Oral Hygiene

Why Is Oral Hygiene So Important?

Oral Hygiene Overview

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Oral Hygiene Overview
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Adults over 35 lose more teeth to gum disease (periodontal disease) than from cavities. Three out of four adults are affected at some time in their life. The best way to prevent cavities and periodontal disease is by good, daily tooth brushing and flossing techniques.

Periodontal disease and decay are both caused by bacterial plaque. Plaque is a colorless film that sticks to your teeth at the gum line. Plaque constantly forms on your teeth. By thorough daily brushing and flossing, you can remove these germs and help prevent periodontal disease and decay.

How to Brush

While brushing the outside surfaces of your teeth, position the brush at a 45-degree angle where your gums and teeth meet. Gently move the brush in a circular motion several times using small, gentle strokes. Use light pressure while putting the bristles between the teeth, but not so much pressure that you feel any discomfort.

When you are done cleaning the outside surfaces of all your teeth, follow the same directions while cleaning the inside of the back teeth.

To clean the inside surfaces of the upper and lower front teeth, hold the brush vertically. Make several gentle back-and-forth strokes over each tooth. Don’t forget to gently brush the surrounding gum tissue.

Next you will clean the biting surfaces of your teeth by using short, gentle strokes. Change the position of the brush as often as necessary to reach and clean all surfaces. Try to watch yourself in the mirror to make sure you clean each surface. After you are done, rinse vigorously to remove any plaque you might have loosened while brushing.

If you have any pain while brushing or have any questions about how to brush properly, please be sure to call the office at 206-362-0152.

How to Floss

Periodontal disease usually appears between the teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach. Flossing is a very effective way to remove plaque from those surfaces. However, it is important to develop the proper technique. The following instructions will help you, but remember it takes time and practice.

Fred Ebsworth, DDS photo of lady smiling

Start with a piece of floss (waxed is easier) about 18″ long. Lightly wrap most of the floss around the middle finger of one hand. Wrap the rest of the floss around the middle finger of the other hand.

To clean the upper teeth, hold the floss tightly between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Gently insert the floss tightly between the teeth using a back-and-forth motion. Do not force the floss or try to snap it in to place. Bring the floss under the gum line until you meet slight resistance then curve it into a C-shape against one tooth. Start in the space between the gum and the tooth where you feel light resistance. Shoe shine your way up the side of the tooth away from the gums. Remember there are two tooth surfaces that need to be cleaned in each space. Continue to floss each side of all the upper teeth. Be careful not to cut the gum tissue between the teeth. As the floss becomes soiled, turn from one finger to the other to get a fresh section.

To clean between the bottom teeth, guide the floss using the forefinger of both hands. Do not forget the backside of the last tooth on both sides, upper and lower.

When you are done, rinse vigorously with water to remove plaque and food particles. Do not be alarmed if during the first week of flossing your gums bleed or are a little sore. If your gums hurt while flossing you could be doing it too hard or pinching the gum. As you floss daily and remove the plaque, your gums will heal and the bleeding should stop.

Caring for Sensitive Teeth

People who grind clench or have recession and sometimes after dental treatment, teeth are sensitive to hot and cold. This should not last long, provided your mouth is kept clean. If your mouth is not kept clean, the sensitivity will remain and could become more severe. If your teeth are especially sensitive, consult with Dr. Ebsworth. He may recommend a medicated toothpaste or mouth rinse made especially for sensitive teeth.

Choosing Oral Hygiene Products

There are so many products on the market that it may become confusing, and choosing between all the products can be difficult. Here are some suggestions for choosing dental care products that will work for most patients.

Fred Ebsworth DDS photo of man smiling

Ultrasonic and high-tech electronic toothbrushes are safe and effective for the majority of patients. Oral irrigators (water spraying devices) will rinse your mouth thoroughly, but will not remove plaque. You need to brush and floss in conjunction with the irrigator. We see excellent results with electric toothbrushes. Ultreo and Sonicare increase the ability of most patients to get their teeth clean. Some toothbrushes have a rubber tip on the handle; this is used to massage the gums after brushing. There are also tiny brushes (interproximal toothbrushes) that clean between your teeth. If these are used improperly you could injure the gums, so be sure discuss proper use of these brushes with your doctor.

