You may (hopefully!) have been brushing your teeth for as far back as you can remember, but you’d be surprised to learn that an alarmingly large number of people actually brush their teeth incorrectly (1).
It can be a real shame as they put in the time and effort thinking they’re taking car of their pearly whites, but with an incorrect technique it could be a complete waste of time. It’s also very important for parents to understand the importance of proper tooth brushing techniques – in order to correctly teach or supervise their children so that they can develop correct tooth-brushing habits at an earlier age (2).
Read on to make sure that you’re brushing your teeth in a correct and effective way to ensure that you’re properly taking care of your oral health.
Is brushing your teeth really that important?
Despite recent advances and research in the dental field, brushing your teeth daily remains as the single most important step in preventing caries, gum disease, and maintaining your overall oral hygiene.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that brushing twice a day and flossing once a day will be sufficient to remove most of the harmful bacteria and plaque surrounding your teeth (1).
It’s important to brush your teeth for no less than 2 minutes with a correct technique to ensure that you get the best and complete benefits for your oral health.
Failure of brushing your teeth properly may not only be a waste of time and efforts regarding your oral health, but it could actually cause even more damage. Flossing or brushing your teeth too aggressively or with a wrong technique may cause gum inflammation, abscesses, and even abrasion (3).
Brushing your teeth tips:
1. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles
There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that should prompt you to use a toothbrush with hard bristles. Using such a toothbrush, especially in an incorrect and aggressive way, can highly increase the risk of abrasion and gum recession.
Using a toothbrush with soft bristles is a safer choice and still effective in removing plaque and bacteria. Studies have proven that toothbrushes with softer bristles cause significantly less ginigval abrasion and damage as opposed to those with harder bristles (4).
2. Flossing is as important as brushing
Using a dental floss is equally important to brushing your teeth because the floss allows you to clean areas of teeth (in the contact between two teeth) that a toothbrush has no possible way of reaching and cleaning (2).
If you’re not a fan of flossing, you can consider getting a “water flosser”, which essentially cleans the tight areas between your teeth by shooting water through them. It’s a very effective mechanism and I would definitely recommend checking out certain products such as the Nicefeel oral irrigator or the water flosser by Oral-B.
3. It doesn’t matter what shape of toothbrush you use
Taking into account that a toothbrush with soft bristles is used (5), as long as you use a correct brushing technique, the actual shape of the toothbrush is not very important in the efficiency of tooth-brushing.
Despite the above fact, some people have stated that selecting a toothbrush with a smaller head has been helpful, as it can provide better access and reach, especially for hard-to-reach areas such as the back teeth and molars.
There are certain toothbrushes (such as the Curaprox ultra-soft toothbrush, or the Nanocare toothbrush), these types of toothbrushes offer extra-soft bristles specific for people who have gum disease, but overall their efficiency is not superior to any other normal toothbrush.
4. There’s no significant difference between manual and electric toothbrushes
This is an extremely controversial and common question that always seems to pop up: “Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes?”.
The short answer? No, there is no difference (5).
There has always been a lot of controversy regarding this topic, but here’s the bottom line: Electric toothbrushes offer no superiority in effectiveness of tooth-brushing in comparison with manual tooth-brushing (6) as long as proper tooth-brushing techniques are used! (With the manual toothbrush).
Taking this into account, most people use their manual toothbrushes in an incorrect way and so aren’t benefiting from their tooth brushing process at all – electric toothbrushes can help people overcome this ineffectiveness at tooth-brushing (7), as they simply have to guide the electric toothbrush across their teeth.
For this reason, electric toothbrushes are more effective because people in general don’t know how to use manual toothbrushes correctly.
5. Don’t cover your toothbrush
If you’ve just recently purchased a new toothbrush that came with a cute little plastic cover, then you can go right ahead and put that cover in the only place it belongs – the trash.
You may think that keeping your toothbrush covered when it’s not being used as a good and clean habit for your brush, but on the contrary, keeping the plastic cover around your toothbrush only promotes bacterial growth.
Don’t keep your toothbrush in a closed container of any sort as that sort of environment encourages bacteria to grow on a moist toothbrush.
