Brushing Your Teeth
Most of us learned to brush our teeth when we were children. We have stuck with the same brushing technique into adulthood. Unfortunately, many of us learned how to brush the wrong way. And even if we learned the right way, we might not always stick to it. Brushing correctly is tricky. You want to remove plaque without brushing too hard and damaging your gums.
There are different ways to brush correctly. See our animated instructions for some ideas. Your dentist or dental hygienist can show you the method that might be best for you.
The modified Bass technique (below) is among the most popular for adults. Parents should supervise their children's brushing until age 9 or 10. Here are a few general pointers about brushing.
- Brush at least twice a day. One of those times should be just before you go to bed. When you sleep, your mouth gets drier. This makes it easier for acids from bacteria to attack your teeth. Also try to brush in the morning, either before or after breakfast. After breakfast is better. That way, bits of food are removed. But if you eat in your car or at work, or skip breakfast, brush first thing in the morning. This will get rid of the plaque that built up overnight.
- Brush no more than three times a day. Brushing after lunch will give you a good midday cleaning. But brushing too often can damage your gums.
- Brush lightly. Brushing too hard can damage your gums. It can cause them to recede (move away from the teeth). Plaque attaches to teeth like jam sticks to a spoon. It can't be totally removed by rinsing, but a light brushing will do the trick. Once plaque has hardened into calculus (tartar), brushing can't remove it. If you think you might brush too hard, hold your toothbrush the same way you hold a pen. This encourages a lighter stroke.
- Brush for at least two minutes. Set a timer if you have to, but don't skimp on brushing time. Two minutes is the minimum time you need to clean all of your teeth. Many people brush for the length of a song on the radio. That acts as a good reminder to brush each tooth thoroughly.
- Have a standard routine for brushing. Try to brush your teeth in the same order every day. This can help you cover every area of your mouth. If you do this routinely, it will become second nature. For example, you can brush the outer sides of your teeth from left to right across the top, then move to the inside and brush right to left. Then brush your chewing surfaces, too, from left to right. Repeat the pattern for your lower teeth.
- Always use a toothbrush with soft or extra-soft bristle. The harder the brush, the greater the risk of harming your gums.
- Change your toothbrush regularly. Throw away your old toothbrush after three months or when the bristles start to flare, whichever comes first. If your bristles flare much sooner than every three months, you may be brushing too hard. Try easing up.
- Choose a brush that has a seal of approval by the American Dental Association. The type of brush you use isn't nearly as important as brushing the right way and doing it twice a day. Any approved brush will be a good tool, but you have to know how to use it.
- Electric is fine, but not always necessary. Electric or power-assisted toothbrushes are a fine alternative to manual brushes. They are especially useful for people who don't always use proper brushing techniques. They also are a good choice for people with physical limitations that make brushing difficult. Use a powered toothbrush for at least two minutes, and don't press too hard.
Modified Bass Brushing Technique
- Hold the toothbrush sideways against your teeth with some of the bristles touching your gums.
- Tilt the brush so the bristles are pointing at your gum line.
- Move the brush back and forth, using short strokes. The tips of the bristles should stay in one place, but the head of the brush should wiggle back and forth. You also can make tiny circles with the brush. This allows the bristles to slide gently under the gum. Do this for about 20 strokes or 20 circles. In healthy gums, this type of brushing should cause no pain. If it hurts, brush more gently.
- Roll or flick the brush so that the bristles move out from under the gum toward the biting edge of the tooth. This helps move the plaque out from under the gum line.
- Repeat for every tooth, on the insides and outsides.
- On the insides of your front teeth, it can be hard to hold the brush sideways. So hold it vertically instead. Use the same gentle back-and- forth or circular brushing action. Finish with a roll or flick of the brush toward the biting edge.
- To clean the biting or chewing surfaces of the teeth, hold the brush so the bristles are straight down on those surfaces.
- Gently move the brush back and forth or in tiny circles to clean the entire surface. Move to a new tooth or area until all teeth are cleaned.
- Rinse with water.
- You can clear even more bacteria out of your mouth by brushing your tongue. Brush firmly but gently from back to front. Do not go so far back in your mouth that you gag. Rinse again.
Toothpastes don't just clean teeth anymore. They have special ingredients for preventing decay, plaque control, tartar control, whitening, gum care or helping sensitive teeth.
Tartar-control toothpastes areuseful for people who tend to build up tartar quickly. Someone who gets tooth stains may want a whitening toothpaste. Whitening toothpastes will remove only surface stains, such as those caused by smoking, tea or coffee. To whiten teeth that are stained at a deeper level, talk with your dentist.
Your needs will likely change as you age, so don't be surprised if your hygienist or dentist recommends a type of toothpaste you haven't used before. Look for the ADA seal of approval on any toothpaste. The seal assures that the toothpaste has met the standards set by the American Dental Association. Then, choose the toothpaste that tastes and feels best. Gel or paste, wintergreen or spearmint: These work the same way, so pick the one you like.
Some people find that some toothpaste ingredients irritate their teeth, cheeks or lips. If your teeth have become more sensitive or your mouth is irritated after brushing, try changing toothpastes. If the problem continues, see your dentist.
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