Give dental problems the brushoff

BACK TO BASICS: Brush your teeth the right way to deal with bad breath and teeth staining.


    Mar 20, 2014

    Give dental problems the brushoff

    ARE you often worried about bad breath or unsightly teeth stains? Fret not, because

    these concerns can be dealt with easily by making simple adjustments to your daily oral hygiene and lifestyle habits.


    Bad breath is caused by food particles that remain in our mouth, which promote bacterial growth between the teeth, around the gums and on the tongue.

    Bad breath can also be an indication of underlying health problems, such as gum disease, diabetes, chronic acid reflux and liver or kidney problems.


    The topmost layer of our teeth, known as the enamel, is temporarily softened and made more porous by acidic foods. This allows the colouring in food and drink to latch on easily, making it prone to stains.

    A group of food compounds called tannins, commonly found in coffee, tea and red wine, also increases the chance of staining.

    Teeth structures with microscopic roughness, deeper pits or crack lines on the enamel surfaces are also more susceptible to staining.

    Brush your teeth right

    The right brushing techniques can help you address both bad breath and teeth staining concerns in one fell swoop. Even if you lead a busy lifestyle, you can keep a toothbrush at work and brush your teeth half an hour after your meals.

    Here are some tips to help ensure that you are getting your basics right:

    Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the teeth, making sure the bristles are at the gum line.

    Gently brush the surface of each tooth using a short, gentle scrubbing motion.

    Brush the outer and inner surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower, keeping the bristles angled against the gum line.

    Make several gentle up and down strokes using the front half of the toothbrush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth.

    Scrub the chewing surfaces of the teeth using a back and forth movement.

    Brush your tongue to remove bacteria that causes bad breath.

    Brushing your teeth alone is not good enough. Floss to help remove food debris and plaque trapped between your teeth and underneath the gum margins.

    Simple to-dos

    Simple adjustments to our lifestyle habits can also help reduce the occurrence of both bad breath and teeth staining:

    Drink lots of water and rinse your mouth after food and drinks to flush out trapped food particles. This reduces the build-up of stains and makes your mouth a cleaner and less attractive place for bacteria to grow, preventing bad breath.

    For smokers, nicotine and tar can cause bad breath and stain teeth. If you cannot quit smoking, begin by cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke.

    To prevent staining, avoid dark beverages, such as tea and coffee. If the beverage is dark enough to stain any fabric, it will stain your teeth too.

    Limit the frequency of such drinks and finish these quickly, if you are unable to avoid them completely. Use a straw to prevent the drinks from touching the front teeth, limiting the stains to the back teeth.

    Common misconceptions

    When dealing with teeth staining and bad breath, there are also some common misconceptions about our oral hygiene habits:

    Brushing excessively hard to remove stains is a big mistake. This wears down a layer of your teeth and also causes gum receding and abrasion cavities, which are holes created due to hard brushing. Always use a soft toothbrush.

    Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing. Acids from food and drink will soften the tooth enamel so brushing right away will damage your teeth.

    Teeth-whitening products sold in the market are usually mildly abrasive to remove surface stains. However, they do not change the actual colour shade of your teeth.

    Similarly, mouth rinses often offer only a temporary solution to mask the odour and may not eliminate the root problems which cause bad breath.

    Having teeth stains and bad breath not only affects our personal grooming, but it can also affect our self-confidence. But by making a few simple lifestyle adjustments, we can reduce the chances of social embarrassment and feel more confident.

    The writer is an oral health therapist with the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.