Hopefully you have been brushing your teeth for years, but how do you know if you are using proper brushing technique? Most of us learned to brush our teeth as young children and have used similar brushing habits throughout our lives. Let’s stop and think about that. You could be a 65-year-old adult brushing with the technique of a 10-year-old!
Although proper brushing technique doesn’t come naturally or instinctively, it’s easy to make a few changes in your brushing method in order to make your oral hygiene routine effective.
First, it’s important to remember why brushing your teeth is important. Most problems in our mouth are caused by plaque. Plaque is a soft, sticky film on our teeth made up of bacteria and sugars. Everyone has plaque, and when not removed daily, it can lead to cavities and periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease is a serious infection that can lead to tissue and bone loss, which can also lead to tooth loss.
The best defense against plaque is to remove it daily. Brushing every day, twice a day, helps prevent the plaque from building up over time.
So how do we best brush? Let’s break down the two minutes:
Brush Along Your Gumline
Place the head of your toothbrush horizontally against your teeth with bristles partly on your gums. Then – and this is the most important step – angle your brush head so it’s at a 45-degree-angle. Many people think that brushing your teeth is just that – brushing the part of the tooth that you can see. By placing your toothbrush at this angle along your gums, you can assure you are removing plaque that builds up at and below the gumline. Do this for about 20 strokes and continue to work around your entire mouth so that all teeth at the gumline are cleaned.
Use Gentle, Short Back-and-Forth Strokes
Use short horizontal strokes. The bristles of the tooth brush should actually stay in the same place while the head of the brush wiggles back and forth. If you prefer, use circular motions, but make sure to use a gentle motion. Proper brushing should not cause pain. Brushing too hard can cause gum tissue damage and recession.
Brush All Surfaces of All Teeth
Each tooth has different surfaces: the outer surface (what you can easily see), the inside surface (think of this as the tongue-side of the tooth) and the chewing surface (the top of each tooth). Each tooth surface needs to be brushed. The inside, or tongue-side, surface of your teeth can be difficult to reach. To best reach this area, hold the brush vertically. Again, use the same gentle, back-and-forth brushing motion. For the tops of the teeth – the chewing surface – hold the brush so bristles are flat and straight down.
Track Where You Brush
Find a way to keep track of where you have brushed. For some, it’s easy to break the mouth into four areas and spend 30 seconds in each area using the brushing techniques listed above. Find what works best for you so that you aren’t simply spending two minutes brushing the same areas of your mouth and leaving others without attention.
Finish your two minutes by brushing your tongue. Firmly brush from back to front to remove bacteria.
It’s that easy, right? It may take some time to adjust to thinking through these steps, but, lucky for you, brushing two minutes twice a day offers plenty of opportunity to improve.
Mark Scallon, DDS