Home Oral Care: How to Identify and Fix Common Oral Concerns

woman brushing her teeth with a smile
woman brushing her teeth with a smile

Regular checkups and professional cleaning (officially known as dental prophylaxis) are crucial for both your oral health and your overall well-being. But how you care for your mouth at home is every bit as important.

Protecting your teeth from decay is a continual battle. The sugar from the food you eat, combined with the bacteria in your mouth, leads to plaque formation. Plaque produces acids that gradually damage your teeth. Your teeth are robbed of minerals during this time, making them weaker.

This plaque must be cleared away before it forms tartar or calculus, a hard substance that can only be removed by a professional. Likewise, your teeth need a break from the acid and a chance to remineralize before the damage caused by the acid becomes permanent and a cavity forms.

This article will guide you through the causes of common oral issues while introducing at-home solutions to better your oral health.

Common Oral Issues

Causes of Bad Breath

80 million people in the US are affected every day by chronic bad breath, also known as Halitosis. Bad breath is an important oral health issue, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, and it may be more than an embarrassing social problem—it can be a sign of disease or illness.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Bad breath is typically caused by a sulfur compound that is left by bacteria created from decaying food particles and other leftover debris that are trapped between teeth. This is why you should be flossing once a day. In addition to proper brushing, flossing daily helps remove the food particles and bacteria that contribute to bad breath, making it one of the easiest ways to prevent and banish bad breath. Brushing your tongue, cheeks and the roof of your mouth can help remove food particles, too, and of course, regular visits to the dentist are recommended as well.

Dry Mouth

Saliva is important for more reasons than you might think, one of which is that your mouth is more susceptible to plaque buildup if less saliva is present. As we’ve established, this building may result in an unpleasant smell.

If you deal with bad breath due to a lack of saliva, you can avoid the following circumstances:

  • Alcohol – Beverages containing alcohol may promote a dry mouth and cause bad breath, so before you hop into bed and forget after a night of drinking, be sure to floss, no matter how tired you may seem to be.
  • Early morning – You may be prone to bad breath in the morning because saliva stops flowing when you sleep. Mornings may be the best time for your daily dental flossing.
  • Being hungry or thirsty – Since there is not much saliva in your mouth when you are dehydrated, you’re prone to increased bacterial buildup and bad breath at these times. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and are eating right. Chewing food also increases the saliva in your mouth, so if you’re skipping meals or dieting, you may develop bad breath. If you must restrict your food intake and eat infrequently, drink plenty of water to help maintain the level of saliva in your mouth to help prevent bad breath.


Causes of Chronic Bad Breath

Having good oral hygiene and a healthy diet are good ways to be sure you avoid bad breath. But, if you’re doing all of these things and are still having problems, there may be another cause, including some serious health conditions.

Some serious oral health conditions associated with bad breath include:

  • Throat problems such as strep throat
  • Gum disease
  • Dental Cavities
  • Throat or oral cancer
  • Tonsils that contain trapped food particles.
  • A root canal that is infected

Bad breath can also be a symptom of a variety of serious non-oral health problems, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • HIV
  • Digestive system ailments such as:
    • Acid reflux
    • Lung infections
    • Lung disease


Plaque and Tartar

Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that naturally forms on our teeth each day. The bacteria in plaque can react with the sugars and starches in the food we eat, resulting in an acid that gradually dissolves tooth enamel. This process, if not stopped, will result in tooth decay and the eventual destruction of the tooth.

While plaque can be removed with proper brushing and flossing, any missed plaque will harden into tartar. Tartar, or dental calculus, cannot be removed by brushing; it requires special tools used by dentists in order to be safely eliminated.

The acids produced by plaque can do more than just damage teeth enamel. They can irritate gums, resulting in redness and bleeding. As this progresses into gum disease, the gums will begin to pull away from the teeth, and the tissue and bones holding the teeth in place will begin to break down.

This is why good home care and regular professional dental cleanings are needed in order to keep your mouth and teeth healthy. Diet can also help slow down the development of plaque by avoiding sticky and sugary foods that may result in sugar staying on your teeth for long periods of time.

Sensitive Teeth

It is estimated that approximately half the population experiences tooth sensitivity.

