Am I Brushing My Teeth Correctly?

For most of us, brushing our teeth is one of those routine things we do without thinking much about it. However, how you do it -- whether you floss before or after, rinse your mouth out, and how you brush -- matters as well. Here's how to get the maximum benefit from each brush.

Photo by Kristina, Jono Winn, Steve Snodgrass, jchwhite.

Brushing your teeth and flossing is always better than not doing it, but doing it right might take a couple subtle changes to your routine. I spoke with dentist Dr Steven Zervas to get the bottom of the best way to care for your teeth.

How And When

It seems straightforward: you brush your teeth in the morning and in the evening, then you're all set. It turns out it's not quite that simple. While brushing your teeth at least twice a day is the usual recommendation, how and when you do it can be trickier.

First off, as we've pointed out before, the best time to brush your teeth actually depends on what you're eating. In most cases, it's good to brush your teeth after you eat because that's the best time to clean away all that sugar or starch that damages your teeth. However, in some cases -- usually with acidic foods like orange juice -- it's actually best to wait a little while before brushing. Mayo Clinic explains:

One caveat to brushing after you eat is if you've eaten an acidic food or drink -- for example, orange juice. Avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes after acidic foods and beverages. These acids weaken tooth enamel, and brushing too soon can cause damage to the enamel. If you know you're going to eat or drink something very acidic ahead of time, you may want to brush your teeth first.

Technique matters here just as much as everything else, and most of us are probably brushing incorrectly. Dr. Zervas recommends brushing in a circular motion up to the gum line instead of brushing in a vigorous back and forth motion. This gets the bacteria out without rubbing your gums too much.

Finally, the last step many of us take in our tooth brushing routine is to rinse out our mouths with a little water. As it turns out, that's actually a bad idea. The Guardian points out, that you're just washing off the film from the toothpaste:

"For children, I would say wash out, because if they still have adult teeth that have yet to come through, they may end up with too much fluoride in their body, which can damage their teeth. For adults, it's good to leave a film, but in moderation -- you don't want a mouthful of toothpaste. I have a semi-rinse: I put a tiny bit of water in my mouth to brush away the toothpaste on my tongue."

So, to quickly recap: brush after eating unless you're eating acidic foods, brush gently in a circular motion, and don't rinse your mouth with water afterwards.

Be A Better Flosser

After you're finished brushing those teeth, you'll also need to floss. We've talked before about the importance of flossing, and it's probably the thing that we all hear we need to do more of every time we're at the dentist. According to the American Dental Association, it doesn't actually matter if you floss before or after brushing, but doing it before has some benefits:

<blockquote?Either way is acceptable as long as you do a thorough job. However, if you use dental floss before you brush, the fluoride from the toothpaste has a better chance of reaching between teeth.

Flossing also requires technique. If you're just sawing around inside your mouth then you're doing it wrong. The Wall Street Journal describes the right way:

Sawing back and forward is wrong; that can abrade the tooth, create a groove and eventually saw off the crown.

You should always introduce the floss at the top of the tooth, in the gum line, and bring it down, then remove it and find an unused length for the next tooth.

The old piece of floss is fully laden with plaque. You wouldn't want to use it again and spread those germs. And be gentle: If you're too rough, you can cut into the gum and cause bleeding or even a soft-tissue wound over time. We also see a lot of what we call "oral health athletes," who are overzealous about flossing. Once a day is plenty.

Dr Zervas also adds that since so many people don't do it, he's usually happy as long as people are flossing regardless of whether they do it beforehand or after.

When To Use Mouthwash

As for mouthwash, Dr Zervas recommends mouthwash for everyone because it helps get rid of bacteria in the mouth easily and helps with bad breath. According to the UK National Health Service, you don't want to use that mouthwash right after brushing:

[D]on't use mouthwash straight after brushing your teeth. Choose a separate time, such as after lunch. And don't eat or drink for 30 minutes after using a fluoride mouthwash.

Brushing your teeth seems like a simple enough process, but if you really want to maximise that time and do it right, you have to make sure you're not causing more harm than good.


Comments

    this may seem like a ridiculous question... how do you ' introduce the floss at the top of the tooth, in the gum line'? how are you supposed to get it there if not from the bottom??

      Was wondering the exact same thing...

      Would depend if it's a top tooth or lower tooth.

    What is the reason for not using mouthwash after brushing? I read the article linked to, but it doesn't seem to give an explanation.

      Just a wild guess is that it might wash away any protective coating or something that the toothpaste may leave on your teeth?

        Then how about rinsing before brushing? You'll get rid of the bacteria and bad breath but won't wash away the protective fluoride coating from the toothpaste?

          Isn't part of the idea of using mouthwash is to kill the bacteria in places brushing cant reach? Mouthwash before brushing would be counter productive as brushing could push it into those places.

          So you'd brush, wait, then get the places brushing doesnt get with mouthwash.

    Don't rinse your mouth out after brushing? Gross.

    I use a Waterpik for flossing, highly recommended.

    Wasn't mouthwash linked to a significant increase in the risk of developing cancer in the mouth a few years ago?

    I have been pretty wary about using it regularly since then and only use it on occasion.

      Yeah I remember reading about that. From memory it was only alcohol-based mouthwashes that were linked to cancer, so any that are alcohol-free should be okay to use regularly.

      It's a very iffy subject, from what I have read it's bullcrap.

      http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228086887_Mouthwash_and_oral_cancer_risk_quantitative_meta-analysis_of_epidemiologic_studies/file/9fcfd500d033cdb9f6.pdf

    Recognising that brushing is simply to compensate for the lack of heavy chewing required by primitive diet forces brushing to be the best imitation possible of the chewing motion. Soft floppy bristled brushes cannot access gaps but any sideways action, including circular, will fail and cause unnatural abrasion damage.

    Waterpik - use a water jet to clean your teeth.

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