General Information

In between regular visits to the dentist, there are simple steps that each of us can take to greatly decrease the risk of developing tooth decay, gum disease and other dental problems. These include:

  • Brushing thoroughly twice a day and flossing daily
  • Eating a balanced diet and limiting snacks between meals
  • Using dental products that contain fluoride, including toothpaste
  • Rinsing with a fluoride mouthrinse if your dentist tells you to
  • Making sure that your children under 12 drink fluoridated water or take a fluoride supplement if they live in a non-fluoridated area.

Proper Brushing Technique

Tilt the brush at a 45° angle against the gumline and sweep or roll the brush away from the gumline.
Gently brush the outside, inside and chewing surface of each tooth using short back-and-forth strokes.
Gently brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen breath.

Proper Flossing Technique

Use about 18" of floss, leaving an inch or two to work with.
Gently follow the curves of your teeth.
Be sure to clean beneath the gumline, but avoid snapping the floss on the gums.

Eight Steps To Dental Health

Understand your own oral-health needs.
Commit to a daily oral-health routine.
Use fluoride.
Brush and floss to remove plaque.
Limit snacks, particularly those high in simple sugars, and eat a balanced diet.
If you use tobacco in any form, quit.
Examine your mouth regularly.
Visit the dental office regularly.

Changes in your health status should lead you to your dental office. "For example, pregnant women will have special oral health needs," she explains. "Or, if you start taking a new medication that can dry your mouth [as more than 300 common drugs do], you should ask your dentist or hygienist about how that will affect your mouth."

Commit to a daily oral-health routine.

Based on discussions with your dentist or dental hygienist, come up with an effective oral-health routine that's easy to follow and takes your situation into account. For example, if you are taking medication that dries your mouth, you may want to use fluoride every day. Pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, and people in orthodontic treatment also may want or need special daily care. Use fluoride.

Everyone can benefit from fluoride, not just children. Fluoride strengthens developing teeth in children and helps prevent decay in adults and children. Toothpastes and mouthwashes are good sources of fluoride. Your dentist can prescribe stronger concentrations of fluoride through gels or rinses if you need it. Brush and floss to remove plaque.

Everyone should brush and floss at least once a day, preferably twice or after every meal. These activities remove plaque, which is a complex mass of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth. If plaque isn't removed every day, it can combine with sugars to form acids that lead to decay. Bacterial plaque also causes gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. It's important to brush and floss correctly and thoroughly. Otherwise, some plaque may remain.

Limit snacks, particularly those high in simple sugars, and eat a balanced diet. Every time you eat, particles of food become lodged in and around your teeth, providing fuel for bacteria. The more often you eat and the longer food stays in your mouth, the more time bacteria have to break down sugars and produce acids that begin the decay process. Each time you eat food containing sugars or starches (complex sugars), your teeth are exposed to bacterial acids for 20 minutes or more. If you must snack, brush your teeth or chew sugarless gum afterward.

A balanced diet is also important. Deficiencies in minerals and vitamins can also affect your oral health, as well as your general health.

If you use tobacco in any form, quit.

Smoking or using smokeless tobacco increases your risk for oral cancer, gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth decay. It also contributes to bad breath and stains on your teeth."

Examine your mouth regularly.

Even if you visit your dentist regularly, you are in the best position to notice changes in your mouth. Your dentist sees you only a few times a year, but you can examine your mouth weekly to look for changes that might be of concern. These changes could include swollen gums, chipped teeth, discolored teeth or sores or lesions on your gums, cheeks or tongue. A regular examination is particularly important for tobacco users, who are at increased risk of developing oral cancer. If you smoke or use smokeless tobacco, your dentist or dental hygienist can show you where lesions are most likely to appear.
Visit the dental office regularly.
You and your dentist should talk about the frequency of your visits. Some people need to visit their dentist more frequently than others.

Toothpastes, Toothbrushes And More
Water-Irrigation Devices
Mouthwashes And Fluoride Mouth Rinses

Children only need a small pea-size amount of toothpaste on their toothbrushes. Be sure your child understands that toothpaste is not food. It needs to be spit out, not swallowed.


The type of toothbrush your child uses is important because the wrong kind can be damaging to soft tissues. Regardless of your child's age, his or her toothbrush should have soft nylon bristles. Harder bristles can cause gums to wear away over time. When your child is an infant, the toothbrush should be very small. As he or she grows, select small toothbrushes that can fit easily in the mouth and brush one or two teeth at a time. Your child's toothbrush should be able to reach all the teeth, including the molars in the very back.

Replace toothbrushes about every four months or when they begin to look worn and frayed. If a toothbrush wears out much sooner than three or four months, you or your child may be using too much pressure. It's also a good idea to replace brushes after your child has had a cold or other illness to prevent reinfection.

Powered toothbrushes

are fun and may remove more plaque and stain than regular toothbrushes. That doesn't mean you should run out and buy one. Regular toothbrushes are very effective, too. However, because they make brushing easier, powered toothbrushes can be helpful for special needs children who can't sit still long enough to properly brush their teeth with a regular toothbrush.

Water-Irrigation Devices

These appliances usually are not necessary, but they may benefit some children with braces or other type of orthodontics who need help getting food from between teeth. However, these devices do not remove plaque that is firmly attached to the tooth. That still needs to be done with an old-fashioned toothbrush and toothpaste.

Mouthwashes And Fluoride Mouth Rinses

Mouthwash and fluoride mouth rinse are two different products. Mouthwash freshens breath, but does nothing to clean teeth. Most contain alcohol and are not appropriate for children younger than 6 years old because they can swallow it. If your child suffers from chronic bad breath, he or she should see a doctor. It could be caused by an underlying health problem.

Fluoride mouth rinse coats teeth with fluoride, which helps prevent cavities. You should check with your child's dentist or dental hygienist to determine if your child needs to use a fluoride mouth rinse. It is typically used once or twice a day by children who are cavity prone, even if the child has only one area of decay. Children as young as 7 years old can use this product if they know how to spit out a liquid without swallowing it. You can test your child to see if he or she is ready. Give him or her a half cup of water. Ask your child to put some of the water in his or her mouth, swish it around and spit it out into a second cup. If there is a half cup of water in the second cup when he or she is done, you can feel fairly certain that he or she has the ability to spit the mouth rinse out properly. You still will have to supervise your child to make sure he or she doesn't swallow the mouth rinse.