There's a party going on in your mouth, to which you might not have been invited. The human mouth can be home to more than 700 species of bacteria, some of which might be more harmful than others. While many types of bacteria will help break down food and actually protect your teeth, some, such as Streptococcus mutans, play a part in tooth decay, and others, such as Porphyromonas gingivalis, can lead to gum disease. If you've ever dealt with bad breath, you can blame bacteria for that, too.
Luckily, figuring out how to kill mouth bacteria isn't that tricky. It comes down to developing a great at-home oral care routine and doing what you can to minimize the presence of the bad bacteria.
1. Brush it Away
Your teeth are coated in a layer of plaque, a sticky substance that happens to contain bacteria. When you eat or drink, particularly sugary foods and fluids, the bacteria found in plaque also gets to eat and produce acids that can wear away your teeth's enamel, as the American Dental Association (ADA) notes. If you don't do anything about plaque, it transforms into a hard substance called tartar, which only your dentist or dental hygienist can remove. Tartar doesn't just look unpleasant – it also irritates your gums and can lead to gingivitis.
Brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day helps sweep the bacteria and plaque away. A product like Colgate® Tartar Protection With Whitening Toothpaste can help minimize this problem, while a Colgate® 360°® Total® Advanced Powered Toothbrush can help you reach those hard-to-get places. Flossing daily can also help you remove bacteria from your mouth, as it lets you get between your teeth and other spots your brush just can't reach.
2. Rinse it Away
If you feel that brushing and flossing just aren't doing the trick when it comes to killing bacteria in your mouth, a mouthwash can help. Your dentist might also recommend using mouthwash as an added layer of protection for your teeth, as bacteria can destroy enamel.
It's worth noting that not all mouthwashes are created the same. Some rely on alcohol to kill the bacteria, which can also irritate or burn the mouth. Other types of mouthwash are for cosmetic use only and won't do much more than leave you with a minty taste in your mouth. It's best to look for a mouthwash that kills bacteria, rinses away plaque and that leaves you with fresh breath, without irritating your gums.
Also, remember that you're not meant to trade your fluoride toothpaste and brushing regimen for just Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ Mouthwash. Sure, it helps reduce plaque, freshens breath and can reduce your risk for gingivitis. However, antibacterial mouthwash is meant to be used along with brushing and flossing – not on its own.
3. Keep it Away
Now that you know how to kill bacteria in the mouth, it's worth knowing how to keep it from returning or to minimize its presence in your mouth. Improving your diet and limiting the amount of sugary foods and drinks you consume is one way to keep bacteria at bay. Remember, bacteria has a sweet tooth, and it gets to feast whenever you eat candy, starchy foods and sweets.
That said, not all bacteria is bad news for your mouth. For example, as an article in Scientific American notes, bacteria such as Streptococcus salivarius K12, which tends to live in the mouth, can help improve bad breath. In some cases, it might make sense to focus on increasing the number of good bacteria in your mouth, instead of just knocking out the bad bacteria. The Scientific American article references a study, during which participants sucked on lozenges containing Streptococcus salivarius K12 for a week or two. After the first two weeks, they noticed much better breath.
While those lozenges might not be readily available just yet, there are plenty of foods out there that contain beneficial bacteria. Yogurt, kefir and fermented foods are all full of helpful bacteria (also known as probiotics) that can help improve the balance of bacteria in your mouth, potentially improving your oral health.