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What is the Proper Way to Brush Your Teeth?

Updated on July 13, 2011

Selecting the Right Brush

Before getting started, it is important to select the right toothbrush.  Ideally, the best brush for cleaning your teeth is a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head - the softer the bristles and the smaller the head, the better. 

Why soft bristles? 

The common misconception with hard-bristled toothbrushes is that they clean better than toothbrushes with soft bristles.  After all, if a hard brush cleans my toilet bowl better, wouldn't the same be true of a toothbrush?  Well, your teeth aren't your toilet bowl and scrubbing your teeth with a hard-bristled toothbrush and with too much force is very abrasive.  Even tooth enamel - the hardest substance in the human body - cannot withstand such abrasive actions.  It will eventually wear down and expose the yellow dentine underneath.  Not only is this damaging to your teeth but it makes it aesthetically unsightly.

Why small heads?

The idea of brushing your teeth is to be able to get your toothbrush around all the exposed surfaces of your teeth to remove plaque bacterial buildup.  Your teeth are roughly cylindrical in shape and arranged along a U-shaped arch.  If your toothbrush head is too big, the bristles will never be able to reach around the inside of the arch, nor will it effectively clean the area between the teeth.  If your toothbrush doesn't fit, you can't brush your teeth properly.

Brushing Technique

1. Toothbrush position

Imagine an imaginary plane running vertically through the center of your teeth. What you want to do is angle your toothbrush bristles so they are at 45 degrees to that plane. Aim your bristles at the margin where your teeth meet your gums as this is the place where plaque begins to accumulate first.

2. Toothbrush motion

The movements you want to make with your brush should be something like a jiggling action or tiny circular movements no bigger than the size of each tooth. Work the brush from the gum margin down to the biting edge of your teeth.

3. Be systematic

Start at the right-hand side of your upper arch on the surfaces of the teeth facing your cheek. Focus on brushing each individual tooth and move along one tooth at a time until you finish up on the left-hand side of your upper arch.

Move the brush to the inner surfaces of your upper arch and repeat the same process. As you approach the curve of your arch (usually around the premolar-canine region), turn your brush 90 degrees so the brush is vertical with the handle pointing down towards the ground. This helps you reach between the teeth more effectively. Continue cleaning each tooth until you reach the left-hand side of your upper arch.

Repeat the same actions for your lower arch.

Scrub the biting surfaces of your teeth, especially the molars, to remove any food debris that might be stuck in the grooves.

4. Pressure

Remember to use gentle pressure while brushing. Plaque is easily scrapped off with a toothbrush and doesn't require any elbow grease (unlike the scum in your toilet bowl). As long as there is contact between your toothbrush and your teeth, there is sufficient pressure being applied.

Don't Forget to Floss

Even with the best brushing technique, you will not be able to effectively clean the surfaces in between the teeth.  Only through flossing your teeth can this be achieved.  Therefore the process of cleaning your teeth is not complete until you have flossed your teeth.


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