Brushing your teeth is such a commonplace activity that you probably don’t think much about your technique. But as it turns out, technique matters — a lot! Brushing your teeth the right way can keep them clean enough to ward off cavities and other dental issues, while brushing them incorrectly can actually damage them.
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Periodontist Sasha Ross, DMD, MS, explains why it’s so important to use the right brushing technique — and what, exactly, that technique entails.
Why the right technique matters
Have you ever used a wet paper towel to wipe down your kitchen counter instead of spraying it down with disinfectant? Yeah, it’s kinda like that. A quick swipe over your teeth just won’t do the trick.
When you brush your teeth the right way, you get your teeth as clean as you possibly can, which does wonders for your oral health. “Taking care of your oral health can impact your overall health,” Dr. Ross says. “And beyond that, feeling confident about your smile goes so far, both socially and professionally.”
Learn the right way to brush your teeth
Here’s what you need to know about the correct way to brush:
- Get your angle right: “The idea is to angle your brush at 45 degrees to the gum,” Dr. Ross says. “Where the gum meets the tooth, angle your toothbrush downward and use short, overlapping strokes.”
- Don’t overdo it: There’s no need to scrub! In fact, brushing too hard can cause damage to your teeth and gums. Use gentle pressure and trust your toothbrush to do the job it was made to do.
- Hit every side of the tooth: As the saying goes, leave no stone unturned — or, in this case, no tooth unbrushed. Be sure to get every side of your teeth, including the cheek side, the biting side and the inside near your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
Stay away from hard bristles
You might not have spent much time picking out your toothbrushes in the past, but now’s the time to start. In particular, pay attention to the kind of bristles you buy. Toothbrushes and electric toothbrush heads come in soft-, medium- and hard-bristle varieties.
“Hard toothbrushes are the best at removing plaque, but they also remove part of your tooth structure,” Dr. Ross explains.
In other words, they can’t differentiate between the bad stuff (plaque) and the good stuff (your teeth and gums themselves). Hard bristles can erode your tooth enamel, which may lead to cavities, and wear away at your gum tissue, which can cause gum recession.
“They’re too abrasive,” she adds, “so it’s best to stay away from them and stick with soft or sensitive bristles instead.”
Choose a fluoridated toothpaste
The toothpaste aisle is full of options: Ones that claim to support gum health, decrease sensitivity, whiten your teeth or prevent cavities. But Dr. Ross says that for the most part, their ingredients are the same.
“To treat and prevent cavities, the most important thing is that you use a toothpaste that’s fluoridated,” she says. “You should also stay away from toothpastes with a lot of baking soda, which are very abrasive.”
Traditional vs. electric toothbrush: Does it matter?
“Electric toothbrushes are what I recommend, as studies show that they do a better job than manual ones,” Dr. Ross advises.
A 2021 study found that electric toothbrushes removed more plaque from molars than manual toothbrushes did, though it showed no difference in removing plaque from incisors. And a study from 2022 found that after 12 weeks of using an electric toothbrush, 86% of participants showed reduced plaque and gum bleeding.
There are two main brands of electric toothbrushes on the market today:
- Oral-B by Braun® uses oscillating-rotating technology (which basically means that it spins to clean) and in 2005, was the first electric toothbrush shown to work better than a manual toothbrush. “The brush head is circular, so it can get some of those hard-to-reach areas without gagging you,” Dr. Ross notes.
- Philips Sonicare® works with sonic technology, using ultrasound and sonic waves to vibrate as you brush. It has a more oval-shaped head and some models are even Bluetooth-enabled, sending your brushing information to a smartphone app so that you can see which spots you’ve missed.
“Each company says their technology cleans better than the other one, but the truth is that we don’t have any recent studies to confirm one way or another,” Dr. Ross says.
How long should you brush your teeth?
You should brush your teeth two times a day for two minutes at least one of the times. It’s easy to keep track of that timeframe if you’re using an electric toothbrush, as most of them have a timer that tells you when your two minutes are up.
But you may need to brush more than twice a day, depending on your eating habits. “If you’re eating multiple small meals throughout the day, you need to be brushing your teeth more often to prevent cavities,” Dr. Ross warns. And don’t forget to floss!