Are You Making These Common Dental Hygiene Mistakes?

For healthy, pearly whites, oral hygiene is essential. But, from not using the right toothbrush to storing your toothbrush incorrectly, you may be cleaning your teeth the wrong way. Here’s how to make your teeth sparkle, according to dentists.

By Audrey Enjoli4 min read
Pexels/cottonbro studio

Growing up, it’s highly likely you were taught to brush right after meals. Well, as it turns out, you may actually be harming your teeth by doing it that way. According to Ezzard Charles Rolle, DDS, an instructor of dental medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, brushing immediately after eating can actually damage tooth enamel.

“You want to avoid brushing right after consuming something acidic because that can cause further damage to the enamel layer of the tooth,” the New York-based dentist explains

Similarly, brushing immediately after eating sugary foods can also have the same effect. “So, what we recommend is waiting about 30 minutes and allowing the enamel of the tooth to start to remineralize or build itself back up before brushing,” Dr. Rolle adds.

Brushing right after eating isn’t the only dental hygiene blunder people make. From not brushing enough to using an old toothbrush, there are a number of mistakes that should be avoided for a healthier smile. But, before diving into those, it’s important to first understand the important link between oral health and the rest of the body.

The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Wellness

The benefits of proper dental hygiene extend far beyond the mouth. And since the mouth serves as a pathway to the respiratory and digestive tracts, it’s not difficult to see why.

In regards to the former, bacteria in the mouth can be aspirated into the lungs, contributing to respiratory problems like bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Concerning the latter, oral bacteria can make their way to the stomach, making it harder to ward off infections. This can contribute to a variety of chronic inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Research has also linked bacteria found in the mouth to diabetes and Alzheimer's.

Research has also linked bacteria found in the mouth to other health concerns like diabetes, Alzheimer's and dementia, and even heart disease. “The bacteria that live in your mouth when you have gum disease can cross into your bloodstream, enter the heart, and directly infect the vulnerable heart valves,” explains Marietta Ambrose, MD, MPH, FACC, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

And bacteria stemming from improper dental hygiene can even impact the skin, contributing to a host of problems like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. 

Even more shocking? Research shows that oral bacteria found in the mouths of pregnant women can be transmitted to the uterus via the blood and amniotic fluid. This can result in adverse pregnancy effects like intrauterine infections, premature delivery, low birth weight, and even stillbirth. 

7 Dental Hygiene Mistakes To Avoid

Ready to say goodbye to oral bacteria? For a healthy mouth – and healthy body – here are seven mistakes you’re definitely going to want to avoid in your dental hygiene routine.

1. Brushing Too Hard

First and foremost, go easy on the gums. “You always want to avoid brushing too hard because that can be abrasive to the gum tissues as well as to the teeth,” explains Dr. Rolle. Instead of scrubbing vigorously, he recommends working the brush in a circular motion using firm but gentle pressure. Remember: Slow and steady wins the race!

2. Not Brushing Enough

And on the topic of brushing – make sure you’re doing it regularly! The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for a duration of two minutes each time. “Ideally, one of those times will be before bed,” says Dr. Rolle. “Brushing for two minutes is important because it ensures that each section of the mouth is cleaned adequately.” (Just be sure not to overdo it because over-brushing can actually be detrimental to the teeth and gums, causing enamel erosion, receding gums, and tooth sensitivity.)

To help make brushing easier, think of the mouth in terms of four sections: the upper right, lower right, upper left, and lower left. To achieve the recommended two minutes of brushing, Dr. Rolle says you should spend about 30 seconds cleaning each section.

3. Using the Wrong Toothbrush

You can’t clean your teeth properly if you’re using the wrong toothbrush. And, according to the experts, soft-bristled toothbrushes are the way to go. “I always recommend a soft bristle toothbrush. It’s just going to be the friendliest to the gum tissues and to the teeth,” Dr. Rolle says. “The disadvantage of hard [bristle] toothbrushes is they can be a bit abrasive. They can cause gum recession, which can lead to sensitivity to the teeth.”

Dental hygienist Whitney DiFoggio also says people should opt for an electric toothbrush. “I often recommend electric toothbrushes to my patients because, yes, you can do a great job with manual, regular toothbrushes. However, you have to use the perfect technique to properly brush with a regular toothbrush,” she explains. “It does the work for you. Less chance for error.”

Did you know that by skipping flossing, you’re missing out on cleaning a whopping 40% of your teeth?

4. Not Flossing

Did you know that by skipping flossing, you’re missing out on cleaning a whopping 40% of your teeth? For this reason, DiFoggio says flossing is vital for ridding the mouth of plaque and harmful bacteria in order to reduce the chances of getting cavities and gum disease.

“It is recommended to floss and/or clean between your teeth at least once each day,” she adds. “Now again, with flossing with traditional string floss – as long as you’re using the proper technique, you’re good.”

Not keen on traditional floss? Try floss picks instead. “If you don’t floss right now and you want to start by using the picks because they are easier – go for it! They’re better than not flossing at all,” she notes. DiFoggio adds that some people may also benefit more from alternative flossing methods like interdental brushes – small bristled heads designed for cleaning in between the teeth – or water flossers. Also known as dental water jets, water flossers are handheld tools that shoot a stream of pulsating water in between the teeth.

5. Not Replacing Your Toothbrush Regularly

You can’t keep your mouth clean with a dirty toothbrush. And, if you’re not swapping out your toothbrush on a regular basis, you could be reintroducing bacteria into your mouth. That’s right, your toothbrush could be harboring a plethora of gross bacteria like E. coli and staphylococci. Yuck

Lesson learned? If you keep your toothbrush near your toilet, always put the lid down before flushing. In addition to being laden with the icky stuff, old toothbrushes may not scrub the teeth as well either. So always be sure to switch out your toothbrush every three to four months or if it’s frayed or shows other signs of wear. And, in between changing them out, be sure to properly clean your toothbrushes after each use to thoroughly remove toothpaste, bacteria, and any other debris from the bristles. 

6. Not Scraping Your Tongue

Another sage piece of advice from DiFoggio? Use a tongue scraper. “About 90% of bad breath is found on your tongue,” she says. In addition to causing bad breath, tongue bacteria can contribute to plaque, cavities, and gum disease. Thus, DiFoggio says, “You can’t go wrong with scraping your tongue daily.” 

Although cleaning the tongue with a toothbrush will certainly suffice, opting for a tongue scraper is a more effective method for ridding the tongue of bacteria.

7. Storing Your Toothbrush Incorrectly

Last but not least: toothbrush storage 101. Chances are, you may be storing your toothbrush wrong. As previously mentioned, in order to protect your brush from toilet spray, flush with the lid down and store your brush away from the toilet. You can also spray your toothbrush with dirty water while washing your hands, so it’s wise to store it away from the sink too. (A difficult feat, no doubt, but try rearranging the items on your bathroom counter to try to get your toothbrush holder as far away from the sink and toilet as possible.)

According to the American Dental Association, your toothbrush should always be stored in an upright position in a dry, open space. (I.e., not in your bathroom cabinet or drawer.)

Closing Thoughts

With simple adjustments to your daily dental hygiene routine, you can not only give gross mouth bacteria the boot but also reduce the chances of said bacteria impacting your health. “So, to recap, brushing twice a day and flossing and/or cleaning between your teeth at least once a day – the best time is before bed, by the way – are the two most important things you can do to keep your smile happy and healthy,” DiFoggio says. “Adding a tongue scraper will also contribute to your mouth being happy and healthy and fresh.”

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