If you’re like most people, you probably learned how to brush as a child… and chances are, you haven’t thought about it much since then. That’s understandable — but there may come a point when we find our oral hygiene techniques could use improvement. Here are a few tips on the proper way to brush your teeth… plus, a reminder of why we do it.
First, the reasons why: Brushing is an effective way to remove plaque — a sticky, bacteria-laden biofilm that clings stubbornly to your teeth. The bacteria in plaque produce acids, which erode the tooth’s enamel and may lead to tooth decay. Plaque can also cause gum disease and bad breath. In fact, it’s believed that over 90% of dental disease is caused by plaque accumulation alone.
Besides removing plaque, the fluoride in toothpaste strengthens tooth enamel and makes teeth more decay-resistant. Plus, brushing makes your mouth feel cleaner and your breath smell fresher. While there is no single “right” way to brush your teeth, there are a number of techniques that can help you get them squeaky-clean. So why wait — let’s take a refresher course in brushing right now!
Proper Brushing Technique
- To begin, select a small-headed, soft-bristled toothbrush, grasp it gently with your fingers (not your fist), and squeeze on a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste.
- Hold the bristles gently against the outside of your top teeth, near the gum line, at about a 45-degree angle upward.
- Sweep the brush gently back and forth over teeth and gums in soft strokes — or, if you prefer, use an elliptical (circular) motion to clean the teeth.
- Be sure to clean the spaces between teeth: You can use a sweeping motion to brush food particles away from the gums.
- When you have done one brush-width, move to the adjacent area of your teeth and repeat. Keep going until you have finished cleaning the outside of the whole top row of teeth.
- Move to the bottom teeth. Repeat the procedure, tilting the brush down toward the gum line at about 45 degrees. Finish cleaning the outside of the bottom teeth.
- Go on to the inside of the top teeth. Tilting the bristles up toward the gums, clean the inside of the top teeth with gentle but thorough strokes.
- Move to the inside of the bottom teeth. Tilt the brush down and repeat the procedure.
- Now it’s time for the chewing surfaces: Holding the bristles flat against the molars, clean the ridges and valleys of the back teeth. Do this for all the top and bottom teeth.
- Finally, brush your tongue gently to remove bacteria and freshen breath.
Check Your Work
How good a brushing job did you do? One way to get an idea is by simply running your tongue over your teeth: If they feel slick and smooth, then chances are they’re clean. If not, you should try again. To know for sure whether you’re brushing effectively, you can use a “disclosing solution” — a special dye that highlights plaque and debris your brushing missed.
One common error is not brushing for long enough: two minutes is about the minimum time you need to do a thorough job. If you have music in the bathroom, you could try brushing along with a pop song; when the song’s over, you’re done! But no matter your musical taste, good brushing technique can go a long way toward maintaining tip-top oral hygiene.
Variations for Comfort
If you’re having trouble with the two-finger method, here’s another way to try flossing: Just tie the same amount of floss into a big loop, place all your fingers (but not thumbs) inside the loop, and work it around your teeth with index fingers and thumbs. All the other steps remain the same.
Once you’ve got the basics down, there are a few different types of flosses you can try, including flavored, waxed, and wider width. Some people find waxed floss slides more easily into tighter gaps between teeth or restorations — but it may not make that satisfying “squeak” as it’s cleaning. Others prefer wide floss for cleaning around bridgework. But whichever way works best for you, the important thing is to keep it up!
Why is flossing important?
Many dentists believe that flossing is the single most important weapon against plaque. In any event, daily flossing is an excellent and proven method for complementing your brushing routine and helping to prevent cavities, periodontal disease, and other dental problems later in life. It also increases blood circulation in your gums. Floss removes plaque and debris that stick to your teeth and gums.
How often to floss
Floss at least once every day. Like brushing, flossing should take about three minutes and can easily be done while doing another activity, such as watching television. Do not attempt to floss your teeth while operating a motor vehicle or other machinery.
There are two common methods for flossing, the “spool method” and the “loop method”.
The spool method is the most popular for those who do not have problems with stiff joints or fingers. The spool method works like this: Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around your middle finger. Wind the rest of the floss similarly around the middle finger of your other hand. This finger takes up the floss as it becomes soiled or frayed. Move the floss between your teeth with your index fingers and thumbs. Maneuver the floss up and down several times forming a “C” shape around the tooth. While doing this, make sure you go below the gum line, where bacteria are known to collect heavily.
The loop method is often effective for children or adults with dexterity problems like arthritis. The loop method works like this: Break off about 18 inches of floss and form it into a circle. Tie it securely with two or three knots. Place all of your fingers, except the thumb, within the loop. Use your index fingers to guide the floss through your lower teeth, and use your thumbs to guide the floss through the upper teeth, going below the gum line and forming a “C” on the side of the tooth.
With either method of flossing, never “snap” the floss because this can cut your gums. Make sure that you gently scrape the side of each tooth with the floss.
Your gums may be tender or even bleed for the first few days after flossing – a condition that generally heals within a few days.