An Introduction to Oral Hygiene

by Tabt

Are you just going through the motions? We all know we should be brushing for at least two minutes, yet the average adult spends just 42 seconds cleaning their teeth.

I used to be the same, a dab of toothpaste and a quick scrub of my gnashers in the shower, maybe even nick some of my mum's mouthwash if I was off on a hot date. Flossing was something only Julia Roberts did in Pretty Woman.

Now I do it all, brushes, mouthwash and yes, even flossing. When this came out in the pub the other day my friends laughed and called me "obsessive". They do it because they don't understand. It turns out they aren't the only ones. Everywhere I go as soon as people find out my profession I get bombarded with questions. "What's the best toothpaste for sensitivity" or "Why do my teeth ache in the morning" or "I've got a root treatment tomorrow, Will it hurt?" Its statistically unlikely that I've happened upon the only people who don't understand and want to know more about their teeth.

I've been a dental nurse for 4 years, I don't know everything there is to know about teeth, not by a long shot, I'll leave that to the dentist. One of the things I'm trained in is communication. What I do know is how to translate the dental profession's technical mumbo jumbo into what is hopefully understandable information.

Why is Good Oral Hygiene so Important?

We visit our GP's when we have a problem, our body lets us know. Our teeth usually only get in contact when its too late, thats why we should visit the dentist regularly.

Your mouth is part of your body, its easy to forget this when you aren't troubled by pain or discomfort. The bacteria in the mouth, if left to its own devices, can cause inflammation and decay. Gum disease is connected with bowel cancer, heart disease, diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke and even has some links to premature pregnancy outcomes. Your mouth is one part of a biological machine, it stands to reason that if you don't look after your oral hygiene then it will be detrimental to the rest of your 'machine'.


Confidence is also a major reason, stained teeth and smelly breath are enough to make anyone feel self conscious. Replace that with clean teeth and fresh breath and you'll be smiling at everyone, grinning away, making you appear happier, healthier and even younger to boot.


Time and money are a third factor, if you visit the dentist and hygienist regularly and keep up your dental regime at home then you are less likely to need large amounts of dental treatment. Think of it in terms of gardening, the dentist is like a landscaper, they go in and do all the major refurbishments and create a stable environment, then you have to do the general maintenance and the 'weeding' for yourself.  An extra minute in the bathroom before bed, flossing, is by far preferable to an hour and a half in the dental chair having a root canal treatment. 

Plaque and Tartar

What are they and what do they mean for my teeth?

Plaque is a film of bacteria and saliva that sticks to your teeth, it collects along the gum margins and  in between the teeth. Toxins in plaque can cause inflammation and gum disease, and the bacteria can also cause tooth decay. Plaque can easily be removed by careful brushing and flossing. If left on the teeth for too long minerals in your saliva can start to harden the plaque and it becomes tartar. This usually forms first behind your lower front teeth, see if you can feel any with your tongue. Tartar is hard and so cannot be removed by brushing. You will have to see your dentist or hygienist to have it removed with an ultrasonic or other hand tools that will remove the tartar without damaging your gums or enamel. The best way to avoid tartar though is to remove the plaque before it can harden.


Sometimes tartar can be left so long it will grow dense enough to show up on an xray. Hi-lighted in the red circles you can see the tartar deposits attached to the teeth. The second xray was taken a few years later, the patient had been to see the hygienist, had the deposits removed and has kept up a good level of oral hygiene ever since. The tartar did not return and the teeth had remained stable and healthy.

Disclosing Tablets

Chewing a disclosing tablet will hi-light plaque and tartar and is a great way see what areas you miss when brushing.
Plak Smacker Plaque Disclosing Tablet...
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How Do I Brush My Teeth?

You may think you know how to brush but how many of us really concentrate on what we are doing?

Wandering around the house doing last minute things whilst brushing our teeth, or maybe you do it in the shower. Either way you aren't paying attention, I'll bet you missed a few bits. The best brushing is methodical. Lets start with the basics, get yourself a medium bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste. They can be as fancy as you like or as plain as can be, as long as the toothpaste has fluoride in you're sitting pretty.


Apply a strip of toothpaste along the brush and wet it if you like. Split your mouth into 4, upper left and right, and lower left and right. Start in a different quadrant each time you brush to ensure one area doesn't get all the attention. Clean a whole quadrant before moving on to the next. Start at one quadrant and gently move the brush in a circular motion over the surface of the tooth for a few seconds and move on to the next tooth. Continue doing this for all the outer surfaces. Next, move the brush head in gentle circular motions along the inner surfaces of all teeth in that quadrant, concentrating on the insides of your lower front teeth as this is where tartar is most likely to develop and the area is often neglected. Don't forget to clean the biting surfaces of your teeth, these are full of pits and fissures, or 'rivers' where debris can gather and decay can begin. Remember your back teeth too, if you brush in front of a mirror and work methodically then you can ensure you won't miss any surfaces or plaque deposits. Once you've finished, spit out, but don't rinse your mouth. The longer the fluoride is on your teeth the better.


Remember to be gentle, plaque has the consistency of blancmange, its easy to remove with a brush. Staining and tartar will have to be removed by a dentist, your hard scrubbing only serves to wear away your gums and enamel, causing sensitivity and gum recession.


 It is recommended that you angle the toothbrush at 45° towards the gum. If you look at the picture to the left you can see that if a toothbrush is held flat there are areas between the teeth being missed, these are hi-lighted in the red circles. But if you angle the toothbrush towards the gum the bristles can easily fit in between the gaps and give you a better brush. If you are having trouble remembering which way to angle the brush then the simple rhyme: "Uppers towards the nose, lowers towards the toes" Should serve. Whilst this method does clean more in between surfaces of the teeth than the flat brush it does not replace flossing and other inter-dental cleaning methods.

Aides to Oral Hygiene

Brushing, flossing and a fluoride mouthwash should be a daily part of your routine.
Philips Sonicare HX5351/30 Essence 5300 Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush

At a speed of 31,000 brush strokes per minute, the Essence 5300 is a very efficient cleaner. And because it has a slender, angled neck, it is easy to maneuver inside your ...

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Oral-B Satin Floss Twin Pack, 2-Count (Pack of 2)

Oral-b satin floss instantly feels different as it releases a burst of mint freshness on contact that lets you know it is working. its unique, satin-like texture is ...

Only $10.98

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Listerine Total Care, 6 Benefits in One, Anticavity Fluoride Rinse, 33.8-Ounce Bottle

Listerine Total Care Fresh Mint Anticavity Mouthwash - a multi-benefit mouthwash that works in 6 ways for a cleaner, healthier mouth.

$9.49  $4.27

View on Amazon

Updated: 09/16/2013, Tabt
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


msclick on 04/08/2012

Excellent article, very informative. Runs off to brush teeth.

anonymos on 03/23/2012


tubby on 03/23/2012

what colour is the colour of natural teeth??

JoHarrington on 03/23/2012

I don't know whether to thank you or sit here being utterly disconcerted. I've been cleaning my teeth incorrectly for decades!

I have used those revealing tablets in the past though. When I was at primary school, the teacher gave us all some and we had to practice brushing our teeth after using them.

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