Oral Hygiene Tips

Ensuring healthy teeth through good oral hygiene yields overall health benefits. Dental problems such as tooth decay and gum disease not only lead to tooth loss, but are associated with serious, chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and diabetes.

Along with proper toothbrushing twice a day and daily flossing, maintaining a healthy smile can also mean making dietary adjustments, limiting alcohol and tobacco use, and ensuring you’re keeping up with regular dental appointments. Here’s a quick overview of what you should keep in mind to protect your teeth.  

 Father and daughter brushing their teeth and looking into camera

Jessie Casson / Getty Images

What Is Good Oral Hygiene?

Good oral hygiene, simply put, is a set of practices and habits that promote and protect your teeth and gums. But how can we tell our care is healthy? What defines good oral health? Current consensus is that good oral hygiene is the ability to speak, chew, and make facial expressions without pain, discomfort, or loss of confidence. It’s, therefore, an essential aspect of mental and physical health.

Fundamentally, the aim of a good oral hygiene routine is to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Related and equally important, it’s working to stop the progression of or deter gum disease and gingivitis (or periodontitis, a severe form that arises in the absence of treatment).

How Poor Oral Hygiene Can Affect You

How can poor oral hygiene impact your health? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Cavities, gum disease, and other issues can lead to tooth loss, which can impact your bite and ability to chew and eat.
  • Untreated gum disease is associated with chronic health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Poor dental health and appearance of the teeth can significantly impact mental health, raising self-consciousness and lowering self-esteem.
  • Not getting timely dental care and cleanings reduces the chances of diagnosing and treating oral cancer.

How to Practice Good Oral Hygiene

Ultimately, good oral hygiene is more of a journey than a destination. Not only does it require adopting and adhering to positive habits, it means being ready to learn ways to get even better at caring for your teeth and gums. Here are some key points to keep in mind.

Brush Thoroughly Twice a Day

It’s common knowledge that regular and thorough toothbrushing twice a day is a cornerstone of dental hygiene. Every morning and every night, spend about two minutes brushing your teeth, with 30 seconds for each side (lower front, lower back, upper front, and upper back).

Keep in mind that you should replace toothbrushes regularly (every three to four months or if the head is worn out and loose).

Use Dental Products That Contain Fluoride  

The mineral fluoride can also help strengthen teeth. Choose toothpaste that contains fluoride, such as those approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).

Don’t Neglect Flossing

Along with brushing, flossing between the teeth daily is critical to protecting dental health. In addition to standard floss, other means can make this even easier, including using pre-threaded flossers or water flossing devices.

By removing food trapped between the teeth and along the gumline, flossing gets at food particles that brushing isn’t able to access.

Practice Brushing Techniques

Regular brushing is important, but it’s also crucial to employ the correct technique. According to the ADA, here’s what you should keep in mind:

  • The right size: Make sure the toothbrush you use is appropriately sized, allowing you to access every dental surface in your mouth.
  • Appropriate angle: Generally, keep your brush at a 45-degree angle to the gums.  
  • Get all the sides: Make sure you are brushing the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces of your teeth.
  • Short strokes: Employ gentle, brief strokes, moving back and forth as you brush. Brush inner surfaces of front teeth with vertical (up and down) strokes.  
  • Tongue care: Since the tongue can also be a repository for plaque-causing bacteria, make sure you brush it as well.

Eat a Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet

What you eat and drink can also impact your dental health. Generally, it’s a good idea to stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet. This means emphasizing the following:

  • Fiber-rich foods, such as beans, greens, apples, whole grains, and broccoli
  • Dairy products, such as yogurt and milk
  • Green and black tea, which contain polyphenols that can combat bacteria formation in the mouth
  • Chewing sugarless gum, which can produce saliva in the mouth, protecting teeth
  • Water and foods with fluoride

In addition, some foods and drinks need to be avoided, including:

  • Sticky or gummy candies
  • Hard candies
  • Starchy foods, such as soft bread, chips, or pastries
  • Soft drinks and sodas, especially those with sugar, as well as phosphoric and citric acids

Avoiding Dry Mouth

An unintended side effect of some medications is dry mouth, which can impact dental health. Talk to your dentist about your options if you know or suspect the drugs you’re taking are leading to this condition.

Limit Alcohol and Tobacco Products

Among the many negative health effects of drinking alcohol are significant impacts on dental health. Alcohol is a noted risk factor for oral cancer, and consumption has been associated with developing periodontitis.

In addition, smoking or using smokeless tobacco is closely associated with gum disease. These habits weaken the immune system, making it easier for gingivitis and periodontitis to develop.

Use Mouthwash

Another strategy that can help maintain good dental hygiene is to use mouthwash. Not all products are the same, and some—cosmetic mouthwashes—don’t really go after the bacteria that cause gingivitis and bad breath.

