It’s crazy to think that scientists have discovered more than 500 species of bacteria living inside the human mouth, and although not all are considered bad, it’s the reason oral hygiene is so important. “There are billions of bacteria found inside the mouth,” says New York cosmetic dentist Irene Grafman, DDS. “Some are bad bacteria and some are good bacteria. The most important thing for health is to keep the correct balance. Bad bacteria thrive in an acidic environment, so it’s important to keep to a healthy diet, drink lots of water and keep a proper balance of pH.” To achieve the deep clean your mouth really needs, here are four things to include in your daily oral-care routine.
Detox Your Toothbrush
Your bathroom is one of the top places in your house for bacteria to go buck-wild, and if your toothbrush is exposed, it’s not immune to their havoc. Using a toothbrush-sanitizing device with UV light can help safely destroy the DNA in bacteria that live on your toothbrush. “Toothbrush sterilization devices work really well!” says Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS. “I have been using one ever since they came out. However, if you rotate several toothbrushes as I do, I am not worried about keeping the sterilized brushes covered, especially if they are kept in a closed bathroom cabinet.”
Speaking of closed bathroom cabinets, how many of you keep your toothbrush tucked away? Personally, I keep mine front and center on my bathroom vanity, but I do keep it covered. “I always cover my toothbrush to prevent toilet plume from getting on the toothbrush if the toilet seat is not always put down,” adds Dr. Grafman. There have been studies done on these situations and the results are pretty.
Dr. Grafman says sterilization devices can also act as a good cover for your toothbrush (many of them come with or act as a toothbrush holder), but if you’d rather stick to the plastic ones, remember to swap it out each time you swap out your toothbrush. We like Vanity Planet’s Elements Sonic Toothbrush ($140), which combines the toothbrush and UV sanitization storage into one product for convenience, and also features four brushing modes and a built-in two-minute timer.
Don’t Forget to Floss
How many times have you lied to your dental hygienist when he or she asks you if you floss regularly? Unfortunately, it’s the most commonly skipped step in a person’s routine, but it’s a critical step. “Flossing is critical if you want to help prevent both decay and periodontal disease,” says Dr. Goldstein, who recommends flossing at least once per day after eating dinner. “Proper flossing can remove particles of leftover food between the teeth that brushing can’t reach. Furthermore, flossing can help clean out the gingival sulcus, which is the gum tissue just below the gum line.”
If traditional floss just isn’t luring you in, opt for something a little more fun, like Cocofloss’s scented floss in a variety of flavors like Coconut, Strawberry, and its latest, S’mores. Or, try a water flosser, which many people swear by for optimal gum health. We like the NewBeauty Award–winning BURST Water Flosser ($70), the Waterpik Sonic-Fusion ($140), which is also an award-winner and brushes and flosses simultaneously, and the new water-resistant SmileDirectClub Water Flosser ($40) that is perfect for those who like to use it in the shower. “Flossing with a water flosser is quite helpful in removing food particles below the gum line that traditional floss can’t get to, like on the fronts and backs of teeth. It is especially helpful if you have a bridge where manual flossing can be difficult to accomplish,” adds Dr. Goldstein.Dr. Field actually recommends using both forms of flossing to ensure no areas are missed.
Try a Bacteria-Fighting Toothpaste
You may think all toothpastes are created equal, but not every one on the shelf is going to give you the deep clean you’re looking for. Crest Pro-Health Complete Protection Bacteria Shield Toothpaste ($5) contains stannous fluoride, which helps to provide 24-hour antibacterial protection to keep cavities and gingivitis away while also strengthening tooth enamel and freshening breath. “When our mouths are not in good health, the mix of bad bacteria increases, which leads to a number of diseases,” says Los Altos, CA cosmetic dentist Joseph Field, DDS.
Dr. Goldstein says that generally, you should brush your teeth for three minutes to effectively clean the tooth surfaces, and longer than three minutes if you have gum recession or periodontal disease. “Although brushing after meals is ideal (combined with flossing), doing it at least twice a day is the very least that should be done to help prevent tooth and gum disease.”
Use Mouthwash AND Toothpaste
“Mouthwash is important to help reduce the bacteria in your mouth; however, it matters what you use,” says Dr. Field, who recommends using one with activated chlorine dioxide. According to Crest, chlorine dioxide is known to eliminate the bacteria that causes a foul-smelling odor, and has been used in drinking water to safely disinfect and deodorize it, so small amounts of the ingredient are usually harmless if ingested. However, if you’re looking to avoid the ingredient, try hello Naturally Healthy Antigingivitis Mouthwash ($6 and there are refillable pouches available as well to cut down on packaging waste), which features a vegan formula containing aloe vera, organic coconut oil, mint, and xylitol, a natural sweetener.
It’s also important to note that mouthwash should not be used as a replacement for brushing your teeth. In fact, many dentists recommend using the two together. “Based on your individual susceptibility to decay, some people should use mouthwash every time they brush, and some are fine using it only as a quick breath refresher when they need it,” says Dr. Goldstein. “If you are getting decay and are between the ages of 25 and 65, you will probably benefit from a concentrated mouthwash in addition to your toothpaste.”