By now, you’re probably familiar with the four main steps we need to take to maintain excellent oral health:
- Brush daily
- Floss daily
- Use mouthwash daily
- Visit the dentist twice a year
But, did you know that even someone who regularly does everything on that list can still be doing more harm than good to their teeth and gums?
That’s because the best oral health self-care habits can be undone by common dental mistakes many people make. These mistakes may involve how they carry out these important self-care tasks, or what they do between brushings, flossings, and dental visits.
To help fill those gaps, we’ve developed the following dental health quiz. Take just a few minutes to see what your current knowledge level is, then read on to learn more about identifying and avoiding these common oral health mistakes.
Common oral health mistakes you may be making
If you’ve already taken the quiz, you’ll note the corresponding question numbers referenced below.
Brushing too little
To truly be effective in keeping your mouth clean, it’s important to brush your teeth at least twice each day. (Question #1) And, dentists recommend that, each time you brush, you spend about two minutes. That’s enough to ensure you’re effectively cleaning all the tooth surfaces, but not so much it’s going to do damage to your tooth enamel or irritate your gums. (Question #2)
Brushing too much or too hard
Ironically, it’s also possible to brush too often. (Question #1, 2) Although your teeth are very strong and resilient, brushing them too often with an abrasive toothpaste can cause excessive wear. Likewise, brushing too aggressively, or using a very hard-bristled toothbrush can cause too much wear on teeth. (Question #12)
Both of these bad habits weaken the teeth (by removing their protective outer layer of enamel) and could lead to yellowing of the teeth (because the underlying dentin layer of the teeth is yellow, not white).
Brushing at the wrong times
"Avoid brushing immediately after eating or drinking anything acidic to prevent damage to your tooth enamel."
When you brush is important to your dental health too: if you can only brush twice a day it twice, make sure it’s first thing in the morning and last thing at night. (Question #6) That schedule guarantees you’re protecting your teeth as much as possible from the dangerous bacteria that tend to build up on your teeth overnight. And, as an added bonus, it banishes “morning breath.”
It seems like it would be best to brush your teeth immediately after a meal, or right after a sugary treat, but the opposite is actually true. Right after your teeth are exposed to anything highly acidic, the enamel is slightly softer and more vulnerable to wear and tear than it is at other times. Your saliva resolves this issue naturally within about 20-30 minutes after you eat, so if you’re going to brush after you eat, it’s best to wait at least that long.
Flossing too little
Flossing (when it’s done correctly) can’t hurt your teeth, so it’s smart to floss after every meal and at night before going to bed. The bare minimum that dentists recommend is once per day (preferably before bed). And, many people find the easiest flossing habit to maintain is to just do it every time you brush. (Question #3)
If you do it wrong, however, flossing can be ineffective or even damaging to the teeth and gums. If flossing causes your gums to hurt and bleed, you may be flossing incorrectly. (Question #9) And, you’re likely not doing it often enough. (Question #3)
The correct method for flossing involves gently sliding the floss along the side of each tooth in a C-shape as you move the floss up and down. There’s no value in jamming the floss down into your gum line, yanking it tight against the gums, or moving it back and forth like a wood saw.
Ignoring your tongue
While brushing and flossing your teeth are the mainstays of proper oral hygiene, it’s important to remember that the tongue, palate, gums, and other oral surfaces can all harbor bacteria too. That’s why using a quality antibacterial mouthwash and even a tongue cleaner can only help improve your oral health.
In fact, most dentists recommend using a tongue cleaner and/or brushing your tongue when you brush your teeth. (Question #8)
Misusing your teeth
Teeth are made for biting and chewing food. There’s really no other appropriate reason to use them. Regardless, many people habitually bite their fingernails, hold objects with their teeth, use their teeth in place of tools like pliers and bottle openers, or abuse them in other ways.
