Do You Really Know How and When to Brush Your Teeth?

One of my earliest memories is my mom showing me how to brush my teeth and impressing on me how important it was to keep my teeth clean — but do we really know the best way to keep our mouths healthy?

A new study published in the British Dental Journal says probably not, but it’s not our fault. The researchers looked at the brushing advice given across 10 countries, as well as the advice given by companies that produce various kinds of toothbrushes and toothpaste. They also assessed the advice given in dental textbooks.

What the researchers found was that the advice was “unacceptably” inconsistent and had a “worrying” lack of agreement. They found that toothbrush and toothpaste manufacturers frequently gave advice that didn’t match with medical advice on the best way to brush our teeth. They also found that there was often a mismatch between the advice given on products made for children compared to those made for adults without any scientific reason to support this difference.

Perhaps even more concerning, though, was the fact that even dental associations seem to be giving advice that is different depending on the organization and company, and often that advice did not match the advice given in dental care textbooks.

Senior author Aubrey Sheiham, from the University College of London, is quoted as saying: “The public needs to have sound information on the best method to brush their teeth. If people hear one thing from a dental association, another from a toothbrush company and something else from their dentist, no wonder they are confused about how to brush. In this study we found an unacceptably inconsistent array of advice from different sources.”

An example of incorrect advice that the researchers found was the frequent recommendation that brushers should gently “jiggle” the brush back and forth in small motions to dislodge food particles, plaque and bacteria that produces damaging acids.

However, there is no clinical evidence that this method is any more effective than the standard gentle scrubbing method.

Another was that people should immediately brush after eating or drinking things like candy, cakes or sugary drinks, to stop their harmful effects. Science tells us that the bacteria from these foods would take about two minutes to start producing harmful acids, so brushing immediately after eating these foods is unlikely to save your teeth and it would be better to avoid those foods entirely.

So why is there so much conflicting information?

“The wide range of recommendations we found is likely due to the lack of strong evidence suggesting that one method is conclusively better than another,” lead author Dr. John Wainwright is quoted as saying. “I advise my patients to focus their brushing on areas where plaque is most likely to collect – the biting surfaces and where the teeth and gums meet – and to use a gentle scrubbing motion. All too frequently I am asked why the method I am describing differs from how previous dentists have taught them in the past.”

The question then becomes how to remedy these discrepancies. The researchers believe that there should be a concerted research effort to discover the best techniques for brushing, finding out what does and doesn’t work. This will enable dentists and oral hygiene product manufacturers to have a clear reference point from which they can give consistent advice to the public.

This is important because there have been a number of studies that have linked good oral hygiene with a reduced risk of heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. What’s the best tooth brushing technique we currently know about, then?

The researchers, together with many dental associations, suggest the following:

  • An ideal grip on the toothbrush is not a fist but rather a pencil grip. This might feel difficult at first, but it prevents us from applying too much pressure.
  • Brushing gently with a medium-firm brush will give the best results, though you should find one that is comfortable for you.
  • Move the brush with a horizontal scrubbing motion.
  • Brush for two minutes, giving special attention to your front biting teeth, and the back teeth which are used for grinding.
  • Brush twice a day, once before bed and on one other occasion throughout the day. Anymore than that risks over-brushing, which can also be harmful.
  • Be consistent with your other oral hygiene practices.

Lastly, if you would like tips on how to ensure that your toothbrush remains germ-free and useful for longer, please click here.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Rosemary Diehl
Rosemary Diehl3 years ago

Well these are inconsistent with the way I was taught.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

We buy our toothpaste at the local health food store, price is comparable to Crest or Colgate at Walmart.

Mary T.
Mary T3 years ago

what about brushing teeth in the morning?

Milan Lorman
Milan Lorman3 years ago

When will you finally get some Expert to tell us when and how to wipe our bottoms?

Mac C.
mac C3 years ago

Flossing, along with brushing, is very essential to healthy teeth and gums. I was surprised to see that the medium - firm brush is preferred and will stick to soft when I use a regular toothbrush on vacation- otherwise will use my electric. I presume, the horizontal scrubbing motion is in place. Thanks for bringing us the results of the study.

Kay M.
Kay M3 years ago

horizontal? i thought it was supposed to be circular or up & down. glad i'm not the only one who doesn't have a clue.

M Quann
M Q3 years ago

Thank you.

Val M.
Val M3 years ago

Thank you

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 3 years ago

They forgot to tell the public just how nasty toothpaste is actually 4 us---anyway flossing is more important in my opinion.

ERIKA S3 years ago

thank you for the good informations