Taking care of your teeth

Good oral health is very important for your general health and well-being. Daily care of your teeth and gums, along with a healthy diet and regular visits to your dental practice, will keep your smile in top condition. It can also avoid the pain and cost of decay.

Key points about caring for your teeth

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or inter-dental brushes.
  3. Reduce your intake of sugary food and drinks.
  4. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  5. Quit smoking – it’s bad for teeth and gums as well as for your health more generally.
  6. Visit your dentist at least once a year.

Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How often should I brush my teeth?

It’s really important to brush your teeth twice a day. Choose a soft toothbrush that fits your mouth, so you can reach to the back of the last molar easily.

An electric toothbrush can be a great alternative to a manual toothbrush for children, people with disabilities, older adults and people with other conditions like arthritis that make it difficult to brush well.

Use the following tips to make your brushing more effective.

  • Use a fluoride toothpaste, which helps to protect teeth from decay.
  • Start in the same part of your mouth every time and follow the same pattern – that way you are less likely to miss anything.
  • When brushing the outside and inside surfaces of your teeth, hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, pointing towards the gums.
  • Brush each tooth individually, with a short back and forward stroke.
  • Brush the biting surface of your teeth as well – food can get stuck in the ridges and cause dental decay.
  • Use the tip of your toothbrush to clean the inside of your front teeth (incisors).
  • Brush your teeth for at least two minutes – if you finish sooner, go back and start again!

Why do I need to floss my teeth?

As well as brushing your teeth twice daily, it’s important to floss, or use an interdental brush, to clean between your teeth once a day. This is the only way to get between the teeth to dislodge food and remove the bacteria that can lead to tooth decay, inflammation of the gums and gum disease. Flossing might also help prevent bad breath from having decaying food between your teeth.

Use the following tips to floss effectively:

  • Floss between your teeth preferably once daily, or at least 3 times a week, after brushing.
  • Use a length of about 45cm of floss and wind each end around a finger on your left and right hands.
  • Keep the floss taut between the fingers and gently guide it between the first pair of teeth – be careful not to cut down into the gum.
  • Follow the curve of the tooth below the gum line, between the gum and the tooth.
  • Slide the floss up and down the tooth and then back up, and down the side of the adjacent tooth.
  • Repeat this for every tooth, including the back surface of your last molar.
  • As you move from 1 tooth to the next, take up the used floss with 1 finger, winding clean floss off the other finger.
  • Once you've finished, throw the floss away.

Be careful not to floss too vigorously as you can harm your gums.

Interdental brushes look like small bottle brushes. They can be used to clean between teeth if there are larger gaps between them and they're also useful for cleaning under braces. Gently push the brush end through the gap 5–6 times to remove food and plaque – the sticky film of bacteria that coats your teeth and makes them feel fuzzy. Interdental brushes are available from your pharmacist or dentist.

Do I need to use mouthwash?

If you brush your teeth well twice daily and floss daily, mouthwash may not be necessary. However, your dentist might recommend it short-term for a variety of conditions like halitosis (bad breath), mouth ulcers or after oral surgery.

What if I wear dentures?

If you wear dentures (false teeth) make sure you thoroughly clean your dentures daily and soak them overnight in denture cleaner.

What foods should I eat for healthy teeth and gums?

What we eat affects our teeth so to keep your teeth healthy

  • reduce how much and how often you have sugary food and drinks
  • have a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, wholegrain starchy food and food that is low in sugars and fat
  • choose healthy food for snacks instead of sweet food and drinks
  • have a glass of water after eating and drink plenty of water at other times to help keep cavity-forming bacteria and acids at bay.

What else can I do for good oral care?

Chew sugar-free gum

Chewing sugar-free gum encourages the production of saliva. Saliva is important because it neutralises acid levels in your mouth (acid can promote tooth decay), it has antibacterial properties and it helps wash food debris away.

Stop smoking

Smoking can seriously affect your oral health and puts you at higher risk of developing mouth cancer and gum disease. 

Visit your dentist or dental hygienist regularly

A once-yearly visit to your hygienist or dentist to have your teeth checked and cleaned will help to ensure you maintain healthy teeth and gums. Your dentist will advise you about how often you should return for a check up.

You know you have good oral health when:

  • your gums are pink and do not hurt or bleed when you floss or brush
  • you have clean teeth that do not feel ‘furry’ and have no food between them
  • you do not have a problem with ongoing bad breath.

Remember: If you are in any doubt about your mouth or how to take care of your teeth, see your dentist. 

Learn more

Older people oral health Healthy Smiles, NZ Dental Association
Videos on how to brush your teeth Access Dental, NZ
Why should I use dental floss? NHS, UK
Why should I use interdental brushes? NHS, UK
Your oral health NZ Dental Association

References

Mouthwash Dermnet, NZ, 2016
Smoking and oral health Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
Teeth and gums Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
Flossing and inter-dental brushes Ministry of Health, NZ, 2019
 

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.