Dental Hygiene & Preventative Care Questions

Answers to common questions about dental hygiene

Of all the preventative maintenance you perform on a daily basis, dental hygiene is critical to maintaining healthy teeth and gums, and may affect your overall health. Recent studies have found a correlation between problems in your mouth and other health conditions. People with diabetes and who take certain medications have an increased risk of gum disease. Studies have found similar bacteria in people with severe gum disease and patients who experience cardiovascular disease, strokes, and endocarditis (an infection in the inner lining of the heart).

We believe the mouth is a window to your overall health. When you have tooth decay or gum disease, it’s really a bacterial infection in your mouth. The toxins produced can spread throughout your bloodstream and attach in other areas of the body. Ongoing research suggests there may be a correlation between oral infections and the systemic diseases previously mentioned.

That’s why Dental Associates believes so strongly in good dental hygiene and preventative dental care. The more effort you put into dental hygiene, the greater odds of reducing future problems.

Below are answers to common questions we receive from our patients about dental hygiene and preventative care. If you have any questions from here, we strongly encourage you to use your dental hygienist and dentist as a resource at your next visit.

If it’s time for your next appointment and you have questions that aren’t covered here, please request an appointment.


Why are some Dental Associates dentists designated D.D.S. and others D.M.D.?
You may notice that while most Dental Associates dentist have the designation “D.D.S.” others are listed as “D.M.D.” Rest assured, both designations mean the same thing and your Dental Associates dentist graduated from an accredited dental school. The D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) and D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine) are equivalent degrees; universities determine what degree is awarded to their dental school graduates. Both degrees use the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association.


What is plaque?
Your teeth are naturally covered with a sticky film called “plaque.” Plaque contains bacteria, and after a meal or snack containing sugar, acid is released that can attack the enamel of your teeth. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel of your teeth to break down, eventually leading to tooth decay and gum disease.

You can prevent plaque buildup and keep your mouth cavity-free by brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste AND cleaning between your teeth with dental floss at least once per day. Regular visits to your dentist for cleanings can also help reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.


What is tartar?
Plaque that is not removed with thorough daily brushing and flossing can eventually harden into calculus or “tartar.” This makes it more difficult to keep your teeth clean.


What is gingivitis?
When tartar collects above the gum line, your gum tissue becomes red, swollen, and may bleed easily. This is called “gingivitis,” the early stage of gum disease.


What causes a cavity?
Tooth decay, or cavities, can be a problem for anyone, regardless of age. The hard outer layer of your teeth is called enamel, and tooth decay is the destruction of your tooth enamel. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth. When you eat or drink foods containing sugars, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. The stickiness of plaque keeps these acids in contact with your teeth and if not removed with proper brushing and flossing the enamel of your teeth can break down. This is when cavities – a little hole in your tooth – can form.


How can I prevent cavities and tooth decay?
The American Dental Association offers the following tips for preventing cavities and tooth decay:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner
  • Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking and high-sugar foods and drinks
  • Check with your dentist about the use of supplemental fluoride and the use of dental sealants to protect your teeth from decay
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination


What is the proper way to brush teeth?
An effective, easy-to-remember technique for brushing your teeth involves using a circular motion to brush a couple of teeth at a time, methodically moving to adjacent teeth until you have brushed all of the surfaces of all of your teeth. Begin by placing your toothbrush beside your teeth at a 45-degree angle, along the gum line and gently brush teeth in a circular motion. Brush the outside of the teeth, inside the teeth, the chewing surfaces of your teeth, and your tongue. Don’t forget to clean between teeth with floss! Visit our how to brush teeth page for more information.


What’s the best type of tooth brush?
There are many tooth brushes to choose from, and a lot of it is personal preference. Start by choosing a soft-bristled tooth brush. When choosing the size and shape of your tooth brush, make sure it fits inside your mouth and allows you to easily reach all areas of your mouth.

We discourage using medium and hard bristle toothbrushes because they’re too stiff to be effective and they can irritate your gums.


How often should I replace my tooth brush?
The ADA recommends you replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Remember, your tooth brush is your main tool for dental hygiene that’s used twice per day, every day, so don’t let it become worn.


How often should I floss my teeth?
The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day to remove plaque from the areas between your teeth where the toothbrush can't reach. The main benefits of flossing are that it prevents cavities, tartar build up, gum disease, and bad breath. Don’t wait until you feel like there’s food stuck between your teeth to floss. There’s plaque buildup on your teeth on a daily basis that needs to be removed. And remember, children need their teeth flossed too!

