Simply put, oral hygiene is the process of cleaning the oral cavity to help maintain its health and cleanliness. At its most basic level, oral hygiene consists of brushing one’s teeth and cleaning between them. To effectively combat diseases of the teeth and gums and to maintain a clean-smelling mouth, oral hygiene practices must be adhered to regularly. Dentists recommend brushing the teeth twice a day, for two minutes at a time, with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste, as well as cleaning between the teeth daily; this interdental cleaning is most commonly done with dental floss, though other tools are available. While twice-daily brushing and daily flossing are the recommended minimum routine, if possible, brushing after every meal is preferable. Cleaning between the teeth is an integral part of good oral hygiene, as brushing the teeth can only remove about half of the bacterial plaque present in the oral cavity; combined with brushing, interdental cleaning removes closer to 80% of plaque when performed properly. Regular, effective oral hygiene can help reduce incidences of tooth decay, also known as cavities, and can also prevent gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. It is important to note that white teeth and straight teeth are not a marker of oral hygiene, and it is entirely possible for a person with excellent oral hygiene to have crooked or stained teeth.
Tooth decay is the most common disease in the world, and the most effective weapon against tooth decay is effective oral hygiene. However, many cavities occur where teeth are cracked or fractures, where a toothbrush cannot reach. For this reason, periodic professional dental cleanings are also recommended. Cleaning the teeth by brushing and flossing removes dental plaque from the teeth and prevents tooth decay and gum disease, keeping the dentition intact and the teeth and gums healthy. People have been cleaning their teeth with various methods for thousands of years, using such tools as chew sticks, feathers, bones, and quills. Certain cultures have also used medicinal mouth rinses for centuries in an attempt to maintain the health of the oral cavity.
The American Dental Association recommends that patients visit their dentist at least once a year for a checkup and professional cleaning; patients with underlying health issues or chronic dental concerns should visit their dentist more, as often as is recommended. At a professional cleaning, a dentist or dental hygienist removes tartar from the teeth, which brushing cannot do, and also cleans plaque and debris from below the gumline and polishes the surfaces of the teeth. Dentists may also apply dental sealants at these periodic dental visits, protecting grooves and small cracks in the teeth and preventing food and debris from being trapped in these teeth, thereby preventing bacteria from entering these fissures and slowing or preventing decay. Between professional cleanings, effective oral hygiene helps control the buildup of plaque that causes decay and disease.
In addition to brushing and flossing the teeth and using a fluoride toothpaste, dentists recommend maintaining a balanced diet that has plenty of fiber, calcium, and vitamins, limiting sugar intake, and drinking fluoridated water from municipal water supplies when available. Alcohol and tobacco can contribute to periodontal diseases and should be avoided.