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How To Brush Your Teeth Properly And Which Toothbrush To Use To Get A White Smile

Updated on September 25, 2011

What is Oral Hygiene and why is it so Important?

I know it may seem like a patronising statement, I mean unless you're four years old who doesn't know how to brush their teeth right? But during my time working as a dental nurse I was shocked to see how many people were actually unaware of how to brush their teeth correctly and effectively. Dental care and oral hygiene is very important, as the mouth is full of bacteria that needs to be brushed away to ensure good general health. After you consume food and drink a layer of a transparent, sticky, soft film called plaque sticks to the surfaces of the teeth. Plaque is made up of food debris, bacteria and saliva, and if left on the teeth for a period of time, every time you eat or drink something which contains sugar, it will multiply and produce acid which attacks the teeth and causes caries. It is not just the teeth that are attacked but also the gingiva, or gums as they are more commonly known. When plaque is left to sit on the gum margin it will cause the gums to become red and inflamed, and this is called gingivitis, or gum disease. Gums in this state will often bleed when brushed, which is a sure sign that they need to be brushed more often! When people see blood they often worry and don't want to brush again, but it is quite the opposite action that is needed. If plaque is left to build up and not brushed away then it will eat away at the gum and the ligaments that hold the tooth in it's socket, and solidify into what we call calculus. This is known as periodontal disease. When calculus is present and it is below the gum line, it can only be removed using an ultrasonic scaler which is usually operated by a dental hygienist, or the dentist, as it is too tough to be removed my brushing. This is why it is important to brush your teeth regularly when the plaque is soft so as to prevent dental disease. There have been studies showing the links between gum and periodontal disease and heart disease, so brushing your teeth should't be taken lightly!

When Should You Brush And Why

Brushing is the only way to keep your teeth clean and free from plaque. Most people just see it as a chore, especially before bed when you are least motivated, but this is the time when it is most important as you want to prevent the bacteria attacking your teeth and gums throughout the night. Your teeth must be brushed and thoroughly cleaned at least twice a day; once in the morning and once at night before bed. It is most beneficial to brush your teeth after each meal to ensure a plaque free mouth, and stop snacking between meals, but I know this is an ideal and not always possible. For those times that brushing is not possible, for example after your lunch, you could try eating what is known as detergent foods or a piece of cheese. Detergent foods consist of raw apples, carrots, pears or celery, or any other fibrous, firm raw fruit or vegetable. These cleanse the mouth because of the amount of chewing involved, and the increased saliva flow can help wash away food debris and stop it sticking to the plaque and causing harm. Cheese also increases saliva flow and acts as an acid neutraliser. It is also said that chewing gum between meals can also help as it has the same effect of increasing the flow of saliva but I personally wouldn't recommend this. My reason being that chewing gum contains sugar, and chewing it between meals is going to increase the acid attack on your teeth. But, most sugar-free gum contains a sweetener substitute known as aspartame, which is a lot more dangerous than sugar, as it has been proven to cause tumors and cancers. This is why I wouldn't advise gum, and would just stick to finishing meals with a detergent food. Although detergent foods are good for stimulating the flow of saliva and clearing away food debris, I must sress that it is only brushing that can clean away plaque, detergent foods just decrease the risk of further attack on the teeth.

Cutting out snacks between meals will decrease the plaque attack on your teeth. After eating or drinking anything containing sugar, the sugar will attack your teeth for up to half an hour after consumption. If you are eating a bag of toffees throughout the afternoon, treating to yourself to one every hour, for five hours, that is five separate acid attacks on your teeth. If you have a bag of sweets (we all have to treat ourselves sometimes!), it is more beneficial to your teeth to eat them all in one go, and ideally brush your teeth afterwards, as then you are only suffering one attack rather than several, or none at all if you brush your teeth properly straight after. Also it is worth mentioning to take note of the kind of foods you are eating. I've just mentioned toffees and these are one of the owrst sweets we can eat. Not only can it cause strain on the jaw because of the strenuous chewing involved, but it sticks in the fissures on the surface of your teeth after you've eaten it, and the bacteria in your mouth feed off it and produce more acid, which creates more caries. If you are eating anything sweet, such as toffees, I would strongly advise on brushing your teeth straight afterwards to prevent a build up of plaque on the teeth.