While your teeth are impressively strong, they’re not indestructible. Misusing them can result in chipped, cracked, or missing teeth, among other oral health issues. (Question #7)
Discounting the impact of what you eat and drink
While whether or not you practice good oral hygiene is a better indicator of your overall oral health, your diet has a large impact on the health of your teeth and gums, too.
For example, eating and drinking a lot of highly acidic and/or sugary foods can lead to cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss over time. Some of the worst offenders include soda, energy drinks, some alcoholic beverages, and (believe it or not) fruit juices. (Question #5) Candies that are very hard (and stay in the mouth a long time) or very sticky and gooey are also especially bad for the teeth because of how long they “stick around” causing damage.
Beyond limiting or avoiding foods that directly harm your teeth, there are certain foods and nutrients that are especially good for your teeth. Anything that is crunchy without being hard (like carrots, for instance) give your teeth and jaws a good workout and help keep them strong.
It’s also important to your dental health to include adequate calcium, protein, and phosphorus — among other vitamins and minerals — in your diet. These nutrients they help remineralize your tooth enamel, and strengthen the jaw bones.
Finally, one of the most important things you can take in for your oral health is water. Staying hydrated boosts saliva production, which keeps the mouth clean, improves receding gums, helps fight inflammation or infection, and keeps everything lubricated, which is just more comfortable.
Downplaying the need to visit the dentist
With all these excellent self-care tips already included in their routine, some people assume that there’s no reason to visit a dentist regularly. After all, you’re keeping your teeth clean, and nothing hurts. However, that’s a dangerous viewpoint.
Regardless of how well you care for your oral health at home, you’re still going to benefit greatly from a professional cleaning by a dental hygienist. (Question #12) There are places in your mouth that even the most diligent brushing and flossing can either completely miss or not reach effectively enough to clean them properly.
More importantly, your semiannual visit to the dentist allows them the opportunity to thoroughly examine your mouth. It’s during this exam that both oral and systemic health conditions are routinely diagnosed. In fact, in many cases, dentists are able to diagnose serious medical conditions long before you’re aware of them, and before you’d have reason to involve any other health professionals.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that you need to visit the dentist anytime something in or around your mouth is bothering you. Whether it’s unexplained pain, swelling, discomfort, tooth loss, or anything else, don’t ignore a dental health issues or assume it can wait until your next cleaning. (Question #13)
Overestimating what the dentist can do
On the other side of that coin, if you religiously visit the dentist every six months for your semiannual cleaning and exam, but ignore your oral health between visits, their professional help isn’t going to prevent you from facing painful and even dangerous consequences over the long term. (Question #11)
Assuming eventual dental problems are unavoidable
Centuries ago, it was probably a safe bet that you would lose most or all of your teeth to decay, disease, or trauma before heading off to that big dentist’s office in the sky. But today, that’s simply not a foregone conclusion.
No matter how old you are, if you practice excellent oral self-care, routinely visit your dentist for routine cleaning, obtain treatment when necessary, and do your best to avoid these common dental mistakes, you should be able to expect to own a full set of your own natural teeth for your entire life. (Question #4)
Sacrificing quality dental care due to cost
There’s no arguing the fact that the cost of dental care in the United States is at an all-time high. At the same time, access to affordable dental insurance is limited because it’s often viewed as a less important benefit than major medical insurance and most major medical plans don’t automatically include any coverage for dental services for adults (including Medicare).
As a result, many people choose to forego professional dental care because it’s simply too expensive and/or it’s not high enough on their priority list to pay what it would cost to keep up with it. However, there are numerous options that should be kept in mind for obtaining affordable dental care so you and your family can maintain excellent oral health without breaking the bank.
Some popular options include shopping around for the best local price for comparable oral health services, taking advantage of community programs and clinics that may offer dental health services at little or no cost, and investing in a dental discount program, which can make quality care more affordable for the whole family.
So, how did you do on our dental health quiz? Be sure to share it with friends and family so they can learn what not to do for their oral health, too.
Click here to learn how you can save on all of your oral health needs with a dental discount program: