the best protection against plaque – the bacteria film that forms on teeth and gums after eating, which degrades the tooth’s enamel – proper brushing technique is key.
Here’s a refresher on how to brush your teeth:
- Use a toothbrush that is right for you: toothbrushes vary in size, bristle strength, and other factors, and you should use one that allows you to reach all your tooth surfaces easily (ask your dentist or oral hygienist if you need help choosing)
- Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride
- Hold the brush against your teeth at a slight angle, and brush gently back and forth with short motions about the width of one tooth
- To brush the inside surfaces of front teeth, use a gentle up-and-down stroke
- Ensure that all the surfaces of your teeth – inner, outer, and chewing surfaces – are well brushed
- Finally, be sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day, and – while you’re at it – be sure to brush your tongue as well, to help remove any remaining bacteria and promote fresh breath
2. Floss between teeth frequently
Flossing your teeth is another important way to maintain oral health. Even after thoroughly brushing your teeth, bacteria that can lead to tooth decay may remain between your teeth. To remove any stubborn bacteria between your teeth and at the gum line, frequent flossing is strongly recommended.
Here are some tips for successful flossing:
- Use about one-and-a-half feet (18”) of floss, wrap it around the pointer or middle fingers of each hand, and insert the floss gently into the crevice between your teeth
- Start at one end of the floss, and move it through your fingers an inch or so each time that you move on to the next tooth, so each tooth crevice gets flossed with a clean, new section
- Gently rub the floss against the tooth and gum line; when you reach the gum line, place the floss in the space between the tooth and gum and press the floss lightly against the tooth while you move the floss up and down
- Work your way from one corner of your mouth all the way around to the beginning again, one tooth crevice at a time, including the back sides of the teeth at the ends of each row
- Explore different varieties of floss, floss holders, or interdental cleaners until you find what feels and works best for you
3. Eat a healthy diet
To maintain optimal oral health, eat a balanced diet with only a moderate amount of sweets or snacks. Whether you choose the Mediterranean diet, the FDA food pyramid, or some other dietary system to follow, the key to good nutrition ultimately comes down to consuming a wide and balanced variety of foods.
When it comes to your teeth, not all foods are created equal.
When it comes to your teeth, though, not all foods are created equal. Sweet, sticky snacks such as preserves, candy bars, and dried fruit, can be a threat to teeth and should be avoided unless it will be possible to brush soon after eating them. Some choices for snacking that are less prone to promote tooth decay include vegetables, nuts, and popcorn.
To learn more about the important role diet plays in oral health, talk to your dentist, oral hygienist, or family doctor.
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4. Visit your dentist and dental hygienist regularly
Now that we’ve covered the three must-do daily regimens for oral health, let’s look at two longer-term strategies for basic dental hygiene. The first of these is regular, professional dental exams and cleanings. To maintain optimal dental health, most dentists and health professionals agree that you should visit the dentist twice yearly for a regular check-up.
Routine teeth cleaning by a professional dental hygienist is an indispensable component of one’s dental health regimen. A dental cleaning, or “prophylaxis,” is the first line defense in the field of preventative dentistry, and as such it is right up there with brushing and flossing in overall importance.
Regular visits to the dentist’s office not only help keep teeth as beautiful as possible: they also help keep teeth as healthy as possible. Your regular visits allow dental professionals to monitor your dental health so they can spot and correct any potential problems as early as possible.
Your dentist or hygienist may also suggest adding personalized elements to your daily oral care routine based on your specific situation. For example, they may suggest rinsing with mouthwash, using toothpaste with a specific ingredient, or taking a fluoride supplement.
5. Plan ahead for good oral health
Finally, planning ahead is an important strategy for maintaining long-term dental health.
Planning ahead for optimal health means knowing what to do in an emergency. Before you find yourself in an emergency dental situation, talk with your family dentist about the best ways to deal with various dental problems that might arise.
If you understand in advance what to do in an emergency – such as a bitten tongue, broken tooth, or impacted wisdom tooth – you might just save a tooth or two.
Planning ahead for optimal health also means having adequate dental insurance coverage. There are a wide variety of dental plans, features, and services available that help people to cover the costs of their dental care needs, from simple checkups to root canals and everything in between.
You can learn all about dental insurance basics, such as deductibles, co-insurance, and premiums, in the dental resources section.
A lifetime of happy, healthy smiles
To keep your teeth in the best possible health, be sure that you understand proper dental hygiene and the other elements of basic dental care. With proper dental hygiene, regular professional care, and the right planning to meet your needs, your teeth can last a lifetime.
Which parts of your oral care routine need a brush up?
Not to freak you out, but a study from the University of Manchester in England found that one uncovered toothbrush stored in a bathroom could be home to more than 100 million bacteria. The same study found the presence of dreaded E. coli bacteria, which is notorious for causing diarrhea, as well as staphylococci bacteria, which can cause skin infections.
So, if our toothbrushes are harboring so much nasty bacteria, how are we supposed to keep our teeth clean?!
Let’s look at the facts, shall we? First of all, the purpose of brushing your teeth is to remove bacteria that cause plaque from our teeth. So, technically speaking, a toothbrush is going to come out of our mouths “dirty.” That’s just good dental hygiene. Further, the mouth is naturally home to millions of microorganisms, anyway, so it’s not like our bodies can’t take a little bacteria. What’s important about this study is that we should be vigilant about our efforts for toothbrush care.
Another fact: brushing your teeth most often occurs in a bathroom. Bathrooms have toilets. Toilets have bacteria (notably E. coli, which can be found in fecal matter). Gross. But there it is. Keep your toothbrush away from the toilet for optimal dental hygiene.
Can you get sick brushing your teeth with a microorganism-infested toothbrush? Probably not. A healthy body’s natural defenses can keep most bacteria at bay.
Yet another fact: If you share your toothbrush with someone else, their bacteria get on your toothbrush. That’s not good dental hygiene, especially if they’re sick or you’re sick or immunocompromised in any way (on chemo therapy, for example). And because sometimes we get sick without showing symptoms right away, sharing a toothbrush is a big no-no. And that means sharing with anyone. Someone else’s bacteria don’t care if a new mouth belongs to your boyfriend or wife or kid. It will likely upset the balance of bacteria in that new mouth, and that’s where trouble begins.
Toothbrush care tips
Keeping the bacteria on your toothbrush under control is not all that hard to do. Here are some toothbrush care tips:
- Change your toothbrush (or electric toothbrush head) every three to four months – more frequently if you or your child are sick. The ADA recommends it for optimal dental hygiene, so you should do it. Period.
- Rinse your toothbrush with water after brushing your teeth. Toothbrush sanitizers currently on the market are acceptable, as well, but not necessarily any better.
- Let your toothbrush dry properly. Avoid using any kind of toothbrush cover or cap after brushing your teeth, which can create a moist bacteria breeding-ground. Just allow the brush to air dry.
- Store your toothbrush upright and “alone.” When you place a toothbrush on a counter top to dry, whatever bacteria lives on that counter could migrate to your toothbrush. Also, keeping multiple toothbrushes in a cup increases the likelihood of their touching, thus swapping germs.
- No sharing. Children and adults should have their own, easily identifiable toothbrushes.
Remember: your teeth need to be brushed. They won’t clean themselves.
It’s important to remember that your teeth need to be brushed. They don’t clean themselves. Good dental hygiene means removing plaque-forming bacteria by brushing your teeth. Follow these few basic toothbrush care guidelines and all you’ll have to worry about is what color your toothbrush is.
Do you have any personal tips or tricks for staying on top of oral hygiene? Leave a comment below to share your insights!
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