Brushing teeth is something that as adults we often take for granted. Many of us don’t even remember how we learned. Brushing your teeth is almost reflexive, a (hopefully) regular part of your morning and evening routines. Turns out, though, that many of us may not be brushing our teeth properly.
Seriously, how are you supposed to brush your teeth?
Brushing with improper technique or over brushing teeth can mean that you aren’t getting all the benefits of your daily efforts. Learning how to brush your teeth properly is an important part of maintaining a healthy, beautiful smile.
Proper tooth brushing technique has three major components: time and frequency, materials, and technique.
Time and frequency
Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time as recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA).
Use a soft-bristled brush and an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste (with some exceptions for children explained below).
Practice proper brushing technique. (And proper tooth brushing technique goes far beyond simply rubbing your teeth vigorously with a toothbrush.)
For best results, hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums. Using short strokes just the width of each tooth (much shorter than you might be used to), move the brush firmly back and forth several times over each individual tooth.
Reach the underside of each tooth by turning your brush vertically facing out and pulling the bristles down each tooth several times. Continue this action on all sides of the teeth – inside, outside, and chewing surfaces included.
Brush your tongue
Knowing how to brush your teeth properly also includes brushing your tongue. The tongue is a safe harbor for bacteria that can contribute to bad breath. Using a tongue scraper to remove this bacteria can help keep your mouth feel fresh and clean.
One more step to your tooth brushing routine: flossing. Flossing gets hard-to-reach food particles and cavity-causing bacteria out from between each tooth. This helps prevent cavity and is an important part of your daily routine.
Importance of brushing your teeth
The importance of brushing your teeth cannot be overestimated. Because of advancements in fluoride toothpaste (and fluoride in our water), the incidence of tooth decay is on the decline, but not for everybody.
Latino and African American populations and those living in poverty still have a high rate of tooth decay that can lead to tooth loss. Approximately 91% of people aged 20-64 have cavities, with 27% of that same group suffering from untreated tooth decay. This untreated tooth decay can lead to early tooth loss.
But that’s the bad news. The good news is that tooth brushing is an easy, affordable way for people of all ages, income levels, and ethnic backgrounds to help prevent tooth decay and loss. Learning proper tooth brushing technique is the best way to ensure a lifetime of strong and healthy teeth.
What are some other questions you may come up against? Our Phoenix area dentist, Dr. Janne Lynch, gives some answers to frequently asked questions about brushing your teeth.
How to brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush?
Many people choose to use an electric toothbrush. If you do, let the toothbrush do the work for you.
Use a small dab of toothpaste and follow the same 45-degree angle as with a manual toothbrush, slowly moving your electric toothbrush across each tooth. Don’t press too hard or brush too vigorously; this can lead to over brushing teeth.
Can you brush your teeth too much?
Absolutely. Over brushing teeth may not seem like a big deal, but this is definitely an example of too much of a good thing. Brushing too frequently, for too long, or with a hard-bristled brush can lead to abrasions on the gums. Over brushing teeth can also contribute to receding gums, which can then lead to tooth decay underneath the gumline.
Following the above guidelines of tooth brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled brush for two minutes at a time is the best way to care for your teeth.
When to start brushing baby’s teeth?
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children.
Untreated tooth decay in children brings with it many negative consequences that go beyond trouble with a smile. Children with untreated tooth decay may suffer from malnutrition because they are unable to eat the types and quantities of food they need for proper development. They may find sleeping difficult due to pain, resulting in poor concentration or other behavioral issues during the day. Older children may suffer a lack of confidence if their teeth are not healthy.
So when is the best time to start brushing your baby’s teeth?
You should start brushing your baby’s teeth before teeth appear. Caring for your baby’s sweet smile starts with gently wiping moist gauze over their gums, getting them get used to the sensations of cleaning. Clean gums at least twice a day, with cleanings after feedings if possible.
How to brush baby teeth
Once baby teeth start to appear, kick your tooth brushing routine into high gear. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head. Using only with water, brush your baby’s teeth as you would your own, gently and carefully moving from tooth to tooth. The ADA recommends not using fluoride toothpaste until age three, and then using just a pea-sized dab.
For some children, this may be unpleasant at first. Make a game of it and be patient with yourself and your child. Teething babies may find relief by chewing on the bristles of a toothbrush. This can also help them get used to the sensation of the toothbrush and learn to enjoy the feeling of a clean mouth.
Monitor your child as they learn to brush their own teeth. You will know they are independent and able to brush teeth on their own when they are able to brush, rinse, and spit without assistance or direction (no swallowing toothpaste!). Teaching your kids how to properly brush their teeth is the best way to protect them from future tooth decay.
How to brush your teeth with braces
Brushing your teeth with braces presents some special challenges. Wires, brackets, and metal bands can catch food and hold it against your teeth, making proper tooth brushing even more important. Without regular, careful brushing, people with braces are more susceptible to white spots on teeth and periodontal disease (including gingivitis).
Brushing with braces is essentially the same as regular brushing, with the following exceptions:
- Brush after each meal: People with braces need to make time to brush after each meal to remove trapped food immediately
- Flossing vs. a waterpik: Flossing with regular floss is possible, but some people find it easier to use special flossers designed for braces or a waterpik instead
- Brush in sections: Because brushing with braces takes time, many people opt to brush a section of teeth at a time, going slowly and carefully over trouble spots like the back teeth
From the moment your baby’s first tooth comes in and throughout your entire life, your Phoenix area family dentist can help you care for your teeth, including teaching you proper brushing techniques and answering any additional questions you have about brushing your teeth. Give our clinic a call today at for a lifetime of healthy teeth!