Oral hygiene is the practice of keeping the mouth, teeth, and gums clean and healthy to prevent dental problems by removing plaque and bacteria. It includes brushing the teeth, flossing, cleaning the tongue, and visiting the dentist regularly. Most people should visit the dentist twice a year, though those with an increased risk of oral diseases, such as tobacco users, should visit the dentist more often. It is very important for individuals to follow an oral health regimen at home between visits to the dentist.
Brushing the teeth helps to remove plaque and prevent the formation of tartar. Dental plaque is a sticky film that forms of the teeth and gums, and it contains bacteria that can damage the gums and tooth enamel, leading to gum disease, cavities, and gingivitis. If the plaque is allowed to harden on the teeth, it becomes tartar, which can only be removed by a professional tooth cleaning at the dentist. People should also brush the tongue along with the teeth, as it can harbor bacteria and fungi that can cause dental problems and bad breath.
Regular brushing is an essential part of oral hygiene, but it is not sufficient on its own, as there are areas of the mouth that a regular toothbrush cannot reach. Therefore, flossing is recommended to reach between the teeth and clean all areas of the teeth and gums. Interdental brushes are an alternative to flossing, and some oral health specialists prefer this tool, as it is gentler on the gums. Flossing not only helps clean between the teeth, but also helps to strengthen the gums. In addition to flossing, gum massage with a toothbrush or rubber tip device can help maintain healthy gums.
Another tool that can be used as part of good oral hygiene is an oral irrigator, which uses a stream of water to clean the mouth. While typically used by those who cannot floss, such as people with braces, an oral irrigator can be a useful tool for nearly anyone. It is able to reach deeper under the gumline than either brushing or flossing. Mouthwash and dental chewing gums can also contribute to good hygiene.
Oral hygiene is also affected by lifestyle and diet choices. Smoking and chewing tobacco are both detrimental to oral health. Foods high in sugar, especially sucrose or table sugar, contribute to the formation of cavities, as do other carbohydrates to a lesser extent. Acidic foods such as fruit juices, soda, and vinegar can also damage the tooth enamel and contribute to cavity formation. Foods that are good for the teeth include dairy products, meat, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, green tea, and water.
Maintaining good mouth health has ramifications for the entire body. Problems in the mouth can lead to health problems including cardiovascular disease, bacterial pneumonia, osteoporosis, and complications of diabetes. Women with poor oral hygiene may have children with low birth weight.