Oral Hygiene

Why is oral hygiene so important?

Adults over 35 lose more teeth to gum disease (periodontal disease) than as a result of cavities. Three out of four adults are affected by periodontal disease at some time in their life. The best way to prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay is by effective tooth brushing and flossing, performed daily.

Periodontal disease and decay are both caused by bacterial plaque. Plaque is a colorless film which adheres to your teeth. Plaque is constantly forming on your teeth. By thorough daily brushing and flossing you can remove plaque and keep your mouth healthy.

How to Brush

While brushing the outside surfaces of your teeth, position the brush at a 45-degree angle where your gums and teeth meet. Gently move the brush in a circular motion several times using small, gentle strokes. Use light pressure while placing the bristles between the teeth, and gums, not so much pressure that you feel discomfort. When you have finished brushing the outside surfaces of all your teeth, follow the same process while cleaning the inside of the back teeth.

To clean the inside surfaces of the upper and lower front teeth, hold the brush vertically. Make several gentle back-and-forth strokes over each tooth. Don’t forget to gently brush the surrounding gum tissue.

Next, clean the biting surfaces of your teeth by using short, gentle strokes. Change the position of the brush as often as necessary to reach and clean all surfaces. Try to watch yourself in the mirror to make sure you clean each surface. After you complete brushing, rinse vigorously to remove any plaque you might have loosened while brushing. If you have any pain while brushing or have any questions about how to brush properly, please be sure to call our office.

How to Floss

Periodontal disease usually begins between the teeth, where your toothbrush cannot reach. Flossing is a very effective way to remove plaque from those surfaces. However, it is important to develop the proper technique. The following instructions will help you, but remember it takes time and practice.

Start with a piece of floss (waxed or unwaxed, whatever your preference) about 18″ long. Lightly wrap most of the floss around the middle finger of one hand. Wrap the rest of the floss around the middle finger of the other hand.

To clean the upper teeth, hold the floss tightly between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Gently insert the floss tightly between the teeth using a back-and-forth motion. Do not force the floss or try to snap it in to place. Bring the floss to the gum line then curve it into a C-shape against one tooth. Slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth until you feel light resistance. Move the floss up and down on the side of one tooth. Repeat this process against the other tooth, remember there are two tooth surfaces that need to be cleaned in each space. Continue to floss each side of all the upper teeth. Be careful not to cut the gum tissue between the teeth. As the floss becomes soiled, turn it from one finger to the other to get a fresh section of the floss.

To clean between the bottom teeth, guide the floss using the forefinger of both hands. Do not forget the back portion of the last tooth on both sides, upper and lower.

When you have flossed all of your teeth, rinse vigorously with water to remove the plaque and food particles that flossing has dislodged. Do not be alarmed if during the first week of flossing your gums bleed or are a little sore. If your gums hurt while flossing you could be doing it too aggressively or may be pinching the gum. As you floss daily and remove the plaque, your gums will heal and the bleeding should stop.

Caring for Sensitive Teeth

Sometimes after dental treatment, teeth are sensitive to hot and cold. This should not last long, but only if the mouth is kept clean and plaque-free. If the mouth is not kept clean, the sensitivity will remain and could become more severe. If your teeth are especially sensitive, consult with Dr. Torres-Melendez and Dr. Spatz. They may recommend a medicated toothpaste or mouth rinse made especially for sensitive teeth.

Choosing Oral Hygiene Products

There are so many products competing for their market share that it can become confusing and difficult to choose between all the offerings. Following are some suggestions for selecting dental care products that will work better for you:

  • Automatic or electronic toothbrushes are safe and effective for the majority of the patients but remember that it is the human hand that determines the position of the brush against the teeth. It is important to pay close attention while brushing your teeth.
  • Oral irrigators (water spraying devices) will remove food particles, but will not remove plaque. In some instances “water picks” may cause injury to your gums. It is important to  brush and floss in conjunction with using the irrigator.
  • Some devices have a rubber tip that can be used to massage the gums after brushing. Ask us if such a device is something that may be added to your oral hygiene routine.
  • Small interdental brushes clean between your teeth. Drs. Torres-Melendez and Spatz are very enthusiastic about these little implements but if used improperly you could cause injury to the gums. Please ask us for instructions on the use of these accessories.
  • Fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses, if used in conjunction with brushing and flossing, can reduce tooth decay by as much as 40 percent. Remember, these rinses are not recommended for children under six years of age. Tartar-control toothpastes will decrease the formation of calculus (tartar) above the gum line, but gum disease begins below the gum line.  These products have not been proven to control the early stages of periodontal disease.
  • Anti-plaque rinses, approved by the American Dental Association, contain agents that may help control early periodontal disease. These mouthrinses can be used in  conjunction with brushing and flossing.


Good nutrition plays a large role in your dental health. Brushing and flossing help keep your teeth and gums healthy and strong. However, a balanced diet will help to boost your body’s immune system, leaving you less vulnerable to oral disease.

What you eat and how often you eat, have been found to affect your dental health. Eating starchy foods such as crackers, bread, cookies, and candy allows the bacteria in your mouth to multiply.  Bacteria produce acids which attack your teeth for 20 minutes or longer. Foods that stick to your teeth or are slow to dissolve give the acids more time to work on destroying your tooth enamel.

Sticky/slow to dissolve foods:

  • granola bars
  • chewy fruit snacks
  • dried fruit
  • potato chips
  • hard candy

Starchy foods:

  • crackers
  • breads
  • cookies
  • candy

Sticky and starchy foods create less acid when eaten as part of a meal. Saliva production increases at mealtime, rinsing away food particles and neutralizing harmful acids. Foods such as nuts, cheese, onions, and some teas have been shown to slow growth of decay-causing bacteria in the mouth.