The top dentists in Northern Virginia weigh in on how to take better care of your teeth.
Brushing your teeth is a task that you do, or should be doing, more often than any other personal hygiene regime. In order to make sure you step out with a confident, healthy smile, follow these tips from some of the top dentists in Northern Virginia.
Getting the most out of your brushing routine starts with the choosing the right tools.
“Electric toothbrushes are 1,000 percent the way to go. Not only do they do a better job cleaning your teeth and massaging your gums, but the good ones have two-minute timers on them to ensure that you are spending the proper time brushing your teeth.” –Dr. Shane Costa, Costa Family & Cosmetic Dentistry
“Use a small, soft toothbrush that can reach all areas of your mouth, and gently brush your teeth at a 45-degree angle in a circular motion. Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste, and brush your tongue. Replace toothbrushes every three months. Old toothbrushes are ineffective and harbor harmful bacteria that can cause infections. Change your toothbrush after you’ve had a cold. Please don’t store your toothbrush near the toilet. [There are] lots of germs around there.” –Dr. Phil Gentry, Caring Dentists
“Waterpiks aren’t needed for everyone but are indicated in certain situations. Most healthy patients can simply use floss, but for other patients with gum disease, the Waterpik can be super beneficial.” –Costa
“Don’t use Waterpiks as a substitute for brushing and flossing. But they are effective around orthodontic braces, which retain food in areas where a toothbrush cannot reach. However, they do not remove plaque. Waterpiks are frequently recommended by dentists for persons with gum disease; solutions containing antibacterial agents like chlorhexidine or tetracycline, available through a dentist’s prescription, can be added to the reservoir in these cases. It doesn’t really matter if you do it before or after brushing.” –Gentry
“We recommend electric to everyone. To be honest, as long as it has a two-minute timer and a rechargeable battery, most electric toothbrushes are good as long as they are used properly. We recommend the Sonicare. Everyone in our office uses one, and we have had great results with our patients. If you decide to go with a manual, all toothbrushes pretty much do the same thing, but always buy a soft one. Most people think hard [is] the best way to go, but overuse can lead to gum recession. We always recommend brushing with gentle pressure. Most people feel the need to scrub, and that is not the best idea as that can lead to recession. Small circular motions are advised, and make sure you are brushing the gums at the base of the teeth as well.” –Costa
“Electric toothbrushes don’t work that much better than manual toothbrushes, but they sure make brushing fun and can motivate some reluctant brushers to brush their teeth longer and more often. I recommended electric toothbrushes for people who have limited manual dexterity, such as a disabled or elderly person with arthritis, and to get kids excited about brushing, especially if they have braces. The new power brushes have Bluetooth that connects with your cell phone. You can keep track of your brushing habits and make graphs and charts and monitor when, how long and how much pressure you are pushing on your brush to prevent brushing too hard.” –Gentry
Manual Toothbrush: Most economical, but patients tend to use too much pressure
Electric Toothbrush: Better plaque removal, but higher cost
Waterpik Water Flosser: More effective than string floss, but messy
“Always look for the ADA seal. A company earns the ADA Seal of Acceptance by producing scientific evidence that demonstrates the safety and efficacy of its product, which the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs carefully evaluates according to objective requirements.”
–Dr. Phil Gentry, Caring Dentists
How to Brush Your Teeth Correctly
1. Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums.
2. Move the brush back and forth gently in short, tooth-wide strokes.
3. Brush the outer tooth surfaces, the inner tooth surfaces and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
4. Use the tip of the brush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke. –Dr. Phil Gentry, Caring Dentists
What to Look For in a Toothpaste
“Use toothpaste and mouth rinse with fluoride,” says Dr. Gentry. “Toothpaste with fluoride has been responsible for a significant drop in cavities since 1960. Look for one with the ADA Seal of Acceptance and make sure it contains fluoride. Mouthwash with fluoride can help make your teeth more resistant to decay, but children 6 years or younger should not use it unless it’s been recommended by a dentist.” –Dr. Phil Gentry, Caring Dentists
“For children younger than 3 years, start brushing their teeth as soon as they start to appear in the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. It is OK to use a kid’s toothpaste without fluoride for those who swallow everything and cannot spit out. For children 3 to 6 years old, use no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Always supervise your child’s brushing to make sure they use the right amount, and try to get your child to spit out the toothpaste.”
For Sensitive Teeth
“First get checked by your dentist to rule out that the sensitivity isn’t being caused by an infection, decay, gum disease, grinding or anything else. My favorite product for sensitive teeth is PreviDent prescription toothpaste. It has four times the fluoride of OTC toothpastes and contains 5 percent potassium nitrate to decrease sensitivity. You should also cut down or at least rinse out with water after consuming acidic products like soft drinks, wine, citric fruits, candy or sugar. I have patients with GERD, acid reflux, vomiting—the stomach acids damage teeth—[and they] need to rinse out with water to dilute the stomach acids immediately.”
According to Dr. Robert Argentieri, this is what to look for and watch out for in your toothpaste ingredient list:
Helpful ingredients: fluoride.
Harmful ingredients: sodium laurel sulfate.
Should we be brushing our tongue?
“I tell my patients if you don’t brush your tongue, it’s like cleaning the kitchen floor then walking across with dirty boots.” –Gentry
Absolutely. Bacteria can collect on your tongue and can cause bad breath and an undesirable taste in your mouth. –Costa
The tongue traps bacteria and food particles. This gives you bad breath. Brush your tongue with toothpaste, starting in the back and working forward. Brush the entire top surface of the tongue. I tell my patients if you don’t brush your tongue, it’s like cleaning the kitchen floor then walking across with dirty boots. The tongue will smear bacteria right back on the teeth after you just brushed them. Tongue brushes and scrapers are very popular in Europe. –Gentry
Floss the Right Way
“Without flossing, you miss 40 percent of your tooth surface,” says Dr. Phil Gentry.
1. Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind it around the middle fingers of each hand. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
2. Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion.
3. When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.
4. Bring the floss back toward the contact point between the teeth and move the floss up or down the other side, conforming the floss to the shape of the tooth.
5. Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with up-and-down motions.
6. Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth.