There are many types of oral hygiene aids you can incorporate into your home care routine. While toothbrushes and floss are the standard items every patient should use, you may find others helpful in addressing your oral health needs. Looking through all of your options may feel overwhelming, which is why we have provided a summary of commonly used oral hygiene aids. Our dentist and dental hygienists are happy to help our patients find the right aid for them and demonstrate how to use them. Here are some of the most common oral hygiene aids for home care:
Toothbrushes come in a variety of different options. In general, toothbrushes fit into two basic categories; manual and electric. Manual toothbrushes range in bristle hardness from extra-soft, soft, medium, to hard. While some may think the harder the bristles, the better the toothbrush will clean, but this is not necessarily the case. Not only do soft and extra-soft toothbrushes clean as efficiently as harder bristles brushes, they are less likely to damage the teeth and gums. For this reason, dentists and hygienists recommend using either soft or extra-soft toothbrushes. These especially benefit patients who are hard brushers, as this abrasiveness can cause damage such as gum recession (where the gums move away from the teeth, exposing the root).
Electric toothbrushes are generally recommended by dentists and dental hygienists because they can be more effective at cleaning than manual brushes. Unlike manual toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes do all the work for you. They vibrate in either oscillating or rotating motions to easily dislodge plaque and remove food particles from the surfaces of teeth.
Manual toothbrushes and electric toothbrush heads should be replaced every three months because over time they harbor bacteria and their bristles become worn and ineffective. For detailed information on how to properly use your toothbrush, please view our Brushing & Flossing page.
Along with brushing, you should also floss twice a day to remove the plaque and buildup between the teeth and under the gumline (as toothbrushes can't reach here). The best type of floss to use is string floss because it can hug around the contours of the teeth in a C-shape, cleaning more effectively. String floss comes in a variety of different types- some are flavored, some are thick and ropey, and others are thin and flexible. Although which type of floss to use typically depends on personal preference, in general you should use one that is not too thick and can comfortably fit between the teeth and under the gumline. For detailed information on how to properly floss, please view our Brushing & Flossing page.
In some cases, interdental cleaners may be recommended as a supplement to (not in replacement of) dental floss. These tiny flexible brushes are effective at cleaning between the teeth. Many patients find them helpful in cleaning areas where food tends to gets trapped or where there is a space between teeth. Interdental cleaners come in various shapes and sizes. Some beneficial types of interdental cleaners include:
- proxy brushes
- interdental brushes
- floss threaders
Proxy brushes and interdental brushes are useful for hard to reach areas, as their bristles are guided with handles to clean between teeth. Floss threaders are recommended for those with dental bridges, traditional orthodontic braces, or wires bonded to multiple teeth (such as with fixed retainers or wire splints). One end of the floss threader is a loop through which string floss is inserted. The other end is a long and sturdy handle that slides underneath bridges or between teeth attached with wire. As the handle is passed through, it threads the floss along with it. The floss threader can then be removed, with the floss remaining to clean the area.
Floss picks and toothpicks are not recommended for everyday use. Floss picks are Y-shaped with a handle and a small piece of floss connecting the two arms. While they can slide between teeth, they cannot hug around the teeth in a C-shape and do not effectively reach under the gumline. When sliding floss picks between the teeth, it is easy to apply excessive downward force (instead of gentle back-and-forth motions like with string floss or other interdental cleaners) which can damage the gums. Toothpicks do not fit between the teeth and can easily poke and damage the gums.
Oral irrigators, such as Waterpik®, use a high-pressure stream of water to clean plaque and debris from between the teeth and below the gumline. Oral irrigators are a good supplement to brushing and flossing and have shown to help improve gum health. They are especially beneficial to patients with traditional orthodontic braces and those who have difficulty handling manual hygiene aids.
There are two basic types of mouthrinses available: cosmetic rinses and therapeutic rinses. Cosmetic rinses are sold over-the-counter and provide temporarily cosmetic effects, such as improving bad breath or leaving a pleasant taste in the mouth. Therapeutic rinses may or may not require a prescription from your dentist. They contain ingredients that produce long-lasting therapeutic benefits such as preventing cavities, addressing plaque buildup, treating gingivitis, and combating dry mouth.
Some examples of mouthrinses include:
- antiseptic/antimicrobial rinses- These can be either cosmetic or therapeutic. Cosmetic antiseptic mouthrinses typically contain alcohol that kills bacteria that cause bad breath. Therapeutic antiseptic rinses contain ingredients such as chlorhexidine (to combat plaque buildup and gum disease) or peroxide (to disinfect and soothe oral conditions such as ulcers).
- fluoride rinses- Over-the-counter fluoride rinses can be used as an oral hygiene supplement to help prevent and combat early cavity formation. Prescription fluoride rinses contain higher concentrations of fluoride for patients with high-cavity risk, such as those who suffer from the condition xerostomia (dry mouth). To learn more about what fluoride is and how it works, please visit our Fluoride Treatment page.
- rinses for dry mouth- Especially formulated for patients who suffer from xerostomia, these rinses manage dry mouth symptoms by providing moisture and soothing relief. Biotène® is a popular brand that manufactures an array of dry mouth products such as rinses, toothpastes, sprays, gels, and lozenges.
How to use your mouthrinse will depend on the type of rinse and the need or condition being addressed. Children under 7 years of age should not use mouthrinses as they may accidentally swallow and ingest the product.
Rubber Tip Stimulators
The rubber tip stimulator is an excellent tool for patients with signs of gum disease. It removes plaque from around the gum line and stimulates blood flow to the gums. When the rubber tip gently massages the gums along the gumline, it allows oxygen into the gum pockets. The bacteria that cause gum disease live in these pockets and cannot survive in the presence of oxygen.
Tongue cleaners are special devices which have been designed to remove the buildup of bacteria, fungi and food debris from the tongue surface. The bacteria and fungi that live on the tongue can cause bad breath known as halitosis. Tongue cleaners are made from different materials such as metal, wood or plastic and are shaped to match the contours of the tongue.
*Please note the people depicted in the photographs are models and not real patients.*