Dental Health: General Information

Key Facts
  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day and floss regularly to prevent cavities.
  • Eating nutritious foods and not smoking helps to keep your mouth and gums healthy.
  • See your dentist for regular check-ups.
  • Esta guía en Español
  • Young men's version of this guide

girl brushing teeth

Oral health (also known as dental health) is caring for your mouth which includes your teeth, gums, and tongue. Brushing your teeth twice a day is important to keep your teeth clean. Eating, nutritious foods and not smoking also help to keep your mouth and gums healthy.

What can I do to keep my mouth healthy?

  • Gently brush the inside and outside surfaces of your teeth at least twice a day. It’s best to brush after every meal and before you go to sleep. If it isn’t convenient to brush your teeth after every meal, try chewing sugar-free gum to help keep your teeth clean.
  • Eat healthy foods from all the different food groups—Be sure to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Poor nutrition can cause puffy or inflamed gums.
  • Avoid piercing areas of your mouth (tongue, lips, etc.). Oral piercings of the tongue, lip, etc. can cause; infections, bleeding, and nerve damage in the mouth. They can also damage tooth enamel or break teeth.
  • Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco. Smoking and chewing tobacco can stain your teeth and gums and add to the tartar build-up on your teeth. Chewing tobacco can get stuck in between your teeth and can cause swelling of the gums, irritation, and bad breath. Anyone who smokes or chews tobacco is at risk for getting oral cancer.
  • Limit sugary and sticky food such as Fruit Snacks®, raisins, lollipops, and other candy. Sugary and sticky foods can get stuck in between your teeth, which can lead to cavities.

How often do I need to change my toothbrush?

Toothbrushes are effective in removing plaque from your teeth and gums. You should change your tooth brush about every three months or sooner if you are sick with the flu, cold, or mouth infection.

Most teens know that brushing and flossing their teeth everyday can help prevent cavities, but did you know that brushing too hard actually wears away the surface of your teeth and can damage tooth enamel? Keep reading to learn more about dental health and why it’s important to take good care of your teeth and gums.

Why is it important to brush my teeth?

Brushing and flossing gets rid of plaque, which is the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease.

What are plaque and tartar?

Plaque is the breakdown of food that coats teeth. If the plaque isn’t removed every day with brushing, it can harden and turn into tartar. Tartar, a hard crusty deposit that forms on teeth, is much harder to remove than plaque, but can be removed at dental visits. If tartar isn’t removed, it can cause gum disease.

How often should I brush my teeth?

You should brush your teeth at least twice a day for at least 2 minutes; once after breakfast and again before you go to sleep at night. Brushing after each meal is best.

How should I brush my teeth?

You can use a watch with a second hand to help you get in the habit of brushing your teeth for a full 2 minutes (each time you brush). Don’t forget to brush all of your back teeth and gum lines.

  • Use a soft bristled toothbrush (regular or battery operated).
  • Brush gently. Brushing too hard wears away the tooth surface.
  • Brush the inside and outside surfaces of your teeth.
  • Brush the areas over your gum line where your teeth meet the gums.
  • Don’t forget to brush your tongue daily too! This will remove caked on food, bacteria and help keep your breath fresh!

What causes bad breath?

Bad breath happens when food gets trapped between your teeth. When the food breaks down it releases bacteria. It is the bacteria that has a bad odor and causes bad breath. Other possible causes of bad breath are smoking and certain digestive issues.

Why is flossing important?

Flossing daily is just as important as brushing your teeth. In fact, flossing removes plaque under your gum line and between your teeth that your toothbrush cannot reach. Here are some reasons why flossing is important.

  • Flossing helps get rid of bad breath.
  • Flossing removes food particles between teeth that brushing cannot remove.
  • Flossing helps prevent cavities and gum disease by removing plaque.

Is there anything I can do to prevent bad breath?

Most teens don’t know that using mints and mouthwash is only a temporary fix to control bad breath. Rinsing your mouth with water after you brush and floss can actually be more effective. In most cases, bad breath can be improved just by working on your dental hygiene and not smoking.

  • Brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes twice a day; after breakfast and before bed.
  • Floss every day.
  • Brush your tongue. This will remove most of the bacteria that causes bad breath.
  • Don’t smoke or chew tobacco. Smoking causes bad breath and may lead to gum disease. Smoking and chewing tobacco also puts you at risk for getting oral cancer.
  • If you can’t brush right after a meal, chewing sugarless gum can help to clear away food left behind after eating.
Remember these important tips and visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings every 6 months.

