Brushing and Flossing
It is now generally accepted practice to brush your teeth twice a day for the prevention of decay. Sure, the hygienist may lecture you about flossing, but it’s so cumbersome and time-consuming, and besides, what’s the big deal anyways, right?
Well, your daily routine of brushing (twice) and flossing (once) is designed to clear away food debris and plaque from around your tooth and gumline. Food particles attract bacteria, which grow and stick together to form plaque, that yellowish sticky “goo” that holds onto your teeth. These bacteria feed on the carbohydrates in your foods and excrete acid as a waste product, which can dissolve tooth structure and begin the formation of cavities. Plaque will also activate your immune system, which try and kill the bacteria, causing gingivitis (inflammation of gum tissue). If you aren’t removing all of the plaque from around your teeth, not only can you get cavities forming, but long-term gingivitis will actually eat away at the gums and underlying bone that supports your roots, so that over years, you will lose the anchorage of your teeth, causing them to loosen and eventually fall out.
Now, what does flossing do? Brushing will clean the tooth on three sides, the top, and the sides that face the cheek and face the tongue. Flossing cleans the two sides of the tooth that touch the teeth next to it. So, if you’re not flossing, you might not be cleaning up to two of the five sides of your tooth!
Your daily routine will be the single most important factor in preventing tooth decay and gum disease. But regular dental cleanings and check-ups are a close second. Most patients go away from the cleaning feeling, well, clean, in their mouth, but it serves more than that. The dentist will check all the surfaces of your mouth, looking for signs of disease, such as oral cancer, as well as checking the teeth for small cavities which will be more conservative to repair and ultimately result in longer lasting teeth. The hygienist cleans any build-up of tartar that can also lead to cavities and gum disease. What is tartar you say? Well, good question. Tartar is essentially calcified plaque. Any remnants of plaque that stays on your teeth for long periods of time will become calcified, as they become infiltrated by dissolved minerals in your saliva. Once calcified, brushing and flossing will not remove tartar, which must be scraped off your teeth by stronger, sharper instruments, a technique best left to experts!
Many patients ask me if they really need to come every 6 months for cleanings. The answer is…depends! Depends on the status of your mouth. Is this your first time in a dental office? Then we’ll most likely see you in 3 months or less! On the other hand, are you perennially coming up with clean checks with immaculate gums? Then we probably won’t need to see you for 9 months or more! The important point here is that each case is individualized to suit the needs of the patient. Some patients like coming in every 3 or 4 months even if they have a clean mouth, and there is nothing wrong with that.