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How to Care for Your Teeth: The Ultimate Guide to Oral Health

It’s odd. Every year, millions of Americans go to their local orthodontist to get fitted with braces or Invisalign. Meanwhile, many fail to follow basic oral hygiene practices. They brush their teeth carelessly and only floss once a month.

What’s the Big Deal?

This results in perfectly straight teeth and a mouthful of bacteria that may eventually lead to gum disease and tooth loss. That puts people at risk for even more elaborate orthodontic treatment (think implants or dentures) in the future.

Even worse, substandard oral care may jeopardize their health. Recent research has shown a link between poor oral health and a number of conditions, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The culprit may be bacteria that moves from the mouth to the bloodstream. 1

Look at the Pearly White Side

On the bright side, healthy habits lead to healthy mouths. Take care of your teeth and gums, and you set yourself up for a lifetime of bright, beautiful smiles. That’s why the team at Labbe Family Orthodontics spends so much time on patient education. We know that braces are just the beginning—the goal is a lifetime of wellness.

Want to know how to get there? For starters, you should be:

  • Brushing at least twice every day
  • Flossing at least once every day
  • Avoiding all tobacco products
  • Getting regular orthodontic checkups when wearing braces
  • Using low-acid mouthwashes
  • Drinking acidic or stain-causing beverages through a straw

Here are some more helpful tips for maintaining a bright smile and a healthy mouth:

Hygiene Tip #1: Floss Daily, Floss Correctly

Experts say you should floss every day if you want to maintain a healthy mouth. So, why is it only four in 10 Americans floss daily? That’s less than half of the population. A full 20 percent don’t floss at all. 2

Many hygienists doubt those numbers. They believe people may be fudging their answers and that the real number may be higher. 3

At least one other study, carried out by the CDC, confirms their suspicion. It revealed that only 30 percent of Americans floss daily, with males even more likely than females to never floss at all (39 percent versus 27 percent). 4

Either way, that’s a large cross-section of the population that falls well below basic oral hygiene standards.

Perhaps that’s why roughly 25% of adults between the ages of 35 to 59 suffer from untreated tooth decay and even more are undergoing expensive treatment to fix the problem. 1

Dispelling Myths about Flossing – Given the rock-solid relationship between daily flossing and overall oral health, it’s shocking that more Americans don’t take a minute or two per day to practice some essential hygiene.

Apparently, many people think brushing alone does the job. It doesn’t. Your average toothbrush can’t reach between the teeth and all the way down to the gums. Even toothpicks and proxabrushes sometimes struggle to do the job, particularly on people who have tightly fitting teeth.

The Importance of Flossing – Why is flossing so important, you ask? It doesn’t improve your pearly whites. It doesn’t get rid of nasty stains. It doesn’t freshen your breath. What it does do is keep your mouth free of bacteria.

In the long run, that can mean the difference between a mouthful of teeth and a few sizable gaps here and there.

Why? When food particles get stuck between your teeth, they breed bacteria, which mixes with saliva and creates plaque. Eventually, that plaque hardens into tartar, which will inflame your gums and eat away at your teeth. The result is periodontal disease, receding gums, tooth decay, and, eventually, tooth loss.

Want to reach old age with your smile intact? You might want to rethink that decision to skip a nightly floss.

You’re Flossing, but Are You Flossing Correctly? What about those who do floss? They’re getting all the benefits of a bacteria-free mouth, right? Only if they’re doing it correctly, say experts. Unfortunately, many people cut corners, and that could undermine their good intentions.

If you think flossing is a breeze, you might be one of the problem flossers. That’s because it takes a little effort to floss the right way. Simply putting the thread between your teeth and yanking it out is hardly effective. Instead, you have to place the thread all the way down toward the gums and remove any food particles and plaque that may have built up there.

Unfortunately, poor flossing techniques give people a false sense of security. You may believe you have exceptional oral hygiene, only to find out when it’s too late that you, too, are susceptible to gum disease and tooth decay.