What are cavities?

Another word for a dental “cavity” is “caries”. A cavity is a hole in a tooth that is caused by tooth decay. Any of the following can affect whether or not you will develop a cavity:

  • Lifestyle (i.e smoking)
  • Dental Hygiene
  • Eating Habits
  • Fluoride in water and toothpaste
  • Certain medicines can cause dry mouth which makes decay formation and bad breath more likely

To understand how a tooth decays, let’s find out what is naturally in your mouth.

Saliva—keeps teeth and oral tissue moist, washes away food particles left behind when we eat, and protects against viruses and bacteria.

Plaque—is a soft gooey substance, a mixture of bacteria, food debris, white blood cells, and body tissue, that grows when bacteria sticks to teeth. Plaque is removed with brushing but begins to form again right after you brush your teeth.

Tartar—forms when plaque absorbs calcium and minerals from the saliva in your mouth. These minerals form crystals which cause plaque to harden and become “tartar”.

Bacteria—(some bacteria) actually help control destructive bacteria. Bacteria that cause tooth decay can do a lot of damage by making acids that wears away tooth enamel.

How does a cavity form?

The sugar in all carbohydrates (example: potato chips, bananas, pretzels), specifically sweet foods (cookies and soft drinks) react with the bacteria in your mouth. This reaction produces acid. This acid causes the mineral crystals to dissolve the tooth enamel, the outer protective layer of your tooth. Sticky food that is left on the teeth after brushing doesn’t get flushed away by the mouth’s natural cleansing mechanism (saliva), and thus cavities can easily form.

A cavity does not form unless tooth decay breaks through the outer protective layer (the enamel) of the tooth. The good news is you can prevent cavities from forming!

How do I know if I have a cavity?

Cavities are usually found on the chewing surfaces of your teeth, and between your teeth and near the gum line. If a cavity develops below the surface of a tooth, you won’t necessarily be able to see it. Dental x-rays will help your dentist detect these type of cavities. However, if a cavity forms on the biting surface of a tooth, it may look brown or blackish. Just because a tooth doesn’t hurt doesn’t mean that it’s not decayed. Sometimes the biggest cavities are completely painless. If you don’t see a dentist and get treated, a cavity can:

  • Destroy your tooth
  • Kill delicate nerves that are in the roots of your teeth
  • Cause an abscess or an infection of the nerve of your tooth

Your dentist can tell if you have any cavities with:

Regular check-ups: Using a metal instrument called an “explorer” your dentist will check your teeth for soft spots. A tooth with tooth decay is usually softer than a tooth without decay. Healthy tooth enamel is hard.

Cavity-dye detection: Your dentist uses an instrument that has a tip like a small toothbrush that brushes special non-toxic dye over your teeth. The dye can highlight areas of tooth decay.

X-rays: These special photos can show tooth decay that does not show on the surface of a tooth.

If your dentist finds that you have tooth decay, you will need to have a filling.

Getting a filling:

  1. The area where the cavity is located will be numbed with a gel, special numbing liquid or both.
  2. After your tooth and the area around it is numb (you won’t feel anything), the tooth decay will be removed with dental instruments and space will be made for a filling to replace what was removed. Lastly, your dentist will put special material (a filling) into the space that was created to seal the tooth and protect the nerves of your tooth.

Does getting a filling hurt?

Getting a filling shouldn’t hurt because your tooth and area around the tooth will not have any feeling (because of the numbing medicine). If the numbing medicine is given as a shot, you will feel a mild sting for a couple of seconds as the medicine goes into the gum area around the tooth. You will likely feel some pressure when your dentist is working in your mouth, but you shouldn’t feel any pain. If you do, tell your dentist!

Will my mouth hurt after the filling?

Some people are sensitive to air, cold or hot drinks, and/or sugary foods for a couple of days after having dental work but the sensitivity shouldn’t last any more than 1-2 weeks. Be sure to tell your dentist if your mouth doesn’t feel right.

How can I help prevent cavities?

  • Use fluoride toothpaste everyday—Fluoride toothpaste keeps your teeth strong and healthy.
  • Get sealants from your dentist—Sealant is a protective coating placed over the top of the teeth you use to chew with (premolars and molars). It works by preventing bacteria and acids from sticking to the chewing surfaces of your teeth.
  • Brush Regularly and Floss Daily—it gets rid of the bacteria in your mouth.
  • Use a daily fluoride rinse such as ACT®.
  • Avoid sugary and sticky foods which can lead to cavities.