The sensitivity you experience can come in many forms or situations. It may be mild and momentary or extreme and last for hours. It can come and go over time. It can happen when you bite down on something, eat something sweet, drink something cold, or even when you drink something hot.

Why do your teeth react to hot, cold, sweet, or sour, and sometimes even to pressure? What’s actually going on?

If you are having issues with sensitive teeth, it’s typically an indication of a dental problem that needs treatment. The type of treatment can vary depending on the cause, however, as many things can cause sensitive teeth.

Common causes of sensitive teeth

Five of the most common causes of sensitive teeth are:

  1. Dental Trauma – A tooth can be sensitive to even slight pressure if it has been traumatized in any way, “bruised” or even cracked (by biting down on something). Sometimes even having your teeth cleaned or a filling done can cause sensitivity. Sensitivity to trauma can take weeks or even months to go away.
  2. Uneven Bite – If a tooth or teeth are hitting too soon or too hard because the teeth have shifted, and your bite has changed, it can cause sensitivity. These shifts can be due to things such as thumb sucking, loss of bone structure, a tooth being extracted and the other teeth shifting into the empty space, etc. Again a bite adjustment usually corrects the problem.
  3. Tooth Decay – The tooth often becomes sensitive to hot or cold, sweets, or acidic food if a tooth is decayed because bacteria have access to the nerve of the tooth. Removal of the decay and a filling is required to resolve this issue.
  4. Dental Infection – The sensitivity can be extreme if there is an infection in the tooth. Treatment is needed to clear up the infection, or it can lead to not only extreme pain but also serious health issues.
  5. Dentinal Sensitivity – Exposed dentin is by far the most common cause of tooth sensitivity. This occurs when the dentin (the inner layer of a tooth) is exposed. People with a healthy, thick layer of enamel on their teeth don’t usually suffer from tooth sensitivity. The enamel can be eroded by various things, as the thickness of the enamel varies from person to person. Dentin is a sponge-like material containing small tubes that connect the root canal space pulp to the outside of the dentin. If the enamel on the tooth is compromised the dentin can be exposed, resulting in sensitivity.


Causes of Dentinal Sensitivity

As it’s the most common source of sensitive teeth, it may help to know some of the reasons why it may happen. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Over-brushing or aggressive brushing – If you brush too forcefully, with a side-to-side technique, or with too hard of a brush, the enamel may be thinned and the area around the gum line is most often affected.
  • Gum recession/gum disease – This can occur naturally over time, whereby the gums shrink back, exposing root dentin which is not protected by enamel.
  • Poor oral hygiene – This can lead to cavities and/or plaque and tartar build-up, resulting in gum recession.
  • Grinding – This may also cause “aching” teeth due to constant pressure on them. Similar to erosion, regular teeth grinding (also called bruxism) can wear away the enamel by physically grinding it away.
  • Medical conditions – Bulimia and acid reflux (GERD) can cause acid to collect in the mouth and erode enamel, resulting in sensitive teeth.
  • Acidic food – Food with high acid content, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and tea, can cause enamel erosion with regular consumption.
  • Bad habits – Using teeth as tools or chewing on objects (e.g., pens) can also wear away tooth enamel.


Teeth can become sensitive for many different reasons, ranging from trauma to dental disease. The first step in treating sensitive teeth is to determine the cause. If you suffer from sensitive teeth, contacting our office to make an appointment is the first step in finding relief.

At-home Methods to Prevent Minor Oral Issues

Brushing Your Teeth

You should brush at least twice a day, for about 2 minutes each time.

To brush properly:

  • Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums.
  • Move the brush gently back and forth in short strokes.
  • Be sure to brush the entire surfaces of your teeth—the outer surfaces, the inner surfaces, the chewing surfaces, and even the backs of those hard-to-reach molars.
  • For the inside surfaces of your front teeth, tilt your brush vertically and brush with up-and-down strokes.
  • Don’t brush too hard! Plaque only needs to be brushed gently to be removed, and too much force can hurt your enamel.