Lauren Aber, a graduate research student at Quinnipiac University states that “Using a toothbrush cover doesn’t protect a toothbrush from bacterial growth, but actually creates an environment where bacteria are better suited to grow by keeping the bristles moist and not allowing the head of the toothbrush to dry out between uses” (8).
The ADA recommends that the safest way to store a toothbrush is to keep it an upright and dry environment (9), preferably away from the toilet. Make sure that your toothbrush is not in contact with any other toothbrush.
6. There’s no significant difference in the type of toothpaste you use
Another controversial and heated topic among dental industries and product suppliers is which toothpaste to use.
Generally speaking, the truth is that with the exception of specific toothpastes (for example whitening toothpastes), there is no difference in the toothpaste that you’re using as long as it has at least 1450 ppm of fluoride in it.
The main role of toothpaste is to prevent caries from forming, and if that’s the case, then any toothpaste with fluoride is sufficient.
However, if your goal is to add a bonus effect such as teeth whitening, then the brand and type of toothpaste you use will matter, specifically, you’ll need to use one that incorporates an abrasive such as hydrogen peroxide in it.
Other specific toothpastes also incorporate mild topical anti-bacterial and some even analgesic properties. These are especially important for people with gum disease and recession, but would have been advised to use this toothpaste by their dentist.
7. Mouthwashes aren’t really necessary
Mouthwashes have been hugely commercialised by manufacturers as being effective and necessary for eliminating plaque.
Even though studies have found that mouthwashes can indeed kill bacteria in the superficial layers of dental plaque, they’re not considered effective at preventing the progression of gum disease (9) and are in no way comparable to the effectiveness of tooth brushing.
Despite this fact, there’s no harm in using mouthwashes in conjunction with proper oral care, and it can be effective in preventing gum disease from forming, or at least slow it down (10).
Plus, it keeps your breath smelling fresh and cool, so there’s no need to stop it’s use if you’re used to it.
One of the most common and successful mouthwashes is Chlorhexidine, which studies have proven to be successful in reducing plaque and gum inflammation such as gingivitis (11).
Chlorhexidine is usually only indicated in people with gum disease and only you should take it only if you’ve been directed by your dentist. Prolonged use of Chlorhexidine can unfortunately cause teeth staining.
8. Spit out toothpaste, but don’t rinse
Fluoride is a very important component for your oral health as it induces remineralisation of enamel and is essential for healthy and strong teeth. In-fact, it’s so important that it can be considered as “the single most important ingredient in toothpaste” (12).
By brushing your teeth with toothpaste you allow them to be coated with a layer of fluoride that remains there and provides countless health benefits to the tooth surface.
However, if you rinse your mouth after brushing your teeth then you’re essentially washing your teeth and removing the protective layer of fluoride you just spent (ideally) 2 minutes applying on them.
For this reason it’s extremely beneficial for your teeth not to rinse your mouth for at least half an hour after you’ve brushed them. This also applies for drinking liquids, or even using a mouthwash.
Though this may seem like a difficult habit to develop, it can be a very worthy habit to have as not rinsing your mouth after brushing your teeth can reduce the risk of caries development by up to 25% (13)!
9. Don’t forget the tongue!
During tooth-brushing, it’s also quite important to brush your tongue.
In addition to preventing several (mostly fungal) diseases that can happen on your tongue, a clean tongue is also a huge factor in reducing halitosis, or bad breath.
Make sure to brush your tongue gently to stay fresh and keep your whole oral cavity clean. Your tongue should be a healthy red-pink colour.
10. You still need to visit your dentist every 6 months
Even if you’ve mastered the act (art) of tooth-brushing, you still need to go to your dentist or dental hygienist every 6 months.
Dental scaling is a professional dental cleaning, that uses an ultrasonic scaler that can remove plaque and calculus.
Every single person – no matter how clean they think their teeth are – needs to undergo a professional dental cleaning every 6 months – unless stated otherwise by your dentist.
Some people who have periodontal diseases need to visit their dentist at shorter intervals, such as 3 months or even sooner.
The only person who is exempt from not visiting their dentist every 6 months for a routine check-up and dental cleaning is one who has no teeth at all.