Happy October, everyone! It’s one of the spookiest seasons of the year, and one of the scariest things we can think of is having problems with our teeth and gums. Since October is National Dental Hygiene Month, we want to promote a healthy mouth for everyone by acknowledging the importance of your daily hygiene efforts. Healthy teeth and gums are the foundation of a healthy, beautiful smile! Plaque The mouth is full of living bacteria, some of which feed and thrive on carbohydrates and sugary drinks. These can release acids mixed with saliva and food particles to create a sticky bacterial film (plaque). As plaque builds up, it attacks and weakens tooth enamel, working its way through the softer dentin and tooth pulp below it to create decay and cavities. Teeth with extensive decay often require a root canal treatment to save the tooth from the severe infection that has taken root. A root canal removes the bad bacteria and dead tissue that might otherwise require extracting the tooth. Signs You Might Need a Root Canal – Tooth pain or pain when chewing – Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks – Sensitive gums – Gum infection – Darkened or chipped teeth – Swollen lymph nodes – Oral trauma What You Can Do Did you know that the first known bristle toothbrush was invented in China in 1948? Unlike the smooth nylon-bristled brushes we use today, the original toothbrush used boar hairs attached to bamboo or bone handles. We don’t know about you, but we’re grateful for today’s toothbrushes! To prevent damaged teeth, you’ll want to start by protecting your mouth from plaque. For example, drinks like soda, fruit juices, sports drinks, carbonated water and other acidic and sweetened beverages are pretty much a lifeline for oral bacteria that attach your teeth. To lessen plaque, limit these beverages, and when you drink them, use a straw to reduce contact on tooth enamel. Better choices include water, milk, low-sugar vegetable juice, and unsweetened green and black tea. This year’s National Dental Hygiene Awareness Month focuses on four habits you need to practice daily: Brush Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each session with a soft-bristled toothbrush (no boars hair!). You want to gently clean them without harming the enamel or soft gum tissues. Make sure the head and shape of the brush fit comfortable in your mouth so you can get to the back areas to remove bacteria and food particles. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums. Using short strokes, move your toothbrush back and forth to clean all tooth surfaces – outside, inside and the top of the molars – where the food is chewed. Make sure to clean those grooves and crevices. Use up-and-down-strokes to clean the inside of your front teeth. Tip: Don’t forget to brush your tongue to get rid of plaque and freshen your breath. Floss Clean between your teeth once a day using a flossing tool of choice (one that makes you want to floss every day) to get rid of dental plaque your toothbrush can’t reach. Plaque buildup will cause it to harden into tartar or calculus, which has to be removed by a dental hygienist using special tools. Rinse Some areas of the mouth can’t get rid of plaque by brushing and flossing alone. Rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash daily destroys bacteria to prevent tooth decay and gum disease (infection of the oral tissue) from gaining hold. Your dentist can recommend a non-alcoholic antimicrobial rinse that is right for your needs. Chew Speaking of dry mouth, did you know that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after you eat lessens the chances of tooth decay? That’s because chewing stimulates saliva glands to promote healthy saliva flow. Your saliva plays a vital role by rinsing away food particles and bacterial debris and neutralizes the acids from oral bacteria. This month is a good time to toss out your old worn-out toothbrush and find a flossing method you will enjoy using every day. You’ll also want to thank your dental hygienist the next time you see them for all their efforts to make your smile the best it can be!