There's more to oral hygiene than just brushing your teeth. Here’s why it's important and how to get it right.

Good oral health and a beautiful smile can enhance one's confidence. Good oral hygiene implies that the teeth are clean; the gums pink and do not bleed and absence of bad breath. Dental hygiene can pave the path for a healthier life.

Unfortunately not many pay attention to oral hygiene due to busy stressful lifestyles, change in diets from tough fibrous food to soft refined food and increased incidence of systemic disorders with subsequent medication.

Gum diseases caused by poor oral hygiene have been linked to systemic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, stroke, pre-term delivery of babies and diabetes mellitus.

Diabetes and gum disease have a two-way relationship. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to increased production of harmful substances in the blood, which have a destructive effect on gums. Similarly products released due to gum disease cause an elevation in blood glucose level, which may require more medication or insulin. So maintenance of good oral health by a diabetic can actually lower his/her dosage. Bacterial toxins from gum disease enter the bloodstream and contribute to blockage of blood vessel resulting in cardiac arrest and stroke. The harmful products released as a result of gum diseases may induce early labour in a pregnant lady resulting in delivery of pre-term low birth weight babies

What to do

Proper brushing: Brush teeth twice daily with a soft or medium brush and a toothpaste containing fluoride. Spend at least 2-3 minutes to brush all areas especially where the teeth meet the gums. Change tooth brush every 3-4 months or use brushes with wear indicators. In children a circular motion is advocated. Start brushing from the time the first tooth erupts. Powered tooth brushes are recommended for small children or the physically challenged. Mouth rinses may serve as adjuncts to brushing in the elderly. Recent studies show that cleaning the tongue by brushing reduces bad breath.

Flossing: This involves passing a thread-like material in between the teeth to help clean the narrow spaces that the toothbrush cannot access. Floss once a day.

Check-ups: Visit a dentist every six months. If your gums bleed during brushing, consult a dentist at the earliest.

Food habits: Limit sugary and sticky food, carbonated drinks and frequent snacking. Increase intake of fibrous food. Quit smoking and avoid tobacco products as they increase risk of gum diseases and cancer. Drink plenty of water and rinse thoroughly after food or snacks.

Make good oral hygiene a habit and not a duty. Keep your gums and teeth healthy and let them serve you faithfully for a life time.

Reasons for deterioration

Improper cleaning methods leading to plaque and calculus formation

Untreated gum diseases leading to bad breath and bleeding gums

Failure to rinse mouth after snacking

Smoking and use of tobacco

Large cavities leading to food lodgement and halitosis

Failure to clean tongue regularly

Poor maintenance of dentures

Inadequate attention to milk teeth

Lack of proper brushing during orthodontic treatment

Benefits of oral hygiene

Prevention of tooth decay: Poor oral hygiene leads to build up of bacteria that consume the sugars from food residues. This leads to production of acids that dissolve the enamel causing tooth decay.

Prevention of gum disease: Gum disease leading to tooth mobility is the main cause of adult tooth loss.

Prevention of bad breath: Brushing the teeth and tongue reduces bad breath.

Maintenance of good physical and systemic health: Sudden oral health deterioration can often be the first sign of an underlying systemic disease.

The writer is a Professor in Periodontics. E-mail: drjospol@gmail.com