Some other important factors:

  • Be sure to use a brush with soft bristles. Hard bristles can wear down your tooth enamel, causing it two weaken.
  • You should replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.
  • Use a toothpaste with fluoride.
  • Here’s a video from the American Dental Association to show you how it’s done.


Caring for Your Toothbrush

Brushing and flossing properly is crucial to good oral health, but caring for your toothbrush is something that often goes overlooked, even though it’s important as well. If your toothbrush is not properly taken care of it can spread more germs into your mouth and not clean your teeth properly. For proper toothbrush care, be sure to keep the following in mind:

Rinse off the toothbrush

After you brush your teeth, make sure you rinse off your toothbrush completely with water. You should also allow it to air-dry. If you store your toothbrush in a container, the moisture can create an environment that allows microorganisms to grow.

Do Not Share Your Toothbrush

Sharing a toothbrush can lead to an increased risk of infection.

Replace Your Toothbrush

It is recommended that you replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months. The bristles become worn and less effective over time.

What Kind of Toothbrush Should I Use?

There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to toothbrushes, but the big question may come down to whether you should use an electric or a traditional toothbrush.

The short answer is that either type, when used with proper technique for the appropriate amount of time, can effectively clean your teeth. However, electric toothbrushes tend to make doing it properly a lot easier.

So, the real divider is ease.

With a manual brush, diligence is key. It is recommended that in order to maintain a healthy smile, brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day is key. Regular toothbrushes have the benefits of being inexpensive, travel-friendly, and don’t require batteries or to be charged before use.

Electric toothbrushes have gained popularity for their ability to do all of the work for the user. With the option of different style brush heads and modes, like whitening, sensitivity, and deep cleaning, it makes thorough teeth cleaning simple. Some electric options are even equipped to time how long the user is spending brushing one area and alert the user to move to a different quadrant through vibrations.

Additionally, electronic toothbrushes are ideal for those for whom brushing can be troublesome. For people with issues such as coordination problems, arthritis, orthodontic brackets, or gum disease, electric toothbrushes can make it easier for them to reach every area of their teeth. Children can benefit from electric toothbrushes as well, as kids find them more interesting and they help do some of the brushing for them.

The ADA suggests that the real deciding factor is the person doing the brushing (and how they brush) more than the toothbrush itself. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but for most people, an electric toothbrush can help make cleaning your teeth a little bit easier.


You should be sure to floss once a day in order to prevent cavities in places where your toothbrush can’t reach and to ward off gum disease.

To floss properly:

  • Use a piece of floss that’s about 18″ long. Wind most of the floss around one of your middle fingers and the remaining floss around the same finger on the opposite hand.
  • When flossing, you will be gradually unwinding clean floss from the one finger, while wrapping the dirty floss around the finger of the other hand.
  • Tightly hold the floss between your forefingers and thumbs.
  • Use a gentle rubbing motion to guide the floss between your teeth. Be sure not to use too much force or to snap the floss into your gums.
  • When the floss reaches the gumline, wrap it into a “C” shape around one tooth and slide it gently into the space between the gum and tooth.
  • While holding the floss tightly against the side of the tooth, move the floss away from your gums with an up-and-down motion.
  • Complete this process until you have rubbed the floss along the side of each of your teeth.
  • Don’t forget to floss the back of your last molar!
  • The American Dental Association has a video to help show you this process. 


Why Is It Important to Floss?

Most people will brush their teeth, but many are reluctant to floss as instructed. Some feel that brushing alone is sufficient, while others were influenced by a 2016 news article citing the lack of studies done on the effectiveness of flossing. Others are concerned when flossing causes discomfort or makes their gums bleed.

The truth of the matter is that toothbrushes are incapable of reaching all surfaces of the tooth. There are spaces between teeth where tiny food particles and bacteria can cause plaque formation. While mouthwash can reach these areas and kill the bacteria, it cannot remove the plaque. This plaque will eventually become tartar, a hard substance that can only be removed by a dentist.

Plaque in areas between teeth can result in cavities that are difficult to spot, and beneath the gumline, it can cause irritation and eventually lead to gingivitis and gum disease. This is typically the real reason why gums bleed when flossing. Flossing helps keep these areas clean and allows the gums to heal and return to normal.

