Many Soldiers overlook the health of their teeth and gums.
Unfortunately, poor oral health can result in pain, costly dentist bills, and dental readiness challenges.
The good news is that most oral health issues are preventable. A simple brushing, flossing, and rinsing routine and routine dental check-ups can help stop aching jaws, nasty gum disease, and other oral health concerns before they start.
Gentle brushing only
Proper brushing technique involves more than grabbing a toothbrush, squirting on toothpaste, and sudsing up your mouth.
What to buy: Dentists recommend using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Look for the “soft” marking—as opposed to “medium” or “hard”—on toothbrush packaging. That goes for electric and battery-operated toothbrushes, as well.
Work it: Plan to brush your teeth for at least two minutes, twice each day. You want to brush—not scrub—your teeth and gums. (It’s toothbrushing, not toothscrubbing.) Brushing with too much force will irritate and potentially damage your gums.
Go tooth by tooth, one at a time, all the way around the outside, inside and top surfaces of your teeth. Gently brush your gums as well as your teeth. Need a visual for how to brush? Check out this brushing techniques video.
Keep in mind: Toothbrushing is like crowd control of the bacteria on your teeth. You don’t kill the bacteria by brushing, but you thin out the bacteria crowds so they don’t form angry mobs (plaque) and cause trouble (cavities and gum disease).
Buy a new toothbrush or replace the head on your electric or battery-operated toothbrush every three to four months. Get one sooner if bristles become worn. If your brush looks like a mustache, it’s time to get a new one!
The only toothbrushing lesson you’ll ever need
- Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle.
- Aim the broad side of the bristles toward your gum line so the tops of the bristles touch your skin.
- To reach the inside surfaces of your teeth, turn the handle of the brush up or down so that the tips of the bristles reach around to touch your gum line.
- Brush along the outside, inside, and top surfaces.
- Manual toothbrush: brush gently with short back-and-forth, tooth–by-tooth motions.
- Power toothbrush: remember, the brush does the brushing for you. Place the brush at the gum line and move it gently across each tooth. Make an “m” shape along the gum line on the top teeth and a “u” shape along the gum line on the bottom teeth.
Flossing isn’t optional
You cannot reach the tight gaps between your teeth or under your gums by brushing alone. Flossing is necessary to clean the food and plaque trapped in these hard-to-reach places.
What to buy: Dentists will tell you the best floss to buy is the one you’ll use daily—whether nylon, waxed, or bacon-flavored.
Work it: Break off a strand roughly 18 inches long and wind it around your middle fingers, leaving a gap of an inch or so to clean. Use your thumbs and forefingers and a gentle back-and-forth motion to get the floss between your teeth. Don’t just snap it into the gaps; the skin between your teeth is fragile. Gently slip the floss under the gum line. Then pull the floss from the gum line to the top of each side of every tooth. The motion scrapes off plaque. Unwind to fresh floss as you go. Need a visual for how to floss? Check out this flossing techniques video.
Having trouble? If you have trouble sliding floss between your teeth, try waxed floss or dental tape. If that doesn’t help, try dental picks or toothpick-like dental sticks.
Rinse away your troubles
You can help keep your mouth cleaner by using an antibacterial mouthrinse after you brush and floss.
What to buy: Buy mouthrinse that has the American Dental Association seal of approval on its packaging. This means it’s been shown to be effective at killing the bacteria that cause gingivitis.
Work it: Swish a half ounce, no more than twice daily. Swish vigorously around your mouth for two minutes. Move the fluid all around your mouth to rinse every tooth, as well as your gums and tongue. Rinsing less than two minutes limits the benefits of the rinse to the point that you may as well not have used it at all.
Having trouble? Mouthrinse may sting, making it hard to keep in your mouth the full two minutes. Try concentrating on the top teeth for the first minute, and then on the bottom teeth for the second minute. Or try rinsing for 1 minute, spitting out the rinse, and then using some more for another minute.
When to see a dentist
Visit your dentist for cleanings and exams twice a year. Contact a dentist between regular visits if you notice:
- Red, tender, or swollen gums
- Blood when you brush or floss
- Gums pulling away from your teeth or loose teeth
- Changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align with each other
- Unusual tooth sensitivity to hot and cold
If you don’t have dental insurance or are worried about paying for dental care, some dental schools and dental hygiene schools offer lower-cost professional cleanings.
- Use the American Dental Association’s Dental Symptom Checker to help you identify any potential oral health problems.
- Check out this Dental Readiness infographic about guarding your pearly whites (bonus: it can save you more than $1,000 per year).