If used in conjunction with brushing and flossing, fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses can reduce tooth decay as much as 40 percent. Remember that these rinses are not recommended for children under six years of age. Tartar control toothpastes will reduce tartar above the gum line, but gum disease starts below the gum line so these products have not been proven to reduce the early stage of gum disease. Whitening toothpastes are more aggressive and can wear the teeth. We do not usually recommend whitening tooth pastes they are not a good substitute for good home care and they are more abrasive.

Anti-plaque rinses, approved by the American Dental Association, contain agents that may help bring early gum disease under control. Use these in conjunction with brushing and flossing.

Professional Cleaning

Daily brushing and flossing will keep dental calculus (tartar) to a minimum, but a professional cleaning will remove calculus in places your toothbrush and floss have missed. Your visit to our office is an important part of your program to prevent gum disease and keep your teeth for your lifetime. Not all people require the same type of cleaning. The highly resistant patient, one that is very thorough with personal home care, who does not smoke, and is genetically not predisposed to breakdown will require very little professional help and usually only requires his teeth to be occasionally polished. On the other hand the average patient is not so lucky. Lack of regular care, previous breakdown, difficult access, and bad habits can require 4 or more intense cleanings per year to lessen risks and control the disease process. Each patient has his own challenges and for this reason the maintenance programs for most patients are different. When we polish light stain off the teeth it is called a prophylaxis or prophy. When we plane and smooth the roots under the tissue of patients with gum disease it is called root planning. When gum disease is controlled by a good maintenance program, the cleaning becomes a less intense maintenance procedure. We are beginning to understand the medical connections between periodontal disease and many other diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes and we are finding greater health benefits for a great maintenance program.


Good nutrition plays a large role in your dental health. Brushing and flossing help keep your teeth and gums healthy and strong. However, a balanced diet will help to boost your body’s immune system, leaving you less vulnerable to oral disease.

How often and what you eat have been found to affect your dental health. Eating sweet or starchy foods such as soft drinks, crackers, bread, cookies, and candy supply the bacteria in your mouth with sugars. Bacteria consume and convert these sugars and producing acids, which attack your teeth for up to 20 minutes or more following each bite or sip of carbohydrate rich food. Foods that stick to your teeth or are slow to dissolve give the acids more time to work on destroying tooth enamel. Decay is caused more by the frequency of exposure to sweets and starchy foods than the amount eaten. Nibblers and snackers have the greatest risk.

Sweet foods and drinks:

  • Soft drinks
  • Sports drinks
  • Cough drops
  • Breath mints
  • Flavored coffee

Starchy foods:

  • Crackers
  • Breads
  • Cookies
  • Candy

Sticky/slow to dissolve foods:

  • Granola bars
  • Chewy fruit snacks
  • Dried fruit
  • Hard candy

Sticky and starchy foods create less acid when eaten as part of a meal. Saliva production increases at mealtime, rinsing away food particles, and neutralizing harmful acids.

Foods such as nuts, cheese, onions, and some teas have been shown to slow growth of decay causing bacteria in the mouth.

Cavity Prevention

Fed Ebsworth, DDS photo of couple smiling

Most of the time cavities are due to a diet high in sugary foods and a lack of brushing. Limiting sugar intake and brushing regularly, of course, can help. The longer it takes you to chew foods and the longer the residue stays on your teeth, the greater the chances of getting cavities.

Every time someone eats, an acid reaction occurs inside their mouth as the bacteria digest the sugars. This reaction lasts approximately 20 minutes. During this time the acid environment can destroy the tooth structure, eventually leading to cavities.

Consistency of a person’s saliva also makes a difference. Thinner saliva breaks up and washes away food more quickly. When a person eats diets high in carbohydrates and sugars, they tend to have thicker saliva that allows more acid-producing bacteria that can cause cavities. Many medications as well as normal aging can reduce saliva production. Saliva acts like a buffer to reduce acidity so the reduction of saliva also helps promote decay. A good source of additional information on dry mouth is the Biotene web site http://www.biotene.net/learn/index.asp

Tips For Cavity Prevention

  • Limit frequency of meals and snacks.
  • Encourage brushing, flossing, and rinsing.
  • Watch what you drink.
  • Avoid sticky foods.
  • Make treats part of meals.
  • Choose nutritious snacks.
  • Eat fruit