Because plaque is transparent on the teeth, many people think they are unaffected and that they are brushing sufficiently. It is sometimes only when the dentist scrapes it off the teeth and shows it to the patient that it is believed and understood. A good way of detecting plaque on your teeth is to use disclosing tablets. These come in a solution or tablet form to chew, and contain a red dye called erythrosin. When chewed or applied to the teeth the dye will stick to any plaque that is on the teeth or around the gums, whereas clean areas will be unaffected. This will give you a good guide of where plaque builds up the most and what areas you need to concentrate a bit more on when brushing. Disclosing tablets or solutions are also good for orthodontic patients who are wearing braces, as plaque can build up easily around the wires and brackets of the brace, and it is helpful to see where to brush. And don't worry, you don't get stuck with red teeth, the dye is easily cleaned away with mouthwash!

It's not only plaque that brushing removes but also stains on the teeth that are caused by everyday foods and drinks such as red wine, coffee and tea, and also such things as smoking. If you constantly smoke or drink coffee and fail to brush your teeth properly, then unsightly dark yellow or brown stains will soon build up on grooves, fissures and surfaces of the teeth. This can effect confidence greatly, as people suffering from such stains on their teeth are more unwilling to smile in public, or will cover their mouths whenever they do so. Brushing your teeth is vital to keeping these stains at bay if you want a pearly white smile.

Brushing your teeth, gums and tongue will minimise bacteria build up in the mouth. If this bacteria is allowed to build up it can cause halitosis, or more commonly known as bad breath! To keep your mouth smelling fresh and healthy you must brush regularly to get rid of plaque and bacteria.

What Toothbrush Should You Use?

With many different toothbrushes offering solutions to an array of problems on the market I can see how easy it is to be confused over which one is the best for you. There aren't many rules when it comes to choosing a toothbrush, and it is not as complicated as it may seem. First of all there are two types of toothbrush available. You have your manual toothbrushes and your elecric toothbrushes. Electric toothbrushes are better than manual, as all the hard work is done for you. Electric toothbrushes have heads that rotate, which is the ideal motion for getting rid of all plaque and debris on the teeth. People tend to scrub backwards and forwards and across and up and down. This kind of scrubbing will lead to gum recession and abrasion, which I will mention again in a moment. The gentle circular motion of the elecric toothbrush is perfect to clean the teeth, you just need to hold the toothbrush on the teeth and let the toothbrush do the work for you. Elecric toothbrushes that turn up to 3000 revs per minute are ideal as they rotate at a fast speed and will leave you with a sparkly white smile. Whichever you choose though it should ideally have soft to medium nylon bristles and be a small tufted head. This enables you to clean hard-to-reach places and reach all the tooth surfaces. Also you don't want anything too hard as scrubbing the teeth with hard bristles can cause abrasion, as I mentioned earlier, which is when enamel on the tooth is worn down by over vigorous brushing and hard bristle toothbrushes. The gum can also be receeded quicker by over vigorous brushing. Receeding gums is when the gum shrinks away from the tooth, which is a natural progression over time and happens to us all as we get older. But it is also sped up by plaque remaining on the gums and causing gum disease, and also by over vigourous brushing. Both these things can cause very sensitive teeth. So it is vital to get the right balance of cleaning your teeth efficiently without causing any damage to the enamel or gums.

Effective Brushing

Each time you brush your teeth you should be taking at least two minutes to thoroughly clean them. Running your brush over the outside of your teeth, cleaning only the surfaces that people see simply isn't good enough. All surfaces need to be cleaned and brushed, as well as the gums and the tongue, all the places that plaque and bacteria can stick to. After each meal is most effective but if that isn't an option then at least try to follow these simple steps morning and night to get a healthy white smile.

