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How Long Do You Really Need to Brush Your Teeth?

Updated on July 25, 2010

Most people know that you are 'supposed' to brush your teeth for 2 minutes, but this seems such an arbitrary length of time that few of us bother to check how long we actually spend with our toothbrushes in our mouths. If asked (and I know because I've tried this) people guess and say, 'Oh about 2 minutes.' Almost everybody over estimates, but does that matter?

Many surveys have shown that, on average, people brush their teeth for less than 30 seconds at a time - and yet many of them are convinced they've put in as much as 5 minutes!

So how can we make sure we do a thorough job with our toothbrush? (We'll deal with flossing and interdental cleaning another time) When it comes to brushing their teeth, most people treat their mouths as a single unit. They put the paste on the brush and scrub around more or less at random until they feel they have achieved the desired result. In my opinion, it's impossible to do a great job that way (okay, it's not actually impossible; it's just that I've never seen a set of teeth that have been adequately brushed in that manner - and, being nearly as old as God, I've looked into a lot of mouths)

You need a more systematic approach. Start on one side at the back, either upper or lower, and brush the cheek side of the back 2 teeth for a few seconds. Then brush the chewing surfaces, then the palate side (if you're at the top) or tongue side (if you're at the bottom) Then move on to the next 2 teeth and do the same. And so on until you've been all the way around your mouth. Then brush the top of your tongue.

I've timed a few people while they've been doing this - and guess how long it took? Yep, 2 - 2 ¼ minutes, irrespective of whether they were using a manual or an electric brush. So maybe the advice about how long you need to brush isn't so arbitrary after all, eh?

This might seem all a bit mundane but you can spend a lot of money and a lot of time getting porcelain veneers, crowns, bridges, implants or any other type of advanced cosmetic dentistry - and unless you can keep everything clean, it WILL FAIL.

Please don't do that to yourself.

Tom Nolan is a dentist with over 30 years’ experience.

If you found this article useful, you should check out his book

Watch Your Mouth – An Owner’s Manual.

Also available as a download. This book is packed with practical advice and will tell you everything you need to know to keep your mouth healthy, trouble-free and beautiful for the rest of your life.

You can always get in touch via Tom's practice: The Dentist in Town


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    • profile image

      LS 3 years ago forgot the rest of the teeth (cheek side), they're are more than just two.

    • DrNathanHaas profile image

      DrNathanHaas 7 years ago from Toronto

      Great post!