Top oral health mistakes and how to correct them


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Ever fall into bed at night and realize you forgot to brush your teeth? While it may be easy to forget this step now and then, it can catch up with us. We spoke with Nicole V. Pakus, RDH, a registered dental hygienist at Stow Family Dentist in Stow, Massachusetts, to learn more about the most common mistakes when it comes to our oral health. Use these tips to help make your oral health a top priority.


What is the No. 1 mistake we make with our oral health? How can we correct it?

People rush around in the morning, brushing their teeth typically for a quick minute, or not brushing their teeth at all before bed because they are too tired. We recommend brushing for two full minutes to be able to brush all surfaces of the teeth properly and along the gum line to properly remove as much plaque, bacteria and food debris as you can.  

I suggest my patients brush their teeth while multitasking. Walk around the house while brushing your teeth in the morning and after dinner. You will find that you brush your teeth a lot longer, covering all surfaces, versus standing in front of your bathroom mirror staring at yourself.


We always hear that forgetting to floss regularly is bad. How often should we floss, and what happens when we don’t?

We recommend flossing at least twice a day, like brushing. However, everyone is usually in a rush in the morning, so I always recommend to try to floss at night when you have more available time to remove all of the plaque, bacteria and food debris between your teeth from the day. If the plaque, bacteria and food is not removed, it can cause tooth decay, periodontal issues and in some cases lead to tooth mobility. Floss is less expensive and less painful than a tooth restoration.


How can we make flossing more top-of-mind?

People forget to floss or say it takes too long. If floss tape or flossers are hidden in a drawer, we forget to use them. We remember to brush our teeth due to the plaque buildup we can feel on our teeth or the halitosis (bad breath) we experience when we wake up. But people often floss only when they feel something stuck in between their teeth. Having the floss visible on the bathroom counter reminds us to use it regularly. Keep it accessible. Perhaps keep it in your car to floss at a stop light, or put it next to your bed stand, or do it while watching TV. Just remember to throw out that dirty floss tape and don’t have it lying around!


So is floss tape better than the individual flossers?

Flossers are great, however they do not wrap around the tooth below the gum line as the regular tape floss does. Remember to always hug the floss around your tooth before proceeding below the gum line to eliminate any irritation or harm to the gums.


Is mouthwash necessary? Why or why not?

If you experience periodontal issues such as gingivitis or periodontal disease, antimicrobial rinses can help assist with attacking bacteria that may be causing harm to your gums. However, proper mechanical use of the toothbrush is the key component. You want to make sure that you are adapting the toothbrush bristles to your tooth surface properly. I recommend using the full two minutes to properly move the bristles along the gum line, turning the bristles in between your teeth, capturing all plaque buildup along the entire tooth surface. First brush, floss and then use an alcohol-free mouth rinse. Mouth rinses with alcohol can cause gingival dryness and irritate the gums.


What foods cause issues with our oral health? Are there any to avoid or eat sparingly?

Processed foods can cause harm to our entire body, including causing tooth decay. I advise my patients to limit their consumption of processed foods, including snacks that are high in sugar. If you’re craving sweets, grab some fruit instead. Apples stimulate our saliva to wash away harmful bacteria and assist in plaque removal. Ever eat an apple and your mouth feels clean afterwards? An apple a day keeps the cavities away!

If you are craving candy, go for dark chocolate. Sticky sugary candy such as gummies cause a high rate of tooth decay. Also when choosing your vitamin, steer clear of the daily gummy vitamin. The sticky component can stick to the tooth surface in the deep grooves of your teeth and in between your teeth, eventually in some cases causing tooth decay.


Which drinks are harmful? Is it important to drink less coffee/tea/red wine because they can cause discoloration?

I always advise my patients to limit their consumption of sodas, juices, and avoid adding sugars or artificial sweeteners to their cup of coffee or tea. These commonly cause tooth decay, especially in children and teens. I recommend diluting the juices with water and switching to a seltzer to replace soda.

I would never advise a patient to quit coffee or tea entirely, but drink it in moderation with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Research has shown that some black coffee beans have antibacterial properties, and green and black teas have also shown to be beneficial to oral health providing natural antioxidant compounds.

While coffee, tea and red wine can cause staining to the teeth, proper mechanical use of the toothbrush and toothpaste can decrease, sometimes even eliminate, stain buildup. I have seen results with my patients in terms of reducing stain buildup with Arm & Hammer toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide.


What are other common mistakes people make concerning the health of our teeth and gums?

Brushing too aggressively. If the toothbrush bristles on your toothbrush flair out, you are an aggressive brusher. Some patients assume that brushing aggressively will assist in eliminating the plaque buildup. However, aggressive brushing commonly leads to gingival recession. Gingival (gum) recession is when the gums recede and the root surface of the tooth is exposed. Sensitivity is a common symptom when the root surface is exposed. People will experience sensitivity to the root surface due to gingival recession when cold liquids, air and/or brushing are exposed to the root surface. The sensitivity occurs because along our root surfaces we have microscopic holes called dentinal tubules. When those holes are exposed to cold liquids, air or tactile functions, it reacts to the nerve branch that connects to the tooth’s pulp causing the discomforting sensitivity patients often experience.

I recommend my patients always use an extra soft or sensitive head toothbrush. If patients have been diagnosed with gum recession, we also recommend the daily use of a gum stimulator and highly recommend the use of a powered toothbrush to provide blood stimulation and a massaging technique to stabilize the current recession.


Bonus tip!

Pakus recommends brushing your tongue in addition to your teeth. “Some of the things we drink and eat can coat the tongue and transfer to our teeth, adding to plaque and stain buildup.” So don’t forget to brush your tongue, too!