Generally, you’re best served using therapeutic mouthwashes. Look for the following active ingredients in over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription mouthwash:

  • Cetylpyridinium chloride
  • Chlorhexidine
  • Essential oils
  • Fluoride
  • Peroxide

As with toothpastes, it’s a good idea to choose a mouthwash that is approved by the ADA.

Visit Your Dentist Regularly

Regular dental visits prevent plaque and tartar buildup and ensure that there are no signs of other dental issues or cancer. As with many aspects of health, the sooner problems are caught—and the more proactive treatment is—the better off the outcomes.

How often you should visit the dentist depends on your specific case, but if you have no problems, schedule at least one appointment a year for cleaning and evaluation. However, if you have gum disease, cavities, or other oral health issues, you may require additional work.  


The best strategies for protecting your dental health include brushing properly twice a day, daily flossing, limiting or stopping alcohol and/or tobacco use, avoiding sugary foods and sodas, and getting regular dental care.

When to See the Dentist 

Another important aspect of good oral health is knowing when it’s time to see a dentist. As noted above, the sooner you get help, the better off you’ll be. Signs it’s time to make an appointment or seek emergency care include:

  • Tooth pain or loss
  • Bleeding gums
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Constant/consistent dry mouth
  • Jaw pain (especially when opening/closing the mouth)
  • Spots and sores on the tongue, gums, or inside of the mouth
  • Feelings of self-conscious about your teeth

Some conditions and treatments can contribute to dental problems. Make an appoint with your dentist if you are experiencing or undergoing any of the following:


Ensuring good oral health is important not only to help with self-esteem, but for overall wellness and health. Dental problems like tooth decay and gum disease can cause chewing problems and discomfort. Good dental hygiene practices include brushing properly twice a day, flossing once a day, steering clear of tobacco, alcohol, and sugar foods and drinks, and getting regular care from your dentist.  

A Word From Verywell 

It can be easy to overlook dental care. All too often, the health of your teeth takes a back seat to other issues. But it’s never a good idea to put off oral care. Beyond ensuring a healthy, bright smile, keeping up with good oral health yields numerous benefits and should be considered part of an overall health and wellness plan.

Critical in all of this is that you are mindful of how your teeth and mouth are feeling. If something seems awry, don’t hesitate to reach out to your dentist. The sooner you get the care you need, the better off you’ll be.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I maintain oral hygiene?

    Keys to maintaining oral hygiene include:

    • Brushing properly twice a day
    • Flossing between teeth once a day
    • Ensuring you are drinking enough water
    • Avoiding sugary foods and/or sodas
    • Limiting alcohol intake
    • Quitting smoking and using smokeless tobacco
    • Seeing your dentist regularly (at minimum once a year for a cleaning and checkup)
  • How can I get rid of yellow teeth?

    Discoloration and staining of the teeth can be difficult to take on, and sometimes brushing alone won’t be able to correct the issue. Current whitening and brightening approaches include:

    • In-office treatments: Dental hygienists or dentists employ a range of substances and tools to help improve the appearance of your teeth. Abrasives, colorants, peroxides, and other agents may be used to restore white color to the enamel.
    • At-home remedies: Though care needs to be taken, whitening strips, gargling with hydrogen peroxide, and oil pulling are all methods that may be attempted at home. These may be effective—especially along with a good oral hygiene routine—but in-office work tends to yield better results.    
    • Prevention: Limiting sugary foods and tobacco use and keeping up with regular schedules of cleaning, brushing, and flossing are all effective ways to prevent teeth from yellowing in the first place.
  • How does oral hygiene impact your health?

    There are several ways that poor oral hygiene can impact you:

    • Tooth decay and cavities can cause pain, discomfort, and lead to tooth loss.
    • Gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis are associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
    • Tooth loss can affect your ability to bite and chew, which can impact diet.
    • Dental issues can have a severe impact on your self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.
    • Missing dental appointments increases your chances of missing signs of oral cancer.
11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral health tips: what can adults do to maintain good oral health. Updated November 9, 2021.

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  4. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Oral health. Healthypeople.gov. Updated October 27, 2021.

  5. American Dental Association. Brushing your teeth. Mouthhealthy.org.

  6. University of Rochester Medical Center. The best and worst foods for your teeth. Health Encyclopedia.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking, gum disease, and tooth loss. Updated February 15, 2021.

  8. Department of Scientific Information, ADA Science Institute. Mouthwash (mouthrinse). American Dental Association. Updated August 29, 2019.

  9. National Institutes of Health. Taking care of your teeth and mouth. National Institute on Aging. Updated March 13, 2020.

  10. American Dental Association. Top reasons to see a dentist. Mouthhealthy.org.

  11. Epple M, Meyer F, Enax J. A critical review of modern concepts for teeth whitening. Dent J (Basel). 2019;7(3):79. Published 2019 Aug 1. doi:10.3390/dj7030079

By Mark Gurarie
Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.