A study performed at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences found that flossing increases the effectiveness of brushing, allowing higher concentrations of fluoride to remain in the mouth for more extended periods. While the study found evidence leading us to believe that flossing before brushing may be more effective, the most important thing is that we DO floss!


Brushing and flossing are the most crucial elements of a home oral hygiene routine and should be your main focus. There are some cases where a mouthwash/mouth rinse can be helpful. However, mouthwash has the benefit of reaching areas that might be missed by a toothbrush.

Types of mouthwash

The best type of mouthwash for you will depend on your needs. You should be aware that there are two main types of mouthwash: therapeutic and cosmetic. The latter type may be used to control bad breath and leave a pleasant taste behind, but as they don’t kill bacteria, they offer no health benefits.

Therapeutic mouthwashes can be available over-the-counter or prescription and can be used to treat several conditions.

Mouthwashes containing fluoride can be helpful for those who struggle with tooth decay or who have braces and have a hard time reaching every part of their tooth with their toothbrush.

Antibacterial mouthwash can help disrupt bacteria and help those with chronic gingivitis, but it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for brushing and flossing—the bacteria will begin to return within 20 minutes. (For disturbing bacteria in hard-to-reach areas when your toothbrush isn’t available, sugar-free chewing gum (such as those with sorbitol) may be more effective.)

For those who suffer from dry mouth (xerostomia)—which can make teeth more prone to decay—some types of mouth rinse are specially formulated to help with this problem.

Some other conditions different kinds of therapeutic mouthwash have been created for include:

  • Plaque control
  • Bad breath
  • Dry socket
  • Topical pain relief
  • Teeth whitening



Your tooth enamel is made up of minerals, and each day, your tooth enamel goes through the processes of demineralization and demineralization. Demineralization occurs when minerals in your tooth enamel dissolve due to acids, and remineralization is when minerals are deposited back into your enamel. When your body takes in calcium, phosphate, and fluoride, your tooth enamel begins to replenish.

This is a daily occurrence, but sometimes more demineralization occurs than remineralization. If your tooth enamel is not being restored faster than it is being depleted, your teeth can begin to decay. This is why fluoride is important to the health of your teeth. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is resistant to acid. When tooth enamel is remineralized using fluoride, it not only restores strength to the enamel but helps protect it from future exposure to acid.

Different Ways We Get Fluoride

Every day, we use and consume things that have small amounts of fluoride, including water, certain foods, and toothpaste.

Fluoride treatments are also available from our office. These fluoride treatments can be directly applied to your teeth as a foam, gel, or varnish. It is typically left on the teeth for a short time, and then any excess that has not been absorbed can be removed. You will most likely be instructed not to eat or drink anything for 30 minutes after the treatment to make sure the fluoride is able to do its work.

Some adults struggling with tooth decay or root sensitivity can benefit from fluoride treatments, which can be especially helpful for children. Children tend to need time to build good oral hygiene habits, so fluoride treatments can give their teeth a little extra protection as they learn to brush and floss properly.

Your Diet

A healthy diet is important for a healthy body. No one believes that junk food is good for them, but it’s important to remind ourselves why these kinds of foods should only be eaten occasionally. When eaten too frequently, junk food can significantly impact our overall health.

Foods That Are High in Sugar

Over-consumption of foods that are high in sugar can put us at risk for obesity and diabetes. When looking specifically at the mouth, we see that food and drinks with large amounts of sugar can mix with the bacteria in the mouth, resulting in acid, which damages teeth enamel and increases the chances of developing gum disease. Gum disease has links to other conditions, including heart disease and stroke, as it is best avoided entirely.

Foods With High Acidic Content

Many foods, such as soft drinks or sports drinks, can damage tooth enamel due to their acidic content, in addition to the sugar. It may not be noticeable, but acid softens the enamel, making it susceptible to being worn away.

Foods That Can Damage Teeth

Here are some foods that may pose harm to your teeth.