Flossing your teeth should not be painful. You may experience discomfort and a small amount of bleeding when you first start your flossing regiment, but don’t give up. With daily flossing and brushing the discomfort should subside within a couple of weeks. If pain persists, consult your dentist.


How do I floss my teeth?
Your Dental Associates hygienist will show you how to properly floss your teeth at your first appointment. In the meantime, visit our how to floss teeth page for more information.


What causes bad breath?
There are many, many things that cause bad breath, but some of the most common are listed below. If you suffer from consistent bad breath, see your dentist as it may be cause for concern.

What causes bad breath:

  • Food. Garlic and onions are culprits that cause bad breath almost instantly. However, if you don’t brush and floss daily any food particles can remain in your mouth, collect bacteria, and contribute to bad breath. 
  • Gum disease. Continual bad breath or a consistent bad taste in your mouth can also be one of the warning signs of gum disease, which, as mentioned above, is caused by plaque (and a lack of flossing!).
  • Dry mouth. Without an ample amount of saliva in your mouth, food particles are not cleaned away properly and can cause bad breath. Dry mouth, or a decrease in the normal flow of saliva, can be caused by salivary gland problems, certain medications, or repeatedly breathing through your mouth.
  • Smoking and tobacco. In additional to staining your teeth and being detrimental to your health, smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes, and the use of any smokeless tobacco, can cause bad breath.
  • Medical conditions. Certain conditions like sinus and lung infections or kidney and liver disease can cause bad breath.


Can my dentist help rid my bad breath?
Absolutely! If you have persistent bad breath, don’t simply reach for a stick of gum and ignore it. See your dentist for a discussion about your oral hygiene habits and your health. The solution may be simpler than you think!


Is mouthwash a cure for bad breath?
Mouthwashes are generally cosmetic and do not have a long-lasting effect on bad breath. If you must constantly use a breath freshener like mouthwash or mints to hide unpleasant mouth odor, see your dentist and determine what the true issue is. It could be as simple as needing to improve your flossing regularity.


Does chewing gum prevent cavities?
The ADA suggests chewing sugarless gum after meals to help prevent tooth decay. Chewing gum increases the flow of saliva in your mouth, which naturally washes away bad bacteria. Gum that contains sugar also increase saliva flow, but the sugar produces plaque bacteria that lead to tooth decay. The ADA recommends sugar free gums with the ADA Seal to assure they are sweetened only with non-cavity causing sweeteners.

It should also be noted that chewing gum should NOT be used as a replacement for regular brushing and flossing. Proper brushing twice per day and flossing once per day is the only way to remove plaque and maintain optimal oral health.


What causes sensitive teeth?
If you experience tooth pain when consuming hot or cold food and drinks, there are several causes that your dentist will examine. Sensitive teeth can be caused by:

  • Tooth decay (cavities)
  • A worn tooth filling
  • Deteriorating or worn tooth enamel
  • Teeth grinding or clinching habits
  • Fractured teeth
  • Gum disease
  • An exposed tooth root surface
  • Excessive or improper tooth whitening

Proper oral hygiene and a daily routine that includes brushing and flossing is the key to preventing tooth sensitivity and pain. If you’re experiencing tooth pain, your Dental Associates dentist will carefully diagnose your sensitive teeth and find the appropriate treatment plan. Treatment for sensitive teeth many include:

  • Toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Desensitizing toothpaste blocks the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, reducing tooth sensitivity.
  • Fluoride gel. Applied during your dental visit, fluoride gel strengthens tooth enamel, which can reduce the transmission of sensations.
  • Dental crowns, inlays or bonding. These can be used to repair a flaw in your tooth that’s causing the painful sensitivity.
  • Surgical tissue graft. If you’ve lost gum tissue from the root, this will protect the root and reduce sensitivity. Learn more about gum surgery.
  • Root canal therapy. If you experience persistent tooth pain that’s not simply caused by hot or cold food, you may need a root canal. When dental pulp, the blood vessels and nerves found within a tooth, becomes badly damaged by decay, irreversible pain and sensitivity may occur. Don’t fret about the painful stigma generally associated with root canals. We encourage you to read our Root Canal Therapy section for accurate information about root canal therapy.


