A consistent brushing routine is the easiest route to a healthy smile, but surveys show that a staggering 30% of Americans don’t brush often enough. That’s troubling, because brushing every day keeps plaque out of your mouth, where it can’t cause cavities, gingivitis, and other issues.
But to get those benefits, you need to brush often enough, for the right amount of time, and with the proper technique. If that seems intimidating, don’t worry. We’ve got your guide to the perfect brushing routine right here.
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How Many Times a Day Should I Brush?
If your parents ever forced you to brush your teeth twice a day when you were a kid, they were right. The American Dental Association says it’s the optimal brushing schedule. Bacteria can accumulate in your mouth overnight, so some dentists recommend brushing as soon as you wake up, before breakfast. Plus, brushing right after breakfast can cover your teeth with the acid from morning staples like fruit or orange juice. Then, brush again at night after you’re finished eating and drinking.
You should brush your teeth for two minutes each time. A study from the Journal of Dental Hygiene showed that brushing for two minutes removed 26% more plaque than brushing for 45 seconds. Over days and weeks of inadequate brushing, that leftover plaque can accumulate and increase your risk of cavities, gingivitis, bad breath, and other oral health issues.
Some people prefer to brush their teeth three times per day, once after each meal. That’s also a good practice, especially if you have braces, since they catch food particles and bacteria easier. However, regularly brushing more than three times in a day puts you at risk of wearing down your enamel, so stick to 2–3 times a day.
What Happens If I Don’t Brush My Teeth?
When you eat sugary or starchy foods, bacteria in your mouth mix with the particles, releasing an acid. This mixture becomes a sticky, colorless film called plaque, which can erode your enamel if you leave it alone. Every time you brush, you’re removing that plaque from your mouth, so if you skip brushing sessions, it can accumulate uninhibited.
Missing one brushing session won’t necessarily damage your teeth, but doing so consistently can cause problems. Plaque can begin hardening and eating away at your enamel within just a few days. If you go several days to a week without brushing, some of your plaque has likely hardened into tartar and you’ve entered the early stages of tooth decay.
The most common result is cavities — tiny holes in the teeth that can cause tooth sensitivity, toothaches, bad breath, and swelling. However, plaque and tartar accumulation can also cause bad breath, gingivitis, periodontitis, and in some cases, tooth loss. A few recent studies have even shown potential links between poor oral hygiene and eventual heart disease and cognitive decline. However, there’s not enough research yet to prove it.
How to Brush Your Teeth Properly
It’s not just when you brush, but how you brush that’s important, since improper brushing techniques can also leave plaque on your teeth. If you have a manual toothbrush, hold it at a 45-degree angle to the gums and move it back and forth over the front, back, and chewing surfaces of your teeth, spending 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth. Scrub each tooth carefully, but do it gently, since brushing too hard can erode your enamel.
You can use a similar technique with an electric toothbrush, but because it does the brushing motion for you, there’s no need to scrub the bristles against your teeth or gum line. Simply move it along the outer, inner, and chewing surface of every tooth.
Braces can make brushing more challenging, but you can still clean your teeth effectively. If you have elastics, remove them before you start and set them aside. Then, brush like you would normally, but remember: brackets and wires give plaque more places to stick, so brush around them carefully, hitting them from every angle.
Other Important Oral Hygiene Habits
Brushing consistently goes a long way, but it’s not the only part of a good oral hygiene routine. Flossing is essential, since it removes plaque from between your teeth, where a toothbrush can’t reach. You should floss at least once a day to clean out these hard-to-reach spaces. But you can floss more often if you have braces, frequently get food stuck in your teeth, or just like the feeling of a clean mouth after each meal.
Mouthwash is a great way to keep bacteria at bay and your breath fresh, but it’s not necessary for good oral health. Brushing and flossing regularly is more than enough, but rinsing with mouthwash after each session can help further reach tricky areas. However, it’s not a substitute for brushing and flossing.
Don’t neglect your twice yearly professional cleanings either! Even if you’ve got a great homecare routine, a hygienist with professional equipment can provide a deeper, more thorough cleaning. Plus, they give your dentist a chance to assess your dental health and address any issues.
Choosing a Toothbrush and Toothpaste
There are a ton of different toothbrushes out there. And even though they can all effectively remove plaque if you use them correctly, you still want one that’s comfortable and within your price range. First, you’ll need to decide if you want a manual or electric brush. Some studies have shown that electric toothbrushes remove plaque and prevent gingivitis better, but they’re also more expensive.
Either type will keep your teeth healthy if you use it right, so just choose a brush that fits your mouth and your budget well. Make sure to get the correct bristle stiffness, too. They come in soft, medium, and hard, but dentists recommend soft bristles for most people, since hard ones can erode the enamel if you use too much pressure.
Most toothpastes include the same few ingredients: abrasive agents, thickeners, moisture retainers, and detergents. But the most important thing to look for is fluoride — a naturally occurring mineral that protects your teeth from the acid oral bacteria create.
Whitening toothpastes can be effective with consistent use, but the change won’t be as drastic as you’d get from a professional treatment. And if you have sensitive teeth, look for a toothpaste specifically formulated for sensitivity.
Brushing your teeth might seem like a hassle, or another item on your daily to-do list, but it’s of paramount importance to your oral health.
It’s crucial in the never-ending fight against plaque and will help prevent cavities, gingivitis, and a host of other oral health issues. So keep oral hygiene at the top of your priority list and brush twice a day, every day — it’ll go a long way in protecting your smile.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should you brush your teeth?
The American Dental Association recommends brushing for two minutes, twice per day. That means you’ll want to spend around 30 seconds in each quadrant of your mouth.
What time of day is best to brush your teeth?
Typically, you should brush once in the morning and once at night, right before bed. The key is finding a routine that works for you, so you won’t forget to brush.
How often should I floss?
The American Dental Association recommends once per day, typically before bed. However, if you’d like to floss after every meal, it won’t hurt you.
Can I brush more than twice a day?
If you’d like to brush your teeth three times a day — once after each meal — it certainly won’t hurt. In fact, it’s a great practice for people who often get food caught in their teeth or have braces that trap food particles. But be wary about brushing more than three times a day, since it can lead to enamel erosion, especially if you use a lot of pressure or a hard-bristled brush.
Are electric toothbrushes better?
Certain studies have shown that electric toothbrushes are better than manual ones at eliminating plaque and reducing gingivitis. But that doesn’t mean manual brushes are ineffective. As long as you use them the right way, keep them clean, and brush regularly, either type of toothbrush can help you achieve excellent oral hygiene.
What’s the best way to brush your teeth?
Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums and move it back and forth over the front, back, and chewing surfaces of your teeth, spending 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth for a total of two minutes. If you’re using an electric toothbrush, it will do the brushing motion for you, so simply move it over each surface, spending 30 seconds in each quadrant.
What happens if you forget to brush your teeth?
Forgetting one time won’t destroy your teeth. Some extra plaque will build up, but you can remove it the next time you brush. You just don’t want to make a habit of skipping brushing sessions.
Can you brush your teeth too hard?
Yes! If you use too much pressure when you brush or use a hard-bristled brush when your dentist hasn’t advised it, you can wear down your enamel, potentially causing sensitivity and decay down the road. Certain electric toothbrushes have pressure sensors to prevent aggressive brushing, but if you don’t have that feature, just slow down and brush gently.
How often should I get a new toothbrush?
Manual toothbrushes and electric toothbrush heads typically last around 3–4 months. However, look for damaged or frayed bristles, a bad smell, or an unclean feeling on your teeth after brushing as signs that you need a new brush. You should also replace your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head after being sick, or if someone else uses it.