Most of us know to brush our teeth every day and see the dentist at least once a year. But do you know why oral hygiene is so important? Dr. Deborah Foyle, a periodontist with Texas A&M College of Dentistry, shares what she wants patients to know about keeping their teeth and gums healthy. 1. Q: Why is oral hygiene important? A: Brushing our teeth, flossing, and keeping our mouths healthy are beneficial for many reasons. We need our teeth to be healthy so we can eat, first of all, but having healthy teeth and gums also helps us lead long, healthy, happy lives. If you don’t remove plaque, which is the film of bacteria that naturally collects on the teeth, that bacteria will start to cause problems with your gums and teeth, and can even contribute to certain health conditions. 2. Q: Do people really need to floss every day? A: Flossing is essential. I know it’s hard to do it every single day, but I tell my patients to try their best, because it’s the only way to really remove plaque between the teeth. A toothbrush won’t be able to reach every area of the tooth, so that’s the advantage of floss—if you do it properly, of course. You don’t want to just saw into the gums; you want to wrap the floss around your tooth in a “C” shape so it’s hugging the tooth, and then pull the floss gently through the point of contact between the teeth. If you floss too roughly, you can damage the delicate tissue just underneath where the teeth meet. 3. Q: What are the risks of not taking care of your teeth and gums? A: Brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and seeing the dentist at least once a year is crucial. If the plaque on your teeth isn’t removed on a regular basis, not only will your teeth begin to decay, causing cavities, but the area of the gums in contact with the plaque will become inflamed as the immune system sends fighter cells to attack the bacteria on your teeth. This starts to destroy the attachment between the tooth and gum, and gum disease develops. Signs of gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease, include swollen, shiny, red gums that bleed easily. Healthier gums typically look somewhat pale, especially if you’ve got a pale complexion yourself. If you’re noticing these symptoms, it’s time to see your dentist so you can prevent the gum disease from progressing to more serious stages. Gingivitis is completely reversible if you catch it before you start losing bone, but once that happens, you need more intensive treatment. Eventually, if gum disease goes untreated, your teeth will start to loosen and even fall out, and the bacteria in the area, as well as inflammation produced in the fighting process, may affect the rest of your body. This can contribute to worsening of other health conditions, and there current studies that propose a connection between gum disease and an increased risk of heart disease. We can’t yet confirm a cause and effect relationship between the two, but it’s one more reason to be diligent with your oral health. 4. Q: How can people prevent gum disease and tooth decay? A: Avoiding these problems is simple if you commit to your oral health every day. Brush twice daily with a toothpaste that contains fluoride, since fluoride is extremely effective in reducing tooth decay that causes cavities. Take your time flossing once a day, and see your dentist at least once or twice a year for a cleaning. And pay attention to what you eat; reducing the amount of sugar in your diet can go a long way. Sugar not only causes tooth decay, but also gum disease; bacteria love sugar, so when there’s more sugar on your teeth, there will be more bacteria on your teeth causing problems. If you make these tasks a part of your everyday routine, you’ll certainly have a good reason to smile.