The Easiest Way to a Healthy Mouth? A Simple 1-2-3

Daily plaque removal is good smile insurance. But a few simple pointers will help you get the most out of that daily dental to-do.

Medically reviewed in October 2021

Remember what the YOU Docs say: Brush and floss only the teeth you want to keep. And you definitely want to keep all of your choppers. Not just for the sake of a great smile or for the fun of crunching through crisp apples in winter and corn on the cob in summer. But also because healthy gums and teeth are good for your whole body. One study uncovered a link between a healthy smile and a lower incidence of cancer. And researchers have confirmed a connection between periodontal disease and inflammation -- the kind of inflammation that could contribute to heart disease and diabetes.

So don't brush past dental hygiene without any thought. Break yourself into doing this simple daily habit right, and your tongue will enjoy the company of your teeth for many years to come.

Keep Your Teeth Healthy with 3 Easy Steps

1. Brushing: Go the Distance
Brush twice a day -- just don't skimp on time. Go the distance. Most people spend only 45 seconds brushing their teeth. But bump up your brushing time to 2 minutes and you'll remove 25% more plaque. Here are more tips on proper brushing:

  • Lighten up. Brushing too hard can damage teeth and gums. Use a light touch when you brush, applying no more force than what amounts to the weight of a small apple.
  • Work the angles. Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, and use small, circular strokes to gently remove plaque along the gumline of your inner and outer tooth surfaces. To clean chewing surfaces, use back-and-forth strokes. And give your tongue a few swipes, too, to help prevent bad breath.
  • Toss it. Your toothbrush bristles wear out over time, reducing the amount of plaque that you can easily remove. Replace your brush every 2 to 3 months, or more often if the bristles look worn or frayed.

2. Flossing: Think 18
Brushing daily is great. But if you don't floss, too, you're leaving 40% of your tooth surface untouched. And if you floss but don't use a long enough piece of string, you're just pushing that plaque around your mouth from tooth to tooth. So start with an 18-inch piece of floss, and move to a fresh bit of string for each new tooth you clean. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and index fingers and gently curl the floss around the tooth edge, sliding up and down along the tooth surface. And be sure to go under the gumline. What you don't want is to make a back-and-forth sawing motion with the string. You'll end up cutting your gums and allowing plaque and bacteria to build up between your teeth.

Know what foods make your teeth happy? Check out these top smile savers and spoilers.

3. Scraping: See the Pros
To help keep your teeth in tip-top shape, see your dental hygienist twice a year for teeth cleaning. Even if you're a top-notch brusher and flosser, you'll still need professional cleanings to remove tartar buildup with a process called scaling. Your hygienist will also polish your teeth and remove stains to help prevent future plaque buildup, cavities, and gum disease.

What does your smile say about your health?

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