08/27/2013 11:18 am ET Updated Oct 27, 2013

Oral Health Care Basics: Getting to the Nitty Gritty

In order to maintain a healthy body and mouth, consuming vitamin-rich foods and little fat is key. But it's easy to forget about the basics of well-maintained teeth and gums in a society that focuses on overarching preventative and treatment options. It's not to say that those measures are not beneficial, because they are, but it won't get you far if you aren't following the golden rules of oral health.

Check the ingredients
The ingredients in your toothpaste and mouthwash can play a major role in the health of your mouth. While you might be looking for the tube that offers a pristine white smile or minty fresh breath, it's important to make sure you're not falling for gimmicks. Always check the ingredients to make sure there are no drying agents, like sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol, which can cause more harm than good. Natural is the way to go with toothpastes and mouthwash because they will not irritate sensitive gums or teeth, but they will still work to get rid of anaerobic bacteria and leave lasting freshness in your mouth.

Invest in a toothbrush
Purchasing a flimsy $2 toothbrush isn't going to do you much good when you're brushing your teeth, and it won't last as long as a slightly more expensive one. A power or electric toothbrush with soft bristles will rinse away dental plaque without scrubbing the enamel away. Once the colors of the bristles begin to wear away, it's time to buy a new device or replacement head.

Learn how to brush
This may sound silly, but a lot of people don't know the proper way to brush their teeth. According to the American Dental Association, there are six basic techniques for getting the entire mouth clean. Begin with the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle at the gumline and brush back and forth in short, quick motions. Then, brush the outer surfaces of the teeth from all the way in the back of the mouth to the front. Brushing the inner tooth surfaces is just as important as well, which many people forget about because this area isn't seen by anyone else. Then, get the chewing surfaces of the teeth, where food particles tend to get stuck, as well as the inside surface of the top and bottom front teeth. Last but not least, make sure to brush the tongue, where a large amount of anaerobic bacteria reside.

Don't forget to floss
After cleaning the nooks and crannies of the teeth, there may still be some dental plaque, food particles and bacteria caught in the cracks between all of the teeth. Although the toothbrush does its best to get into tight areas, there are some spots that are literally unreachable. Floss gets between those crevices to loosen things up. Cut off about 18 inches of floss and wrap it around the middle fingers of each hand so that it is tight, and grip it with the thumb and forefinger. Get below the gumline and the sides of the teeth.

Regular cleanings
No matter how many apples you eat or natural bacteria-fighting herbs you add to your diet, regular teeth cleanings are a must-do for good oral health. While brushing each day helps to get rid of plaque that accumulates at the teeth, sometimes that plaque turns into a hard substance called tartar. Tartar is more porous than plaque, so it absorbs stains much more easily, making your teeth look older -- and in turn, you will look older. Once tartar appears, it can only be removed by a dental hygienist or dentist who uses special instruments to get below the gumline. This is why dental hygienists scrape your teeth with a hook-like apparatus.

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