Taking Care Of Your Teeth And Gums

Taking Care Of Your Teeth And Gums


Usually, tooth decay and gum disease occur because teeth and gums are not properly cleaned.

Your teeth are covered with a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. Plaque builds up after you eat and when you sleep. The bacteria in plaque turn the sugar in foods and drinks into acids. These acids attack the enamel, your tooth’s hard, outer layer. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel to break down and lead to tooth decay and cavities.

If plaque stays on your teeth, it can cause problems like these:

Tartar: Over time, plaque hardens into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar can build up on the gum line — this is where your tooth meets your gums. It can give bacteria a place to grow without being disturbed. If the tartar is not removed, your gum disease can get worse and cause tooth loss.

Cavity: A hole in your tooth called a cavity can form when tooth decay gets through your enamel. The cavity can continue to spread deeper into the layers of your tooth. Cavities can form on any tooth and in any place on your tooth. If tooth decay and cavities are not treated, you may feel pain, the infection can spread to other parts of your mouth, and you may even lose teeth.

Gum disease: Plaque can also irritate your gums, making them swell or bleed. This is called gingivitis (jin-ji-VY-tis). Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. If gum disease isn’t treated, it can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth. Pockets or spaces can form between your teeth and gums. These pockets can become infected. In advanced stages of gum disease, bone loss occurs and teeth may become loose, fall out, or have to be removed.

It is much easier and less expensive to prevent tooth decay and gum disease than it is to treat them! You can help prevent both tooth decay and gum disease by visiting your dentist regularly, brushing your teeth twice a day, and cleaning between your teeth every day.


Brush with a fluoride (FLOOR-eyed) toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps make tooth enamel stronger. There is more than one way to brush your teeth, so it’s a good idea to ask your dentist or hygienist which way works best for you.

  1. Place your toothbrush against your gum line. Move the brush in soft circles about as big as the tooth you are brushing.
  2. Use a 45-degree angle to make sure that you are fully reaching the gum line as well as the tooth surface.
  3. Brush the outer tooth surfaces, keeping the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums.
  4. Brush the inner tooth surfaces.
  5. Brush the chewing surfaces.
  6. Use the top part of the brush to clean the surface of the top and bottom front teeth. Use a gentle, up-and-down motion.


Even if you brush twice a day, there are places your toothbrush bristles can’t reach. Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between teeth and under the gum line. Your dentist or hygienist can show you the right way to floss. It may feel clumsy at first, but don’t give up! It takes time to get the hang of it.

  1. Get the floss ready on your fingers. Break off a good amount of floss and wind most of it around your middle or index finger. Wind the rest of the floss around the same finger on your other hand. This finger will take up the used floss.
  2. Position the floss in between your teeth. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Guide the floss between your teeth, using a gentle rubbing motion. Don’t snap the floss into your gums.
  3. Curve the floss to hug the side of your tooth. When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it so that it hugs the side of one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.
  4. Gently rub the side of the tooth. Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. As you rub the side of the tooth, move the floss away from the gum with up-and-down motions.
  5. Repeat these steps on the rest of your teeth. As you move from tooth to tooth, unwind the clean floss with one finger and take up the used floss with the finger on the other hand. Don’t forget the back side of the last tooth.

If you haven’t been flossing, you may have sore or bleeding gums for the first few days that you floss. This should stop once the plaque is broken up and the bacteria are removed. If bleeding does not stop, see your dentist or hygienist.


Traditional string floss may not be the right method for you — and that’s okay! The best way to clean between your teeth is whichever way you will actually do every day. These types of between-the-teeth cleaners are also called interdental cleaners.

Here some other options:

  • Pre-threaded floss holders. Convenient and great for on-the-go or if you have trouble holding floss between your fingers.
  • Dental picks/brushes. Brushes are ideal for keeping orthodontic work like braces clean. Dental picks are made out of wood or plastic and specially designed to remove plaque and stimulate blood flow in your gums.
  • Powered interdental cleaners. These may use a stream of water or string floss to clean between teeth and are a good option if you have trouble with your grip, have braces, or had other treatments like implants or bridges.


It doesn’t take a lot of pressure to brush your teeth the right way. If you brush too hard then you may irritate your gums. This can cause them to pull away (recede) and expose the tooth’s root to bacteria in your mouth.


  • Choose products with the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. The ADA Seal on a product means that it’s been tested and proven to do what it says it will do. Look for the ADA Seal on fluoride toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, interdental cleaners, and mouthrinse. Visit ADA.org/Seal to see a list of all products that earned the ADA Seal.
  • Pick a toothbrush that feels comfortable in your hand and in your mouth. All ADA-accepted toothbrushes — manual or powered — earned the ADA Seal because they can remove plaque above the gum line, which helps reduce gingivitis. For children, choose a child-sized toothbrush.
  • Replace your toothbrush every 3 months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed. A worn toothbrush won’t clean your teeth properly. Children’s toothbrushes may need replacing more often because they can wear out sooner. If you have hand, arm, or shoulder problems that limit movement, you may find a powered toothbrush easier to use.
  • Check mouthrinse labels closely. Some mouthrinses just cover up odors; others actually kill germs and reduce plaque. Some also have fluoride. If you are constantly using a breath freshener for bad breath, see your dentist. In some cases, bad breath may be a sign of poor health.
  • Ask your dentist or hygienist for product tips. People’s needs may differ, and your dental team can point you to products for your specific needs.