By Lindsey Grant
Reviewed By Michael Friedman, DDS – July 22, 2014
Choose the Right Tool
Do you have the right toothbrush? Think about the size of your mouth, says Richard H. Price, DMD, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. “If you are straining to open wide enough to let the brush in, the brush is probably too big,” he says. It should feel good in your mouth and hand, so you’ll use it often.
Know your bristles. If they’re too stiff, they can hurt your gums. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a soft brush.
Should you go electric or manual? “It’s an individual preference,” says Michael Sesemann, DDS, former president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Price agrees. “It’s not the toothbrush, it’s the brusher.”
Electric toothbrushes can make it easier to do a better job, especially if you have arthritis or other trouble with your hands, arms, or shoulders. “If we see someone having issues with the manual (toothbrush), introducing an electric brush has excellent results,” Sesemann says.
Give It Time
Are you brushing enough? Twice a day is recommended. ”Three times a day is best,” Sesemann says.
You should brush for at least 2 minutes. “Most people fall short of the time period,” he says. He suggests you divide your mouth into four sections and spend 30 seconds on each.
Some electric toothbrushes have built-in timers and can even track your use patterns by syncing to your smartphone.
To make the time go faster, Sesemann says he watches TV while he brushes. If you go too long, though, plaque will build up and boost your chances of sore gums and other problems, he says.
Don’t Overdo It
Brushing more than three times a day might not be ideal, Sesemann says. That’s because too much brushing can wear down tooth enamel and damage your gums.
Also, “don’t bear down too hard,” he says. “Use a lighter touch.”
“With electric brushes, you let the bristles do the work and just guide the toothbrush,” Price says.
Be gentle. It doesn’t take a lot of force to remove plaque, he says.
Perfect Your Technique
Are you brushing correctly? Wide, side-to-side strokes can cause scrapes along your gum line, Sesemann says. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums, and make an up-and-down motion. Use short strokes.
Brush outer and inner tooth surfaces, back molars, and your tongue. “Don’t forget about those hard-to-reach areas,” Sesemann says. If you aren’t thorough, plaque has time to sit in your mouth and cause damage.
5. Switch Things Up
Do you always begin brushing in the same place? Dentists say most of us do.
“Start in a different place so that you don’t get lazy,” Price says. By the time you get to the last area of your mouth, you may be bored. Stay aware of what you’re doing.
“Keep track of where you are going and where you have been. Make it to all the surfaces,” Sesemann says.
6. Pick Products Wisely
The kind of toothpaste you use matters, he says. The things that brighten or control tartar can be harsh. “An increase in whitening particles can be harmful and sand away tooth structure.”
Go back to plain old fluoride toothpaste, he says. If you want to lighten your smile, you can always switch between whitening toothpaste and regular.
7. Control Your Sour Tooth
Energy drinks, diet sodas, and sour candies — even healthy things like apple juice, orange juice, and coffee — have acid that can soften tooth enamel, Sesemann says.
If you do go for sour goodies, wait half an hour before you brush. That gives your saliva time to restore tooth enamel. “The mechanical action of brushing softened teeth is the perfect recipe for wearing away enamel,” Sesemann says.
8. Keep It Clean
Do you always rinse your brush? You should. Germs from your mouth and teeth can stay on it if you don’t. It will also get rid of leftover toothpaste that can harden bristles.
You shouldn’t use a disinfectant to cleanse your toothbrush. Just rinse it and let it air dry. Don’t put it in a case where it will stay damp for a long time.
9. Avoid Potty Mouth
Most of us store our brushes in the bathroom — not the cleanest place in the house.
To keep yours tidy, stand it up in a holder. If you leave it on the counter, you could expose it to germs from your toilet or sink. Don’t let brushes touch each other if they’re stored together.
Let it air dry — a moist brush is more likely to grow bacteria. Use a cover that lets air in when you travel.
10. Let It Go
How old is your toothbrush? The ADA suggests you get a new brush every 3 or 4 months.
You can also look at the bristles. “Once the bristles lose their normal flexibility and start to break apart, change your toothbrush,” Price says.
Frayed or broken bristles won’t clean your teeth as well. If you can’t decide which toothbrush to buy, ask your dentist what kind is best.