Health library

Back to health library

Dental care 101

If you want to keep your teeth, you've got to keep them clean.

Questions

1. What is plaque?

2. What happens if I don't take care of my teeth and gums?

3. What are cavities, and how do they form?

4. How can I prevent dental problems?

5. Why is flossing important?

6. Should I use a mouth rinse?

7. Are all toothpastes the same?

8. Should I use a toothbrush with hard or soft bristles?

9. How often should I replace my toothbrush?

10. What is the right way to brush?

11. When should I start brushing my children's teeth?

12. Where can I go to learn more?

Answers

1. What is plaque?

Plaque is a sticky buildup containing bacteria. It develops around the bases of the teeth if they are not cleaned well each day. Keeping your teeth free from plaque is important—the bacteria in plaque make acids that cause tooth decay.

Back to the top

2. What happens if I don't take care of my teeth and gums?

If you don't take steps to keep your teeth and gums healthy, many problems can develop, including:

  • Cavities.
  • An inflammation called gingivitis that makes your gums red, swollen, and irritated and causes them to bleed easily.
  • Bad breath.
  • Tooth loss.

Back to the top

3. What are cavities, and how do they form?

Cavities develop when spots on the tooth begin to decay because of the acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. The hard outer layer of the tooth, called enamel, is broken down. If not treated early, the decay will continue deeper into the tooth and the tooth may eventually need to be removed.

Back to the top

4. How can I prevent dental problems?

Preventing dental problems means taking care of your teeth and gums every day. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), you need to brush your teeth two times a day and floss once a day.

Back to the top

5. Why is flossing important?

Flossing is an important part of your dental care. Flossing cleans plaque out from places your toothbrush can't reach: between your teeth. It also polishes the surfaces of your teeth and helps control bad breath, says the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

Back to the top

6. Should I use a mouth rinse?

Using a mouth rinse isn't necessary, since it doesn't do much to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. However, a mouth rinse can help fight bad breath, wash away food particles and get rid of bacteria in the mouth.

Back to the top

7. Are all toothpastes the same?

All toothpastes are not the same. The best way to protect against tooth decay is to use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride strengthens the outside of the teeth and helps fix damage to the teeth when it first starts.

When choosing toothpaste or any other product for your dental care, make sure it has the ADA's Seal of Acceptance.

Back to the top

8. Should I use a toothbrush with hard or soft bristles?

The AGD recommends using a brush that has soft nylon bristles with rounded ends. Medium or hard bristles can wear down the teeth.

Back to the top

9. How often should I replace my toothbrush?

Change your toothbrush every three to four months, before the bristles become worn and frayed.

Back to the top

10. What is the right way to brush?

The trick to brushing is to clean your mouth well without causing unnecessary wear and tear on your teeth and gums. The AGD recommends that you:

  • Hold the toothbrush against your teeth at a 45-degree angle.
  • Move the brush in a small circle, brushing just a few teeth at a time.
  • Brush both sides and the tops of your teeth, as well as your tongue.

Back to the top

11. When should I start brushing my children's teeth?

You can begin brushing your children's teeth when they get their first tooth. Keep the gums clean by wiping them with gauze. As soon as your children have two teeth that touch, it's time to begin flossing.

Back to the top

12. Where can I go to learn more?

You can learn more about dental care by visiting the Dental Care health topic center. You can also find out more about dental care at these websites:

Back to the top

Reviewed 2/18/2022

Related stories