Sure, everybody over the age of five knows how to brush their teeth—right? Maybe… but according to a recent survey by the American Dental Association (ADA), when it comes to basic facts about dental hygiene, a surprising number of people could use some “brushing up.” For example, a whopping 91 percent didn’t know that the ADA recommends brushing just twice a day rather than after every meal; that’s to prevent excessive tooth wear. Also, only 35 percent correctly answered the question about how often you need to change your toothbrush (every three months).
Does your tooth-cleaning technique need improvement? Here are five tips for better brushing that everyone can use.
1: Start Out Right
To do a good job, you need the right equipment: In this case, a soft-bristled toothbrush with a head that’s small enough to fit comfortably in your mouth, yet is able to reach all areas that need cleaning. You should also use an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste; it doesn’t matter what brand or flavor you choose. If your brush is more than three months old, or if the bristles are beginning to stiffen or fray, it’s time to replace it. Ready? Let’s get started.
2: Get a Grip
Gently (but firmly), grasp the toothbrush in your fingers (not your fist). Hold it against your teeth, at a 45-degree angle to your gums. Now, start making short up-and-down strokes over the surfaces of your teeth—or, use an elliptical (oval-shaped) pattern if you prefer. Clean just a few teeth at a time; when you’re finished with one area, move on to the next, until it’s all done—and while you’re at it, brush your tongue too!
3: Take Your Time
How long did it take you to clean your whole mouth? If it was less than two minutes, you probably didn’t spend enough time brushing. To avoid shortchanging your oral health, try these strategies: Divide your mouth into four sections, and spend 30 seconds brushing each one; brush to a pop song on the radio (two to three minutes long)—when it’s over, you’re done; or, start brushing in a different part of your mouth each time, to avoid getting into a rut.
4: Cover All the Bases
Did your brush get to all areas of your teeth—the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces, and the spaces in between? If so, your teeth should feel smooth and slick when your tongue runs over them. But if you want to know for sure whether you’re missing a certain area, try using an over-the-counter “disclosing solution” or tablet. This is a harmless vegetable dye that can show you any areas your brush has missed.
5: Avoid Common Mistakes
Besides not brushing for long enough, over-vigorous brushing is a common mistake. This can irritate your gums, lead to tooth sensitivity, or even result in gum recession. And if you’ve recently consumed acidic food or beverages (like soda), wait at least a half-hour before brushing. That gives your saliva time to neutralize the acid, which softens tooth enamel and can make it vulnerable to erosion from brushing.
Why is proper brushing so important? Because maintaining good oral hygiene at home is the number one way to prevent tooth decay and gum disease—the deadly duo of dental distress. Tooth decay is the world’s most common chronic disease, while periodontitis (gum disease) is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. Of course it’s important to come in to the dental office for regular exams and professional cleaning, but it’s also essential to practice good oral health habits at home—including brushing, flossing, and making healthier lifestyle choices. Working together, you and your team of dental professionals can help keep your smile looking healthy and bright—throughout your whole life.
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