5 Steps to healthy teeth

I have pretty healthy teeth. I’ll create an opportunity to casually drop my zero cavity and filling-free status into many a conversation. You know – the way chartered accountants, the newly engaged and BMW drivers drop theirs?

STILL waiting for #CavityFreeSince1983 to catch on though.

But on to the actual conversation. I managed a portfolio of dental products, which involved a lot of technical detail and close collaboration with dental professionals and other people who generally know more than I do. Just trust me when I tell you we should all be taking much better care of our teeth and gums.

Why two minutes, twice a day?

We all know about this. It’s not very exciting. But do you time your tooth brushing? I remember how offended I was when I first got a toothbrush with a timer back in the day. Two minutes are likely longer than you think. If you’re not timing it, you’re probably not getting there.


And twice a day? It’s not just to get you into a routine. It all starts with bacteria – we have good and bad ones in our mouths. When bad bacteria settles in on the tooth surface and becomes sticky, it turns into plaque. This process takes about 24 hours – so if you skip one brushing, you better be very thorough the next time you brush.

Why? Because if you happen to miss a spot, it only takes 48 hours for it to REALLY take hold, and by then you can no longer remove it yourself. Not weeks or months of poor oral hygiene – two days. One weekend. So two minutes of gentle, thorough brushing twice a day is what you want to do. I’m sure we can all find the time.

Easy does it

Hard, aggressive brushing is damaging to your gums as well as your tooth enamel.

If you really go at it, you can damage the enamel or cause the gum line to retract, which will both result in tooth sensitivity. I feel tooth sensitivity is an exceptionally PC term. It should just be called hellish tooth pain, because it is really painful. I inflicted sensitivity on one of my molars (from ‘good brushing’, the dentist politely offered) and it was pretty painful and uncomfortable for a good two months.

Use the softest toothbrush or powerbrush head you can get used to. It should say soft or sensitive on the packaging, ‘medium’ is already too abrasive.

My Oral B powerbrush (I can’t seem to find this model online, I think it’s been replaced by something else – I bought it three or so years ago) and Curaprox 5460 Ultra Soft. They come in about 3 dozen bristle/handle colour combinations, don’t let my questionable choice put you off.

Brush without applying any pressure. Plaque and bacteria are soft matter, and their removal doesn’t require hard bristles or elbow grease – it’s the equivalent of polishing your phone screen with a pot scourer.

On my powerbrush I prefer (and would recommend) Oral B Sensitive brush heads. They were discontinued at one stage, if you need to use an alternative look for brush heads with only ‘regular’ bristles (the Precision Clean variant also looks decent) and no funny inserts or attachments that claim to floss or whiten. I once bought house brand brush heads and they were horrifically hard, so I stick to Oral B.

Method: Divide your mouth into quadrants and methodically cover the front, back and chewing surface of every tooth in each of the quadrants.

When I use a manual toothbrush I prefer the Curaprox 5460 Ultra Soft . I doubt I’ll ever choose a manual brush over a powerbrush, but it’s the only manual toothbrush that leaves my teeth feeling really clean. It’s very satisfying to use.

You can brush for longer than two minutes should you want or need to. I often end up at around 3 minutes because I just really enjoy the process. As long as you do it very gently it’s all good.

Healthy gums = healthy teeth

The periodontum incorporates all the soft tissue surrounding your teeth, including the ligaments and muscles that firmly keep your teeth in place in your jaw. Your gums house all of those, and protects the more sensitive necks and roots of your teeth. Gum health is vital if you want to hang onto your teeth.

Aside from regular gentle brushing, your gums require daily flossing for you to have healthy teeth. If you’re floss-averse like I am it might take some trial and error to find the right tool for you.

The Curaprox 5460 Ultra Soft. The number in the name – 5460 – tells you how many bristles are in the brush.

I’m not a good flosser – thank the dental gods for whatever it is that resulted in my healthy teeth. It must be a gene pool jackpot as neither of my parents have had the smooth sailing I have, and all my grandparents had false teeth since I could remember.

I’m not a fan of traditional floss but when I do use it I favour waxed tape floss. I do find floss harps/floss picks easier to use if I’m going that route though. If you have orthodontics you should be using Super Floss or some other version of ortho floss.

I much prefer other types of interdental cleaners – there are options for everyone. Soft picks like these and these from GUM are really quick and nifty, and they’re handy to keep in your bag. Try avoid wooden toothpicks – one slip and you have a gum injury/infection.

GUM Soft Picks

I also really like the 1006 brush from Curaprox. It feels the least invasive if sensitive gums are a problem for you.

Interdental brushes like these are also very effective, and are especially good for those with larger gaps. They come in different sizes – always use the smallest possible one.

Find a good oral hygienist

I’ve been to oral hygienists on and off before, but it’s only the last three years that I’ve been disciplined about going to a great oral hygienist – and it shows. While going to a dentist every couple of years for X-rays and a check-up is important, seeing an oral hygienist at least twice a year is vital to maintain healthy teeth. They do so much more than just a scale and polish – since they spend more time with you they tend to give advice and recommendations, and the good ones make sure you know how your oral health links to your systemic health.

When I started seeing an oral hygienist regularly, I had quarterly appointments for the first two years. My floss aversion and a permanent retainer wire caused a low-level gum infection I wasn’t even aware of, so I needed more regular cleanings/floss reprimanding initially. This is hands down one of the best (and smallest) investments I’ve made in my health. I’m so happy with the results, and it’s really easy to maintain healthy teeth and gums once they’re in pristine condition.

If you’re in need of an oral hygienist and Pretoria East is practical for you, I’m happy to share contact details. You can also refer to OHASA for oral hygienists and SADA for dentists. Belonging to these associations does not guarantee you’re getting a great oral hygienist or dentist, but it’s a good start.

Healthy teeth starts really early

My single biggest learning was that everything that happens from your very first milk tooth affects the health of your permanent teeth. So, parents – start practicing oral hygiene from the first tooth your child gets and get them to an oral hygienist before they’re two years old. The earlier you start, the more natural the habits will be.

I still have loads to add on this topic but if I don’t stop myself here this will turn into a book. Please let me know (sommer on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram if that’s easier) if you’re keen on more information on toothpaste/sensitive teeth/whitening? Or did I just ruin your lunch?




  1. Rita Teixeira
    Jan 21, 2020 / 1:14 PM

    Excellent, exactly what I needed to read today. Had a tooth extracted last week and still recovering – bleh !. Am on a mission to clean up my mouth and keep it clean. Toothpaste suggestions please?

    • Chantelle Bester
      Jan 21, 2020 / 1:19 PM

      Ouch, hope it heals soon! Elgydium Sensitive or Anti-Plaque (Iā€™m 100% biased though)

  2. Jan 21, 2020 / 2:10 PM

    Awesome post!! And the kick in the butt I need.

    • Chantelle Bester
      Jan 22, 2020 / 1:45 AM

      Happy to be of service šŸ˜›

  3. Simone
    Jan 21, 2020 / 9:29 PM

    Thanks so much! I know I have to take care of my teeth and I don’t do it well enough. Keep sharing tooth business – it keeps us all in check.

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