Oral hygiene is the action of cleaning the inside of the mouth to reduce and eliminate disease and other problems, like bad breath. Oral hygiene most often involves brushing the teeth and cleaning between the teeth. Oral hygiene should be a habitual practice exercised daily, to most effectively reach its goals of disease prevention and the elimination of bad breath. Dentists recommend brushing the teeth at least twice a day, though an ideal routine would involve brushing after every meal. Dentists also recommend cleaning between the teeth, or interdental cleaning, in addition to brushing, because toothbrushes are ineffective at removing dental plaque that is between the teeth. This can be done with dental floss or interdental brushes, depending on the person’s preference. It is important to note that a properly hygienic mouth may not appear perfect; it is common for clean mouths to contain stained or crooked teeth, and people can have good oral hygiene but not have access to tooth whitening treatments or corrective orthodontia. The most common oral diseases that can be prevented with oral hygiene are tooth decay and gum disease.
The human mouth contains beneficial bacteria that can turn into harmful bacteria when combined with certain foods. Cleaning the teeth can help reduce and neutralize this harmful bacteria, removing dental plaque from the surfaces of the teeth and preventing cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease. This, in turn, can prevent the teeth from loosening and falling out. Historically, people have cleaned their teeth with sticks and twigs, feathers, bones, and porcupine quills, and they have also used botanical products with antiseptic properties to clean their mouths. Some populations have cleaned the teeth with baking soda or chalk, though this has been found to be harmfully abrasive with prolonged use.
Most dentists in the United States recommend that patients get their teeth professionally examined and cleaned annually, though individual dentists may have different recommendations depending on the needs of each individual patient. Tartar can only be removed from the surfaces of the teeth with professional cleaning, and dentists can also seal the teeth, using dental sealants, to protect chewing surfaces from decaying. In between professional cleanings, it is imperative that patients practice excellent oral hygiene at home, to prevent the build up of tartar and to delay tooth decay. Dentists recommend using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, brushing gently in small circles to avoid irritating the gums, holding the brush at a 45 degree angle to the teeth, and brushing for at least two minutes. Dentists also recommend cleaning between the teeth with dental floss or an interdental brush, to remove trapped food debris and to loosen and remove plaque that builds up between the teeth. Electric or battery-powered toothbrushes reduce dental plaque and slow the development of gingivitis more effectively than manual toothbrushing and may also help encourage the correct amount of pressure on the teeth during brushing. Adults should observe their dentists’ recommendations for brushing and flossing, and new parents should ask their dentists for recommendations on how to encourage and promote effective oral hygiene habits in their children. Some people prefer to use tongue scrapers or tongue cleaners, oral irrigators, single-tufted toothbrushes, and gum stimulators; while there is certainly little harm in using these things, proper brushing and flossing are the most effective oral hygiene practices. Maintaining a healthy diet that is low in refined sugars, and choosing to not smoke cigarettes or overindulge in alcohol can also positively affect the health and hygiene of the mouth.