The Why, What, and How of Good Oral Hygiene

Proper oral hygiene goes far beyond the scope of having a nice smile, it affects your overall health in many facets. If you neglect your teeth, yeah, they may not be bright white, but you could be opening doors to other health problems like gum disease, tooth decay, infection, altered confidence, and complications in other areas of your body.

Why is Good Oral Hygiene Important?

Teeth are optimally important for eating, drinking, speaking, and facial structure. They aid in digestion, assist you phonetically, and affect your confidence.

1. Digestion

Teeth begin the digestion process by breaking food into smaller pieces that are easier to swallow and break-down. If you are lacking teeth and unable to properly chew your food, you'll likely swallow food that is too large which means your stomach must work harder and create more acid to break it down. This additional acid can create other digestive issues, like reflux and damage to the stomach's lining.

2. Speech

When you speak, your tongue and lips move differently to make phonetic sounds, and if you notice, your teeth are often a part of the process. Make the "th" sound and you'll see your tongue is working with your upper front teeth. Make the "f" sound and you'll see your lips are working with your teeth. When you begin to lose teeth due to poor oral hygiene, making these sounds, and many others, becomes challenging.


3. Confidence

The condition of your teeth will not only affect your body physically but can affect your confidence. People with a healthy smile tend to be more social and confident because they aren't worried about speaking to others or flashing a smile. This could affect someone's social life and professional life. If you're suffering from poor oral hygiene, you may be self-conscious to talk closely with others because bacteria growth or tooth decay has left your mouth with an unpleasant odor. Also, the actual physical act of speaking may be more challenging if teeth have been lost or are severely overcrowded as phonetic sounds aren't as possible to achieve.


What is Good Oral Hygiene?

As quoted directly from Cleveland Clinic,

Oral hygiene is the practice of keeping the mouth clean, and is considered to be the best means of prevention of cavities (dental caries), gingivitis, periodontitis, and other dental disorders. It also helps to prevent bad breath (halitosis).

Proper oral care includes more than simply brushing your teeth. You need to brush two times daily with each session lasting two minutes, floss once daily, and maintain regular dental visits, typically two times per year. Without this, it becomes much harder to maintain proper oral hygiene and you can become susceptible to cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, speech impediments, and lowered confidence. With help from Mayo Clinic, we can dive a bit further into the complications that can arise from poor oral hygiene.

1. Dry Mouth

Mouths are a gateway for bacteria to enter our bodies. Taking proper care of the oral cavity helps prevent the body from being subjected to harmful bacteria we take in. Part of this is saliva production which can be hindered by certain medications. Saliva contributes largely to the first stage of digestion and helps keep your mouth neutral so harmful bacteria cannot build up. If you're noticing a drier mouth and have recently begun taking new medication, chat with your doctor to see if this is a possible side-effect.

2. Further Health Conditions

Here's where things go from bad to worse. Poor oral hygiene is more than just poor dental health: the harmful bacteria that has time to grow in your mouth can then spread through your body. Conditions like heart complications (endocarditis—an infection within the lining of the heart chamber—or cardiovascular disease), pneumonia in your lungs, or birth complications to child-bearing women have all been linked to poor oral health. Practicing good oral hygiene doesn't just impact your smile, it can also ensure that you are healthier overall.

On the flip side, maybe you feel frustrated because you practice positive oral hygiene but are still suffering from oral concerns. It is possible to have an existing health issue that makes you prone to oral troubles: diabetics may be prone to gum disease; someone with osteoporosis (a bone-weakening disease) could face periodontal bone and tooth loss; a person with HIV/AIDS is susceptible to oral lesions; and sufferers of Alzheimer's disease may experience worsening oral conditions.

How to Practice Good Oral Hygiene?

If you start an efficient oral hygiene routine when you're young, it'll be easier to become part of your daily routine to carry throughout life. This includes proper brushing techniques, proper tools, flossing, regular dental visits, and awareness of consumption.

1. Brushing

A quick zip through your mouth doesn't cut it. And explaining that to a young child isn't easy! Luckily, if you have a young one on your hands there are toothbrushes on the market that flash or vibrate after two minutes so they know when they've completed. This two-minute rule applies to everyone! You want to brush thoroughly for two full minutes morning and night. Check out this video from the American Dental Association for how to correctly brush your teeth for those two minutes, or check out our blog on "How to Properly Brush Your Teeth" to learn more. Simply put, you'll want to hold your toothbrush at a 45° angle with your gum line and gently brush back and forth in slow, gentle movements.


2. Tools

Grabbing any ole toothbrush isn't the best idea. What type is best for you can certainly vary from someone else, but typically a soft-bristled, small-head toothbrush works best. If the bristles are too hard, it could be abrasive on the teeth and gums. A toothbrush head that's too large may cause you to miss some of the smaller crevices, and missed areas will lead to unwanted plaque buildup.

There's also the option of manual vs. electric toothbrush. This can come down to preference or dentist recommendation. Check out your options and see what feels best for you.


3. Flossing

It seems easy to want to skip this part because, after all, you just brushed your teeth for two minutes. However, the problem is, food can wedge itself between teeth that your toothbrush isn't able to wiggle out. If the area is not properly taken care of, bacteria will build and can lead to decay between your teeth, not to mention a foul odor that may linger even after brushing. So, floss every day. At night, if you can; otherwise, whenever you're able during the day.

4. Dental Visits

Most typically it's recommended to see your dentist for a cleaning every six months. At your bi-annual cleaning built up plaque will be removed, and some extrinsic staining will be cleaned off. This is when your dentist may notice a cavity developing or other oral issues that should be addressed. Even the best of us get a cavity from time-to-time, so as long as it's appropriately cared for, your oral health should be back on track in no time.

5. Consumption

Coffee, tea, wine, soda, and many other foods and beverages can lead to oral issues you don't love. If you enjoy sugar laden drinks and candy, you may be more susceptible to cavities. Sadly, bacteria loves sugar, too. There's also teeth staining issues that can be stubborn no matter how well you maintain proper oral hygiene. Many beloved beverages and foods contribute to tooth stains. Some on the surface (extrinsic stains) and some that creep further into the tooth (intrinsic stains). Rinsing your mouth, brushing your teeth, or chewing gum after consuming troubling foods and beverages can help keep potential issues at bay. If you're worried about combating teeth staining on the go, consider using a portable teeth whitening pen for quick touch ups after consuming foods or drinks that are known for staining teeth.


Stay Healthy

Keeping your body healthy on the inside and outside will make for a happier you, and practicing good oral hygiene is where it starts. If you feel good, you're more inclined to be social and smile big. You don't want to hide behind your smile, and mouth in general, so maintaining good oral hygiene will benefit your life in many ways. If you have health concerns with your mouth, teeth, and general health, don't hesitate to chat with your dentist or general doctor.