Keeping your teeth intact for a lifetime is completely possible in just a few minutes a day for most people. Professional cleanings and exams with your dentist and team will help you understand how to prevent problems. Besides trauma (wear your seat-belt and athletic mouthguard!) the three main causes of damage to teeth and ultimately to tooth loss are:
1) Periodontal (gum) disease. Caused by bacteria.
2) Tooth decay (cavities) Caused by bacteria.
3) Bruxism (tooth wear from rubbing top and bottom teeth together, day or night). Multi-factorial, almost nothing to do with bacteria or oral hygiene.
The first two affect teeth in months or years, while tooth wear takes years or decades to cause damage. If your dentist and team determine you are susceptible to gum disease or cavities, it is essential to understand how to care for your teeth on a daily basis. Here is a bare bones explanation of how to prevent 90% of the problems that occur from bacteria:
At least once in a 24 hour period, completely remove the colony of bacteria known as "plaque" from the teeth with a toothbrush, preferably electric, and something to clean between the teeth, preferably floss. Plaque is the slimy film that builds up on human teeth in 18-48 hours. Most people will feel it on the outside of the teeth with their tongue or lips if they've been unable to perform dental hygiene for whatever reason. Some will need to supplement these minimal measures with fluoride application, over the counter or prescription rinses, interdental brushes and other handy gadgets, and possibly in-office treatments. Regular checkups should always include assessment of the effectiveness of your efforts as well as effective and supportive coaching in how to perform proper oral hygiene.
Proper Brushing Techniques
Brushing should be done for 30 seconds prior to flossing to knock out large food particles. Rinse, then floss as discussed in the video and below. Then brush along the gumline, preferably with an electric toothbrush, for 2-4 minutes, paying special attention to the cheek side of the upper molars and the tongue side of the lower teeth and any other place your dental team has identified for you.
Don't Forget That Floss!
Flossing is more important for many people than daily brushing. Of course, most people brush regularly without much prodding or external inspiration. Flossing is different, because it's hard to feel the slimy film between the back teeth and therefore needs to be taught in a different way. It's important to manipulate the floss properly and to use the right type of floss (floss with friction like woven or string floss, not plastic floss) with enough friction that you can get your teeth "squeaky clean" just like the brushing areas.