Should You Use Mouth Swabs in Your Oral Care Routine?

person using mouth swabs to clean tean

If you're concerned about keeping up with good oral hygiene, you may be wondering how long to brush your teeth for the best results. You want to be sure that you're getting your teeth clean enough. So how long is good enough?

Many dentists agree that proper brushing takes at least two minutes. Dr. Anna Guarna, a dentist for over twenty years in Connecticut, goes one step further and typically has her patients brush for three minutes — one and a half minutes on both the upper teeth and the bottom teeth. Most people don't even come close to brushing for two minutes, let alone three. Three minutes can seem like a long time - especially for little ones. Dr. Guarna recommends using a timer to make it a bit more fun. There are also electronic toothbrushes that have self-timers to help you get back on track.

Though it is important to pay attention to how long you're brushing, it's even more important to make sure all surfaces are clean. According to Guarna, "Proper brushing technique is probably more important than timing." Remember to brush using short strokes, moving back and forth against the teeth and gums, around the surface of every tooth. Use the tip of the brush to reach behind each front tooth on the top and bottom. In addition, don't forget flossing - it's just as important as brushing.

If you don't brush your teeth long enough, you may not be getting your teeth clean enough. If you leave behind bacteria on the teeth after brushing, it can lead to serious problems such as gingivitis or periodontitis. Additionally, according to Dr. Guarna, recent studies have found that heavy plaque in the mouth can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries.

Can too much brushing be detrimental? According to Dr. Guarna, it's not an issue of brushing for too long, it's an issue of applying too much pressure when brushing. Using too much pressure can cause abrasion of the enamel and of the gum tissue, which can lead to tooth sensitivity. Guarna recommends trying to use your non-dominant hand to brush - you may be amazed to realize just how much pressure you are applying.

You may be well aware that daily brushing and flossing are imperative to good oral care. But if you're unable to hold a toothbrush or have a certain condition that prevents you from managing your oral hygiene, mouth swabs for oral care may be a good short-term solution. Advancement in age or illness, such as cancer, may make it more difficult for you to either hold a toothbrush properly for long periods or to do so without it being painful. Here's what to know about using mouth swabs.

Why Mouth Sponge Swabs May Help Seniors With Oral Care

Unfortunately, there's an uptick in the risk of disease and oral health problems for many seniors as they advance in age, according to the Government of South Australia (SA Health). Nowadays, more people are retaining their natural teeth as they grow older, which fosters the need for consistently strong oral care. Natural teeth in this age group can attract oral disease and periodontitis as the ability to care for them more routinely declines. Past dental care, such as bridges or crowns, can also exacerbate the problem where continued care and upkeep is needed, as SA Health states.

As the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) explains, mouth swabs are one way to maintain oral care in a hospital or long-term care setting if a patient cannot brush regularly without pain. This may include patients undergoing cancer treatment, those with intubation or those at risk for bleeding in the mouth.

How to Use Disposable Oral Swabs

Single-use mouth sponge swabs are available in most pharmacies over-the-counter. You can use them by gently wiping your teeth and gums. Make sure you dispose of the swab afterward. These aren't the same as toothbrushes and are only meant as single-use oral cleaners.

For optimal oral hygiene, it's best to use a soft-bristled toothbrush that's gentle on the teeth and gums, according to SA Health. Using oral mouth swabs should not replace twice-daily brushing. That's because studies show mixed results regarding the use of a swab vs. a regular toothbrush.

The CADTH reports that, in one study, volunteers had equal success in decreasing plaque when using a mouth swab for oral care as they did when using a toothbrush. However, another study showed that use of a swab did not prove to be an effective way to reduce plaque. You'll want to check with your dentist about using these long term, especially if you or a family member are in need of a solution that decreases pain in your mouth.

What to Look for in a Mouth Swab Product

It's always best to consult your dental professional for advice before changing your oral care routine or using any new products. SA Health offers some guidelines for choosing a disposable oral swab, noting that some oral care products may actually contribute to dry mouth or damage oral tissues. The agency recommends avoiding single-use mouth swab products that contain any of these ingredients:

  • Lemon and glycerine
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Alcohol
  • Hydrogen peroxide

If you're caring for a loved one who is struggling with tending to their oral care, it's always best to seek the support of both their doctor and dentist.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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How to FLOSS

  1. Pull 18 to 24 inches of dental floss from the floss dispenser.

  2. Wrap the ends of the floss around your index and middle fingers.

  3. Hold the floss tightly around each tooth in a C shape; move the floss back and forth in a push-pull motion and up and down against the side of each tooth.

How to BRUSH

  1. Place the toothbrush at a 45°angle along the gum line. Move the toothbrush in a back and forth motion, and repeat for each tooth.

  2. Brush the inside surface of each tooth, using the same back and forth technique.

  3. Brush the chewing surface (top) of each tooth.

  4. Use tip of brush to brush behind each tooth — front and back, top and bottom and up and down strokes.

  5. Be sure to brush your tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria.