Brushing our teeth is something most of us learned as kids, but not all of us were taught correctly. Opinions about toothbrushing technique have changed over time as oral hygiene has become better understood and it can be easy to slide into bad brushing habits if you're not paying attention.
Unfortunately, improper toothbrushing can have serious effects if it leads to tooth decay, gum disease or even tooth loss. Good toothbrushing is the foundation of preventive dental care, so it's important to review your toothbrushing routine and consider any areas where you might need to improve.
Making a few small changes to your daily routine could go a long way towards keeping a healthy smile for life.
11 toothbrushing mistakes to avoid
Are you making any of these common toothbrushing errors? You're not alone. The good news is that, once bad brushing habits are identified, they can be very easy to fix, so you'll be less likely to need tooth fillings, root canal therapy or an emergency dentist if your teeth are unhealthy and damage easily.
1. Using the wrong toothbrush
Not all toothbrushes are the same. Some can feel more comfortable in your mouth, others may be easier to use and some can even risk damaging your teeth.
The most important thing to look for in a toothbrush is soft bristles. A hard-bristled toothbrush doesn't get your teeth any cleaner, and it may scrape away the enamel and wear down your teeth.
You should also look for toothbrush heads that are a comfortable fit for your mouth and handles that feel comfortable to hold. This is especially important for young children who should have special children's toothbrushes that are designed for their size and abilities.
2. Using the wrong toothpaste
The most important thing to look for when choosing toothpaste isn't the brand, but whether it contains fluoride. Fluoride is the key ingredient in toothpaste that helps to replace lost minerals in teeth and strengthens them against plaque, helping to fight tooth decay.
Unfortunately, not all toothpastes contain fluoride. Some, such as charcoal toothpastes, contain abrasive agents that may even damage the enamel. You can check the strength of fluoride in toothpaste by reading the packaging, looking for products with 1350 to 1500 ppm (parts per million) fluoride for the best protection.
The exception is toothpaste for young children, which is specially designed to have a low concentration of fluoride. This is to help prevent fluorosis, a cosmetic condition that can cause discolouration of the teeth if too much fluoride is ingested.
3. Not brushing enough
It's a common misconception that you should brush your teeth once a day. Dentists recommend that most people brush twice a day – ideally in the morning before breakfast and at night before going to bed. If you have poor oral health, your dentist may recommend brushing three or more times per day.
It's not only how often, but how long you brush for too. Thorough teeth cleaning takes two minutes, with an even amount of time spent cleaning each tooth on all sides. If you find yourself racing through brushing, time yourself using your phone or playing music so you get into the rhythm.
4. Brushing straight after eating
You might feel like brushing your teeth after eating or drinking, especially if it was something sticky or sugary that you can still feel in your mouth, but this could do more harm than good. This is because acids in food and drink can soften teeth for a short time, which can make them vulnerable to damage from brushing.
Wait at least 15 minutes or up to an hour for the saliva in your mouth to neutralise and rinse away the acids before brushing. In the meantime, you can try to get rid of any leftover food or lingering taste by rinsing your mouth with water.
5. Brushing too hard
Do you scrub your teeth hard to try to remove more trapped food and plaque? This isn't necessary and it can even cause damage to your teeth and gums.
Tooth enamel is tough, but it's not invincible, and it needs more gentle cleaning than bathroom tiles! Thinking of toothbrushing as a massage for your teeth and gums could help you to ease off on the pressure and avoid causing unintended damage.
6. Brushing from side to side
Does the direction you move your toothbrush make a difference to cleaning? Yes, and brushing from side to side is one of the most common brushing mistakes. Not only can this damage the teeth by overbrushing, but some areas of the teeth aren't likely to be cleaned, especially under the gumline.
The recommended toothbrushing technique is to hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gum and brush each tooth in turn with several up and down strokes. You should tilt the brush further when cleaning the inside (back) of your teeth.
