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October celebrates National Dental Hygiene Month, with this month’s theme being “the Daily 4.”

What is National Dental Hygiene Month?
It is a month-long educational program supported by the American Dental Association, American Dental Hygienists’ Association, and the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program. This year marks the sixth straight year of this program through these organizations, and each year the goal is the same: to increase public awareness about maintaining good oral health.

What are the Daily 4?
They are the four activities that are important to helping maintain your overall oral health. The Daily 4 refers to four of the components to maintain oral health: brushing your teeth twice per day for two minutes at a time, flossing at least once per day, rinsing with anti-microbial mouthwash daily and chewing sugar-free gum. Are you doing the Daily 4?

Brush – It is of the utmost importance that you brush for two minutes each day, twice a day, in order to effectively remove cavity-causing plaque and bacteria. In addition to cavities, periodontal disease, which affects the gums, is caused by prolonged build-up of plaque. Plaque is caused by bacteria in the mouth interacting with the acids and sugars found in food. This plaque should be removed daily, every morning and at night, to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

Floss – We know this one is a tough activity for most people. The key is to make flossing a routine, so that when you skip it, you notice the difference. Cleaning your teeth with a standard brush actually misses 35 percent of your tooth surface, especially the spaces between your teeth and just under the gum line. These are the spaces that flossing can reach and clean with ease. If long-term oral health is your goal, be sure to add flossing into your daily routine!

Rinse – Another great routine to help reduce your chance of periodontal disease is rinsing your mouth with an anti-microbial mouthwash.

Note: This is not a substitute for daily brushing and flossing activities! Mouthwash rinses that are approved by the ADA help to eliminate remaining bacteria and plaque around your mouth. Remember, your oral health is more than simply clean teeth; it includes the entire mouth and throat!

Chew – Most dental health professionals recommend brushing your teeth after eating, but the reality is, this is not always possible. Enter sugar-free gum. Chewing sugar-free gum after meals helps stimulate saliva flow, which is important in helping maintain a normal pH balance in the mouth.

After you eat, bacteria feed on the acids and sugars in the food and elevate your mouth’s pH. Saliva helps to neutralize the acids and bacteria, protecting your teeth and helping reduce the growth of plaque. Additionally, chewing sugar-free gum can actually boost your teeth’s mineral density by shifting from demineralization to remineralization after consuming food. However, dentists will caution against sugared gum, which can enhance the work of bacteria, rather than neutralizing it.

Doing the Daily 4 activities will help keep your dental health on track between your six-month dental cleanings.

If you have questions about any of these activities, or about your oral health, be sure to talk with your dentist or hygienist. They are here to help you make the best decisions about your oral care. There are also a number of resources available online through organizations, such as the American Dental Association. Staying on top of your dental health means staying informed, so help us spread the word about the Daily 4 and good oral health care!