How to Take Care of Your Teeth

Good oral health is important for your total well-being. The condition of your teeth and the tissues in your mouth affect your health and your ability to chew and speak. The appearance of your teeth may affect your relationships.

To help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, brush and floss your teeth daily, and see your dentist regularly. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist to show you the proper way to brush your teeth. Also, you may want to ask your dentist about additional ways to prevent tooth decay, such as sealants for teeth and fluoride treatments.

Brush your teeth correctly for at least 2 minutes at least twice a day. The most important time to brush is before you go to sleep. It is also a good idea to brush or rinse after meals. Floss between your teeth once a day.

Brushing your teeth

Here’s a good way to brush your teeth:

  • Position the head of the toothbrush against your teeth, with the tips of the bristle angled towards the gum line at a 45-degree angle.
  • Sweep or circle the brush away from the gum line. Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower, keeping the bristles angled against the gum line.
  • Use the same motion to brush the inside surfaces of the teeth.
  • Scrub chewing surfaces of all teeth. Use a light pressure so that the bristles do not bend. Let the bristles reach into the grooves of the teeth. Change the position of the toothbrush often.
  • Gently brush your gum tissue and tongue to refresh your breath and remove bacteria.

A soft toothbrush is less likely to injure your gums than one with hard bristles. The hard bristles can push your gums away from your teeth. A brush with hard bristles can also scratch teeth. Scratches make it easier for bacteria and acids to damage the tooth because the hard, protective enamel layer wears away.

Replace your brush every 3 months or sooner if it shows wear. Store your brush uncovered in a dry place so that it can dry out between brushings. Never share your toothbrush with anyone. It contains bacteria that can be passed from one person to another no matter how well you clean the brush.

Some electric toothbrushes can clean better than manual brushes. People with hand problems and young children may find an electric toothbrush easier to use. Ask your dentist which type of brush will work best for you.

Flossing your teeth

Flossing is a way to remove food and plaque from between the teeth, an area the toothbrush cannot reach. Plaque is a sticky material that builds up on your teeth. It is made of mucus, saliva, food particles, acids, and bacteria. If it’s not removed with daily brushing and flossing, plaque can lead to cavities, a hard buildup called tartar, and gum disease.

When you floss:

  • Cut off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around a finger of one hand. Wind the rest around a finger of your other hand, to take up the floss as you use it.
  • Gently pull the floss between 2 of your teeth.
  • Curve it into a C-shape against one tooth.
  • Holding the floss tightly against the tooth, move it up and down, scraping the side of the tooth and just below the gum line. Don’t push too hard on your gums
  • Use a fresh section of floss and repeat for each tooth. Not using a fresh section of floss can spread bacteria and cause a gum infection.
  • Remember to floss the backs of your back teeth too.

If you have bleeding from your gums for more than 5 days, it is a sign that something is not healthy. It should be checked by your dentist.

Buying dental products

Look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of acceptance when you buy a dental product. This seal means that the product is safe and does what it says it will do.

Buy toothpaste with fluoride (unless you have a known sensitivity). The fluoride helps prevent cavities. You can buy toothpastes with ingredients to help control tartar, whiten teeth, or help teeth be less sensitive.

Mouthwashes can help freshen bad breath, control plaque, and protect your teeth against decay. Look for a mouthwash that is alcohol free. Mouthwashes that contain alcohol may dry out your mouth and worsen pain or sores in your mouth.

Preventing decay with a healthy diet

A healthy diet is also good for your teeth and gums. Your diet should include:

  • A lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.

    Some fruits, such as oranges, pineapples, and peaches, are high in natural sugar and acid that may damage your teeth. The natural acid in the fruit may temporarily soften the outer layer of the tooth. It is best to rinse your mouth with water after eating these fruits and wait 30 minutes to brush your teeth. Fruits such as raw apples help clean your teeth and make good snacks.

  • Poultry, fish, soy protein, eggs, nuts, and lean meats, if you choose to include meat in your diet.
  • Foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and sugars.

    Eating starchy or sugary foods can lead to tooth decay. You can help prevent decay by limiting these foods or brushing your teeth right after you eat these foods. Rinsing with water or chewing sugarless gum after you eat or drink foods that contain sugar can also help. Chewing gums sweetened with Xylitol can reduce and control bacteria in your mouth.

Dental care during pregnancy

If you are pregnant, you may notice that your gums are swollen and bleed when you brush or floss your teeth. The bleeding is usually caused by hormone changes during pregnancy and goes away after you give birth. In the meantime, use a soft toothbrush and floss gently. You can use a mouthwash that has no alcohol or use just warm water to rinse your mouth and gums.

Have a dental checkup at least once during your pregnancy. Tell the dentist that you are pregnant. Your dentist can check with your healthcare provider to make sure that X-rays, antibiotics, or pain medicines would be safe for you and your baby.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-21
Last reviewed: 2015-01-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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