7. Not brushing your gums and tongue
Toothbrushing shouldn't be limited to your teeth. It's also important to brush the tooth just under the gumline and to gently brush the gums themselves. This helps to prevent gingivitis, the irritation of the gums by bacteria that can lead to more serious gum disease and eventually tooth loss if it's not managed.
You should also scrape the upper surface of your tongue to remove bacteria that can spread around your mouth and cause bad breath. Many toothbrushes have a tongue scraping side on the reverse of the bristles, or you can buy a specialised tongue scraper. Scrape very gently from the back of the tongue forwards and rinse the toothbrush to remove bacteria.
8. Rinsing your mouth
Rinsing after brushing can help to reduce the minty taste if you're planning to eat or drink shortly, but it also means you're not getting the full benefit of fluoride. Leaving some toothpaste on your teeth afterwards helps to create a barrier against plaque and acid attacks.
This can be especially important at night, as your mouth produces less saliva to naturally cleanse your mouth when you're asleep. You should also try to avoid drinking anything after brushing your teeth before going to sleep so the fluoride has the chance to work through the night.
9. Not storing your toothbrush properly
Do you cover your toothbrush after use? While this helps to protect it from outside germs, this also allows bacteria that's already on the brush or in the container to spread faster.
To store your toothbrush hygienically, keep it upright and let the bristles dry in the open air. Storing your toothbrush close to a toilet is also unhygienic, as airborne particles may land on your toothbrush every time you flush.
10. Using your toothbrush for too long
Toothbrush bristles will start to show wear and tear before too long, and continuing to use a toothbrush with frayed, bent or broken bristles will affect the quality of your toothbrushing. The same goes for electric toothbrush heads that need to be replaced regularly.
How often you should replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head depends on its condition, but dentists recommend every 3 months on average. You should also replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head after an illness, or germs will still remain.
11. Not flossing
Toothbrushing alone isn't enough to keep your teeth clean and free from plaque. You should also floss between your teeth to clean the parts that a toothbrush can't reach.
Most people only need to floss once per day, preferably before brushing. Like brushing, you should floss gently to avoid irritating your gums. Your dentist or oral hygienist can recommend the best type of floss to use and flossing techniques if you're not used to flossing or you need to improve your results.
Should I use an electric toothbrush?
If you're struggling to keep your teeth clean and healthy with a regular toothbrush, your dentist might recommend trying a powered toothbrush.
While both types of toothbrushes can clean equally well, some people find electric toothbrushes easier or more comfortable to use, particularly children and people with mobility issues.
An electric toothbrush may also be more appealing to kids who resist brushing their teeth, and some models can be used with toothbrushing apps to help time and guide your brushing routine.
How can I improve my toothbrushing?
If you want to be a better brusher and lower your oral health risks, your first stop should be your dentist. They can examine your mouth and recommend good brushing techniques or other treatments that could help you. These could include:
- Plaque disclosing tablets that temporarily show the parts of your teeth that you need to clean better.
- Rinsing with a mouthwash after brushing to reduce bacteria in your mouth.
- Cutting down on sugar that feeds plaque and increases tooth decay risk.
- Regular check-ups and oral hygiene treatments at a dental clinic to examine your mouth, professionally clean your teeth and remove built-up plaque.
Talk to a Gold Coast dentist
If you want to see a dentist about your teeth, or it's time for a check-up and clean, call our friendly team at Robina Town Dental on 07 5575 9100 to book an appointment at our Gold Coast dental clinic. You can also book online.
American Dental Association. 8 Bad Brushing Habits to Break in 2021 [Online] 2021 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/brushing-mistakes-slideshow
Better Health Channel. Teeth and mouth care [Online] 2019 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/teeth-care
Better Health Channel. Toothbrushing - children [Online] 2019 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/toothbrushing-children
Healthdirect. Teeth cleaning [Online] 2020 [Accessed June 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-cleaning