Want your smile to last a lifetime? Floss daily, and floss correctly.

Hygiene Tip #2: Brush Daily, Brush Correctly

Brushing is the first line of defense against plaque, stains, gum disease, and tooth decay. The good news is that the vast majority of Americans (70%) brush their teeth at least twice per day.

The bad news? That leaves 30 percent who brush less than two times per day. The worse news? Sometime in the past year, about 23 percent of people admitted to letting two or more days pass without cleaning their teeth at all. 1 That’s two days in which bacteria can gather, multiply, and destroy.

It should go without saying but, if you want a healthy mouth, you need to brush regularly—and that means at least twice per day.

If You Want the Benefits of Brushing, then Brush Correctly. Once again, it’s not only how often you brush, but how well you brush that determines whether you’re killing those tooth-destroying bacteria.

Don’t know if you’re brushing correctly? Pay attention to four things:

  • How long you brush: The recommended brushing time is two minutes. According to at least one study, the average American brushes for approximately one minute and 52 seconds. 2 That’s not too shabby, but it’s not ideal, either.
  • How thoroughly you brush: Just running the brush quickly over your teeth won’t do it. If you use an electric toothbrush, that means letting the bristles rest over each tooth for at least four to six seconds.
  • How you move the brush: Those who use a manual toothbrush need to move the brush in a circular motion over each tooth. They should also angle it down so that it gets gums as well as the teeth. No matter what type of brush you use, remember not to apply a lot of force when brushing the gums. That could lead to erosion, and that’s precisely what you want to avoid.
  • Where you brush: It is hoped that you’re brushing every part of every single tooth—the front, the back, the top, the bottom (and, of course, around the brackets of your braces). If you stop with your teeth, though, you’ll never get the full benefits of brushing. You also need to work on your gums, your tongue, and even the roof of your mouth. After all, oral hygiene includes your entire mouth, not just your teeth.

Hygiene Tip #3: Use Mouthwash Wisely

Mouthwash freshens your breath. It gives you that nice and clean feel, but is it good for your health?

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed a vigorous debate swirling around that very issue. Some say mouthwash eliminates harmful bacteria and protects your mouth. Others say it kills good bacteria and could harm both your oral health and your overall health.

As of yet, there simply isn’t enough evidence to support either position. Mouthwash research is still in its infancy, and some studies contradict each other. That being said, experts do have some recommendations.

Are Some Mouthwashes Better than Others? People who suffer from certain forms of periodontal disease may need a good, antibacterial mouthwash to get the situation under control. The same goes for people who find their mouths overrun with bad bacteria.

The rest of us should stick with alcohol-free, antibacterial-free rinses. The reason? Those alcohol-laden mouthwashes not only kill off good bacteria (the ones that are critical for overall health); they also tend to be acidic, which could contribute to enamel erosion.

The key is to use low-acid, no-alcohol mouthwash, and to limit rinsing to once or possibly twice per day. That should keep your mouth feeling fresh without causing any unintended harm.

Want More Good Tips?

At Labbe Family Orthodontics, we do everything we can to help our patients achieve optimal oral health. Not only do we provide state-of-the-art orthodontic care—braces, Invisalign—we also educate kids and adults so they can correct bad habits and develop good ones.

At the end of the day, that can mean the difference between a healthy, beautiful smile and a lifetime of problems. Want more tips and tricks for keeping a healthy mouth while wearing braces? Visit our FAQs page to learn more.


  1. Prevention. “Ultimate Guide to Healthy Teeth.” <>
  2. ADA News. “Survey finds shortcoming in oral health habits.” <>
  3. NPR. “Are You Flossing or Just Lying About Flossing? The Dentist Knows.” <>
  4. U.S. News and World Report. “How Many Americans Floss Their Teeth?” <>
  5. Time Magazine. “You Asked: Should I Use Mouthwash.” <>

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