Plaque is a sticky, soft film that builds up on the teeth and contains a variety of bacteria, saliva and food by-products. It plays a central role in the cause of dental decay and gum disease. Careful removal of dental plaque by tooth brushing and interdental cleaning (between the teeth) can prevent or reduce dental decay and gum disease and can be assessed by disclosing tablets. (see separate sections)
Toothbrushing with a medium bristle, small headed toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste is the most effective method of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. An electric brush is also suitable. Toothpaste should be spat out, not swallowed and not rinsed. It is especially important to brush before bed because the flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s own cleaning system, slows down during the night and this leaves the mouth more at risk from decay. Brushing should also be done one other time during the day.
Cleaning between teeth every day with floss, dental woodsticks or an interdental brush is also necessary in reaching the areas the brush can’t access. Older people and people with disabilities may require assistance in maintaining good oral hygiene and plaque control.
Children: Most children have inadequate skilfulness to brush effectively. The use of an electric brush can be a help. An adult needs to assist children with thorough brushing at least once a day until they are seven or eight years of age. The key to brushing is to make it fun and not a chore. Have a routine and try to engage your child.
- Children under 3 should use a smear of toothpaste with at least 1000ppm of fluoride. You can find out the levels on the back of the tube. They must not be allowed to eat or lick toothpaste from the tube.
- Children between 3 and 6 years should use no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing between 1350 ppm – 1500ppm fluoride.
- Spitting out excess toothpaste but do not rinse the mouth.
- Dental care for babies should begin within a few days after birth: right after each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums and inside of the cheeks, roof of the mouth and tongue with a clean damp washcloth or wet gauze pad to remove plaque.
Periodontal (gum) diseases are caused by harmful bacteria and plaque. The mildest form is Gingivitis, (inflammation of the gums), and is the body’s response to plaque building up on the teeth. It is totally preventable with good oral hygiene. Periodontitis, a more advanced stage of the disease that involves the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth, may progress and result in abscesses, mobile teeth and tooth loss. Prevention and control of gingivitis and periodontitis are achieved directly through the removal and disruption of dental plaque by tooth brushing and cleaning between the teeth every day, and professional dental care. Pregnant women with severe periodontal diseases are at about seven times greater risk of giving birth to preterm low birth-weight babies.
Bacteria and dead cells can build up on the surface of the tongue, leading to mouth and general health problems. They can also give rise to bad breath. A tongue cleaner can help clean this area.
A mouth wash is an antiseptic solution used to help in cleaning the mouth. While some of them are effective in reducing gum inflammation, others are no more than glorified breath fresheners. Others contain fluoride which can help guard against tooth decay. They should be used in addition to toothbrushing and flossing, and not instead of. It is the mechanical action of the brush and floss that removes plaque. To gain the benefit of a mouth wash, it should be used at a separate time to brushing. Advice from dentist can help determine which is the best mouth wash for individual cases.
Denture wearers need to ensure they maintain a healthy mouth by protecting any remaining teeth and cleaning dentures to prevent further tooth loss, inflamed gums, or bacterial and fungal infections. Additionally, it is important to have regular dental check-ups to evaluate the soft tissues and to examine the denture for proper fit, comfort, and function.