Dental care at home is an important part of oral health, in addition to regular dental examinations and visits to a dental hygienist.
Every day, a mass of bacteria, or plaque, accumulates on surfaces of the teeth. The bacteria in the mouth cause tooth decay and gingivitis. Regular toothbrushing reduces the amount of the bacterial mass. That is why it essential to brush your teeth every morning and evening using fluoride toothpaste.
Brushing the teeth
The teeth should be brushed thoroughly twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. You should brush your teeth carefully for about two minutes. It is a good idea to go about it methodically, always in the same order; e.g. one jaw half at a time. The important thing is to clean every tooth and all tooth surfaces.
In order to remove plaque, the teeth should be brushed in a back and forth jerking motion. However, it is not advisable to brush the teeth immediately after having acidic foods or drinks, in order to avoid damage to the enamel.
Choice of toothbrush
There are many different toothbrushes with many features on the market. It is important to find a suitable brush for your mouth, which is pleasant to use on a daily basis. A good toothbrush is small and has soft bristles. With a small brush you can clean the areas that are difficult to reach. When brushing your teeth, do not apply excessive force in order not to damage the gums. Soft bristles will not cause the gums to recede. You should replace your toothbrush every three months.
Manufacturers also offer a wide range of electric toothbrushes with different price labels. In an electric toothbrush, the bristle part makes rapid back and forth motions, cleaning the tooth surface and gumline. Brushing the teeth is thus easier, as the bristles carry out the cleaning automatically. Often, the electric toothbrush gives a better result than an ordinary toothbrush. An electric toothbrush is particularly useful for people with impaired motor skills.
Cleaning between the teeth
A toothbrush cannot reach between the teeth, where plaque and particles of food accumulate. As cleaning between the teeth is difficult, tooth decay often starts there. There are several tools for cleaning between the teeth such as dental floss, toothpicks and different interdental brushes.
Very narrow interdental spaces are best cleaned with dental floss. Dental floss comes in various thicknesses, strengths and materials. There are also handy floss picks, or flossers, which make flossing easier. Floss is guided between two teeth and moved back and forth against the side surfaces of both teeth, removing plaque.
If the gap between teeth is wider, it is advisable to use toothpicks or an interdental brush. When using toothpicks, the broad face of the toothpick is placed against the gum. Interdental brushes are like miniature bottle brushes, available in different sizes. Interdental brushes are often used in the treatment of gum diseases.
Interdental cleaning should be performed every day, but at least a few days a week.
Effect of fluoride toothpaste
Fluoride hardens the minerals on the surface of the enamel, strengthening the tooth. The surface hardened by fluoride is even harder than the original enamel. The use of fluoride can even stop the onset of enamel surface damage. Fluoride is found in fluoride toothpaste, fluoride tablets and fluoride varnish used by dentists. In certain areas in Finland, drinking water also contains fluoride. Teeth should be brushed twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. You may also want to use fluoride dental floss so that the fluoride reaches the interdental spaces.
However, excessive fluoride intake is harmful, especially in children. Too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis and even fluoride poisoning. On little children’s teeth, just a tiny dollop (the size of the child’s little finger’s fingernail) of toothpaste should be used.
Brushing children’s teeth
Brushing a child’s teeth should be started as soon as the first teeth erupt, usually at the age of about six months. The use of fluoride toothpaste can be started at the same time.
Choosing toothpaste for a child
For children under three years of age, use a smear of fluoride toothpaste containing 1,000–1,100 ppm fluoride once a day.
According to current recommendation, fluoride toothpaste should be used only once a day for children under three in order to protect small children’s teeth from dental fluorosis. For children under three, the second brushing of the day should be performed either without toothpaste or with non-fluoride toothpaste.
The teeth of children between the ages of 3–5 should be brushed twice a day using a dollop of toothpaste the size of the child’s little finger’s fingernail (fluoride content 1,000–1,100 ppm).
From the age of six, the teeth should be brushed twice a day using a 0.5–2 cm dollop of toothpaste with a fluoride content of 1,450 ppm (toothpaste for adults). However, not all adult toothpastes are suitable for children. Whitening or anti-tartar toothpastes, for instance, should not be used.
Even if a child already knows how to brush his or her teeth, it is important that parents supervise and help the child with the dispensing of toothpaste and the brushing.