Unfortunately, in all that time, people have learned to brush ‘father to son’ – pretty much doing what felt right, rather than follow an approved regime.
Dentists see the detrimental effects of slapdash and poor brushing habits every day. Correct tooth brushing is one of the most important elements of proper dental care. But it’s not just about technique. Brush care, storage, bristle choice and many other factors all affect good and bad dental hygiene.
Unfortunately, many people make mistakes that can eventually lead to dental problems. Good oral health also impacts your overall health. It helps prevent respiratory diseases, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, improves cognitive functioning and prevents stomach disorders.
Most people think they know the basics of tooth brushing; after all they have been doing it since they were very young. However, over the years bad habits set in and people forget the basics:
- How many times a day should you brush your teeth?
- How long should you to brush for?
- How long should you wait before you brush your teeth after a meal?
- Which foods help to keep your teeth clean and which ones are harmful?
Here are ten pieces of dental care advice, and common brushing errors, you should avoid.
1. Floss Your Teeth Before Brushing
Often thought of as an American import, flossing is essential if you are to get the maximum benefit from subsequent brushing. You don’t need to do it before every brushing, once a day is adequate.
Dental floss is a thin, sterile, thin filament cord used to remove food and bacteria from between the teeth, where the toothbrush is unable to reach. If this is not removed, it can build up and develop into tartar and plaque – leading to gum diseases and cavities. The technique is quite simple to follow:
- First rinse your mouth with clean water;
- Then take your dental floss and slide it between all your teeth in turn as shown in the floss instructions;
- Rinse your mouth again.
2. Size Matters, Choose the Right Toothbrush for you
Do you have the right toothbrush? Think about the size of your mouth. Children in particular need brushes that are small enough to get into the tiny gaps. While you are at it, consider one of the many novelty, cartoon and musical toothbrushes that will encourage kids to use them.
For adults the brush should feel good in your mouth and hand, and be easy to manoeuvre around, so you’ll use it often. For most people, a small to medium size toothbrush is preferable to a large one.
Should you go electric or manual? Dentists agree that personal preference and good technique are the most important factors. Electric toothbrushes can make it easier if you have arthritis or other trouble with your hands, arms, or shoulders.
Whatever you go for, give it some thought – don’t just pick up the first one you see, or choose by brand or cost. In the long term the right brush pays dividends.
3. Using The Wrong Bristles
Without doubt this is the most contentious factor – and the biggest mistake people make when choosing a toothbrush.
Know your bristles. Always use a soft-to medium-bristled toothbrush. Bristle patterns may be straight, round, angled or zigzag. Dentists say that angled bristles are generally the best, as they help clean all the teeth properly irrespective of their position.
Along with the pattern, you need to consider the quality of the bristles. Avoid using a brush with hard and stiff bristles that can erode your dental enamel, irritate your gums and cause recession. If they’re too stiff, they can hurt your gums or make them bleed.
4. Take Your Time, But Don’t Overdo Brushing Or Frequency
Brushing too often is nearly as bad as not doing it enough. Twice a day is recommended, but three times a day is best if possible.
The most important point is that you should brush for at least 2 minutes. Divide your mouth into four sections and spend 30 seconds on each. Some electric toothbrushes have built-in timers and can even track your use patterns by syncing to your smartphone.
Brushing more than three times a day can be harmful, because too much brushing can wear down tooth enamel and damage your gums. Another important point is not to do it too hard – a lighter touch will still remove plaque, bacteria and food and will avoid enamel and gum damage. This is easier to achieve with an electric brush, as you let the bristles do the work and just guide the toothbrush.
5. Using the Wrong Brushing Technique, Starting at the Same Spot Each Time
Are you brushing correctly? Wide, side-to-side strokes can cause scrapes along your gum line. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums, and make an up-and-down motion. Use short strokes.
Be methodical; brush outer and inner tooth surfaces, back molars, and especially hard-to-reach areas like wisdom teeth.
Don’t always start brushing in the same place and be aware of what you’re doing. For example, if you are someone who brushes their teeth in the exact same order every day you might find yourself getting bored before you reach the last quadrant of your mouth. This complacency can lead to improper teeth cleaning.
6. Control Your Sweet And Sour Tooth
A useful tip, to keep your teeth clean when you’re out of the house and don’t have the opportunity to brush, is to eat fruit and vegetables. Apples and celery are particularly good, but any raw fruit and veg contain fibre, a natural abrasive that gently removes plaque.
Energy drinks, frizzy drinks, chocolate and sweets we know are all bad for our teeth. But even healthy food like apple juice, orange juice, and coffee contain acid that can soften tooth enamel. Don’t brush within 30 minutes of consuming them. That will give your saliva time to restore tooth enamel – otherwise you risk wearing away the enamel.
7. Keep It Clean And Avoid Sharing Your Toothbrush
Improper care of you brush can shorten its lifespan and expose you to infection. Do you always rinse your brush thoroughly? You should. Germs from your mouth and teeth can stay on it and thrive. You shouldn’t use a disinfectant, just rinse your toothbrush and let it air dry. Don’t put it in a case where it will stay damp for a long time.
Your bathroom is not the most sanitary in the house. Always keep your toothbrush at least 6 feet away from your toilet, to avoid any sort of airborne bacteria and other diseases coming into contact with it.
Stand it upright in a holder or cup. If you leave it in contact with a bathroom surface you could expose it to germs from your toilet or sink. Don’t let brushes touch each other, if they’re stored together.
To avoid re-introducing bacteria into your mouth rinse your toothbrush immediately after use. It is best to hold the toothbrush under running tap water for 1 minute and then allow it to air dry. This will help remove any leftover toothpaste, bacteria and food particles.
Never share your toothbrush. Bacteria can travels through the brushes; they can make you vulnerable to number of oral health issues. For the same reason keep any pets well away from your toothbrush.
8. Don’t Let Your Toothbrush Get Too Old
How old is your toothbrush? Many people continue using their toothbrush long after it’s time to replace it. Dentists advise that you get a new brush every 3 or 4 months. If you are not sure then take a careful look at the bristles. Once the bristles lose their normal flexibility and start to break apart, it’s time for a change. Remember, frayed or broken bristles won’t clean your teeth as well. You should also consider replacing it if you have had a cold or flu, as it could act as a source of reinfection.
9. Toothpaste, Fluoride And Excessive Bleaching
The kind of toothpaste you use matters. Make sure your toothpaste contains fluoride! Fluoride is essential for oral health and helps to build up enamel and prevent decay. If you use whitening toothpaste for your teeth, ensure that it also has the right level of fluoride. Drinking tap water (especially for children) is also great, since it also contains fluoride.
Whitening particles (in bleaching pastes) can be harmful as they can sand away tooth structure over time, so use them sparingly. If you need cosmetic bleaching consult your dentist.
10. Avoiding Brushing The Tongue
It is tempting to use your brush to clean your tongue – it is a major source of bad breath. However, this can transfer hard-to-remove bacteria to the bristles. So use a separate tongue scraper, or choose a brush with a special tongue cleaning back.