  • Ice – Ice is fine for cooling beverages, but you should not bite it as it can damage the enamel.
  • Hard Candies – Like ice, biting down on hard candy can be dangerous. They pose an additional problem, however: candies that take a long time to dissolve in the mouth result in a long period of exposure to sugar, and the acid produced mixes with the mouth’s bacteria.
  • Gummy/Sticky/Chewy Foods – Foods like gummy bears and starbursts stay on your teeth much longer than ordinary foods. Due to these foods staying on your longer, you are more subject to tooth decay and other ailments to your oral health. It is important to clean your teeth after eating these types of food.
  • Crunchy Foods – Crunchy Foods are usually full of starch. Starch tends to get stuck in your teeth for long periods.
  • Fruits and Juices with Citric Acids – Repeated exposure to the acids from foods like fruit and fruit juices can erode your teeth over time.
  • Alcoholic Beverages – In excess, alcohol causes dehydration, which leads to dry mouth. The presence of saliva in the mouth is important, as it helps to prevent cavities. Anything that leads to dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay. Caffeinated beverages, like coffee, can have this effect as well.
  • Drinks High in Sugar – Drinks like colas and energy drinks tend to be extremely high in sugar. These sugars are used by bacteria that damage your tooth enamel.
  • Sports Drinks – While these are great to drink while exercising to keep you hydrated and full of electrolytes, they can be dangerous to consume on a regular basis. Due to the high sugar concentration, they can be dangerous to your teeth and cause oral health problems like cavities and much more.


Foods That Can Stain Teeth

The food you consume can have an impact on how your teeth look, in addition to your oral health. There are microscopic ridges on teeth where residue from certain foods can get caught, resulting in a stain or discoloration. Darkly pigmented beverages such as coffee, tea, and cola, as well as fruit juices, popsicles, and even tomato sauce, can have this effect.

A good rule of thumb to consider is that if it would stain your carpet, it will likely stain your teeth as well.

Foods That Are Good for Your Oral Health

Just as some foods are harmful to your teeth, some can be beneficial to eat. Here are some healthy food choices that can be good for your smile.

  • Carrots – Carrots are a great snack that can appeal to both children and adults. These sweet and crunchy treats help stimulate the saliva in your mouth, which naturally helps wash away plaque. They also are rich in Vitamin A, which is great for your eyesight. Carrots can help keep your vision strong and your enamel clear.
  • Celery – Although rather tasteless, celery is extremely low in calories and can be dipped in peanut butter or ranch dressing for added flavor. It requires a lot of chewing, which helps to increase saliva in your mouth and remove plaque. The fibrous strands in celery also help to clean your teeth naturally.
  • Pineapple – Pineapple is delicious and full of vitamins and minerals. The enzyme bromelain, found in pineapple, can act as a natural stain-remover, helping to keep your teeth white.
  • Cheese – An excellent source of calcium and low in sugar and acid, cheese is a great choice for snacking. Additionally, cheese contains a protein called casein, which is found in milk and is very useful in fortifying the surface of teeth.
  • Yogurt – Just like cheese, yogurt is another excellent source of casein, calcium, and phosphates that help to remineralize teeth, just as fluoride does. This makes it another ideal candidate for fighting against cavities.
  • Pears – Pears help to stimulate saliva reproduction, like all fresh fruits that are high in fiber. They are a great option as they have a larger neutralizing effect on acid than other types of fruit, such as apples, bananas, mandarins, and pineapples.
  • Tap Water – While bottled water is popular, drinking tap water is a good idea. Tap water contains a tiny amount of fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay when used regularly. The reason for this is simple: fluoride helps to remineralize teeth, reversing the harmful effects of acid, which works away enamel. Most bottled water doesn’t contain enough active fluoride to have any benefit.
  • Sugar-Free Gum – Sugar-free gum can be helpful for keeping teeth cleaner, particularly brands that include xylitol. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, xylitol actually prevents the bacteria in plaque from metabolizing sugar, acting more like an “anti-sugar” than a sugar substitute. Regular sucrose can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, while xylitol fights against them. Gum even helps to remove bacteria and plaque from your teeth.


Taking Care of Your Oral Health at Home

Keeping up with a daily routine of home oral care, such as brushing your teeth, flossing, using mouthwash and maintaining a healthy diet, will lead to optimal oral health.

If you have any questions regarding your oral health, contact our office.

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