  • Let's start right at the beginning! Take your toothbrush, whichever one you have chosen, electric or manual, and put a blob of toothpaste on the bristles. The blob should be about the size of the tip of your little finger. Whichever toothpaste you prefer, gritty toothpastes that contain fluoride such as Colgate Total can help to remove stains and get into all the grooves and fissures to remove plaque effectively.
  • Next, you need to brush your teeth! Think of your mouth divided into four - you have the upper right quadrant, the lower right quadrant, the upper left quadrant and the lower left quadrant. And then each quadrant is then divided into a further three sections, of front, back and top surfaces. Of each tooth you have these three surfaces that you are able to clean through brushing. With small circular motions gently clean each tooth, working your way through each quadrant, and each three surfaces, front, top and back. It may sound like a lot but it really isn't, it should take around two minutes, which is hardly anything out of your day! If you have an electric toothbrush then the circular motion is done for you, all you have to do is to hold the brush over each tooth and each surface.
  • To clean the margins of the gums, and the gums themselves, angle your brush at fourty-five degrees, just on the gum margin, and again gently brush using small circular motions. This will ensure that all plaque is removed and the gums can remain healthy, helping to prevent gum disease and gum recession. If you find that your gums bleed when you brush don't be alarmed! First of all make sure you are not brushing to hard. Healthy gums will have to be scrubbed pretty hard to make them bleed, but unhealthy gums will bleed at the slightest touch. If you are sure you are not scrubbing too hard then it is a sign of angry inflamed gums that are covered in plaque and are not being cleaned often enough. Take this as a sign to clean better and more often and you will notice that the bleeding becomes less and less.
  • Some people struggle to clean the back teeth, which are known as the molars, and the very back teeth are known as the wisdom teeth, due to the lack of room. A good tip when you feel that there isn't much room to get your toothbrush to the back tooth is to close your moith slightly. When you have your mouth jacked open wide, the space between your teeth and the inside of your cheek decreases. When you close your mouth slightly it frees up some space, enabling you to reach further back with your toothbrush. You could also try a brush called an inter-space brush, which is a small head of long bristles on a long handle, which makes it easy to reach to your back teeth and in awkward spaces.
  • Brush your tongue to remove any build up of bacteria. You can get such things known as tongue scrapers, which are especially designed to clean the tongue by running it along the surface and collecting the film of bacteria. This will help to keep your breath smelling fresh.
  • You should spend at least two minutes cleaning your teeth. You could time yourself, as many people think two minutes is a lot shorter time than what it actually is!
  • Once you have brushed your teeth, gums and tongue, spit out the toothpaste but try not to rinse. This keeps a layer of fluoride on the teeth which helps to keep them strong. Don't swallow any toothpaste though as fluoride is very harmful when ingested.
  • Check your teeth before you leave the bathroom. Run your tongue along all they feel smooth and clean? Look in the mirror and check them. If there's any areas you feel you have missed then go back to it and make a note to clean that area better next time.

For Those In-Between Spaces

Obviously a toothbrush is too big to get between your teeth, so to clean in-between your teeth you need to use floss or inter-dental brushes. Floss is flat dental tape that you pull between the teeth to remove food debris and plaque from tight spaces. Floss comes in all different widths and thicknesses, but is generally used for teeth that are very close together with not a lot of space between them. Inter-dental brushes have the same principle, but are little flexible brushes on the end of a small handle, which you can bend and manouver into small gaps and spaces. Inter-dental brushes come in a range of sizes, ranging from tiny for the tight gaps to large brushes for the larger spaces. It is important to clean in between your teeth to protect the gums and teeth from the build up of plaque and food debris which can occur in these places. 

The Benefits Of Brushing Your Teeth Properly

Brushing your teeth properly is essential to keep your mouth looking and smelling it's best, as well as keeping you healthy. Here's a quick summary of the benefits of taking the time and effort to brush your teeth correctly:

  • It reduces the risk of and even prevents caries which means less visits to the dentist!
  • It reduces of and prevents bad breath and keeps your mouth smelling fresh and healthy.
  • It can reduce and prevent unsightly stains caused by such things as smoking, red wine, coffee and tea, giving you a white healthy smile.
  • Reduces the risk of and prevents gum and periodontal disease.
  • Reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
  • Gives you more confidence if you have a smile that you are proud of!


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    • GJ56 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      i wish lol! No, Ive worked as a dental nurse for over five years now which is where my experience comes from. Hope you took something useful from the hub : )

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      goona put these tips into practice, i take it you are a dentist?


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