What causes bleeding gums?
If you’re maintaining appropriate oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once per day and maintaining regular dental visits, bleeding gums should be a rare occurrence. However, if your gums bleed on a frequent basis, make an appointment with your dentist. Bleeding gums could be a sign that something else is wrong.

Below are some causes of bleeding gums:

  • Flossing: If you’ve never flossed your teeth on a regular basis and start a daily routine (bravo!), you may experience bleeding as your gums adjust to the regular cleanings. This bleeding typically goes away after a week or two. 
  • Your brushing technique: If you brush your teeth too hard it’s possible to cause bleeding gums. Follow the tips earlier on this page for proper brushing technique and remember to use a soft-bristled tooth brush.
  • Gingivitis: In some cases, bleeding gums can be a sign of gingivitis, the early stage of periodontal (gum) disease. Gingivitis is not only preventable, it’s reversible, so if your gums bleed easily or bleed when you brush, consult your dentist. Learn more about Gum Disease.
  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy some women experience bleeding gums when they brush or floss. With the condition known as “pregnancy gingivitis,” inflamed gums cause swelling and tenderness. Visit our Dental Care During Pregnancy for more information.
  • Medications: If you’re prescribed blood thinners by your physician, these medications may cause your gums to bleed. If the bleeding doesn’t subside in a reasonable amount of time, contact your physician.


What causes dry mouth?
Dry mouth is caused by an inadequate flow of saliva. Dry mouth (xerostomia) is not a disease, rather a symptom of a medical disorder or a side effect caused by gland problems, mouth breathing, certain medications (allergy antihistamines, cold decongestants, pain killers, and others), or as a side effect of Sjogrens disease.


Can dry mouth cause cavities and tooth decay?
Yes. Without saliva and its natural defenses against bacteria, you have a greater risk for tooth decay. If dry mouth is a persistent problem, bring it to the attention of your dentist who can determine the appropriate treatment plan.


Are dental X-rays safe?
Dental Associates, consistent with the American Dental Association, has always maintained that only the absolute minimum number of X-rays will to be taken for diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Dental X-rays are a safe, effective diagnostic tool your dentist will use to help detect tooth damage and disease not otherwise visible during a regular dental exam.

Dental X-ray exams are common standard of care practice and require very low levels of radiation exposure. Our X-ray equipment and procedures are designed to limit the body's exposure to radiation and every precaution is taken to ensure that radiation exposure is as low as possible, making the risk of potentially harmful effects very small. In fact, the amount of radiation received from a dental X-ray examination is extremely low compared to other naturally occurring sources of radiation.

At Dental Associates, we are committed to using the best advancements in the treatment of our patients, including digital X-rays. Compared to traditional film X-rays that many private dental practices still employ, digital X-rays greatly reduce the amount of radiation to such low levels that one shouldn’t be concerned about over exposure, even with repeated applications.

How often X-rays are taken will depend on your overall oral health and any symptoms you may have, your risk for disease, and your age. Children typically require dental X-rays more often than adults because their teeth and jaws are still developing and their teeth are more commonly affected by tooth decay than adults. Your Dental Associates dentist will review your history, examine your mouth and then prescribe the appropriate x-rays for your specific diagnosis.

So, are X-rays safe? Yes, dental X-rays are safe. But if you have questions, we courage you to ask your dentist as your safety is our top priority.

If you’re pregnant, tell your dentist and consult our Dental Care During Pregnancy for more information on dental X-rays during pregnancy.


How important is Fluoride to teeth?
Fluoride is a mineral that’s found naturally in all water sources including lakes and rivers throughout Wisconsin. Research has shown that fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to the acid that causes cavities.

The American Dental Association strongly believes in the public health benefits of fluoridated water in preventing tooth decay. Visit ADA.org for more information about fluoride and fluoridation.


What are the risks of oral piercings?
If you pierce your tongue, lips or cheeks, it can interfere with speech, chewing or swallowing. Oral piercing (or tongue splitting) also requires a significant amount of upkeep if you’re going to maintain good oral health and avoid potentially dangerous side effects.

Since your mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria, oral piercings greatly increase your odds of infection and swelling. An oral infection can quickly become a serious health issue if not treated properly, so if you experience any discomfort, take action immediately.

There’s also a great risk of damaging your teeth by inadvertently biting down on the piercing or causing gum damage through repeated contact with your gums.

For complete information about the dental hygiene, visit our teeth cleaning page.