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Brushing 101: Back to Basics

Brushing teeth has been around, literally, for millennia. Frayed twigs were used as toothbrushes by the Egyptians in 3000 BC; the Chinese later fashioned a more rudimentary version of our modern model using, gulp, swine neck hairs for bristles.

Most of us learned how to brush our teeth when we were big enough to climb up on that stool in front of the bathroom sink. It seemed simple enough, didn't it? Toothpaste on brush, check, insert into mouth, check, proceed.

Woman brushing teethBut there's more to it than that.

Brushing is one of those things that can be bad-habit forming pretty quickly. Once we get into a pattern it can be hard to break without dedicated effort on our parts.

Brush Up on Your Oral Health

  • Select the right-sized toothbrush for your mouth and the right-sized grip for your hand. If either is uncomfortable, you won't do it enough (twice daily is what the American Dental Association recommends).
  • Brush for two minutes (the ADA uses the formula "2 x 2" -- twice a day for two minutes each time). One trick is to divide your mouth into quadrants and spend 30 seconds on each, or to brush for the duration of one song.
  • Don't brush with excessive force -- too much friction can wear down your gums. Use a light touch and go in gentle circles with your brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums.
  • Conquer outer and inner tooth surfaces, back molars, and your tongue. Remember you're always trying to dislodge plaque, but you don't need a lot of force to do so.
  • Shake up your routine by starting your toothbrushing in a different area.
  • One hard-to-access place we often bypass is behind our front teeth -- angle the brush vertically and brush up and down several times.
  • Get a new toothbrush every 3-4 months, especially if the bristles are starting to "flare" away from each other.

Proper Storage of Toothbrushes

Bacteria thrive in damp, close environments. When you're finished brushing, make sure you rinse your toothbrush well and then store it in the open air, standing straight up in a cup or holder so that air can circulate around it.

Thousands of microbes have been identified on bristles and handles, and while most won't bother us, others have been found to carry cold, flu, or the herpes virus that causes cold sores. Don't give them any help in proliferating.

Technology: Hand-Powered or Electric?

Studies are inconclusive on which is better, a plain-Jane manual toothbrush or the chargeable variety. If used properly, it seems the benefits of each are similar. electric toothbrush

But one thing dentists tend to agree on is that if your dexterity is hampered by disease, if an electric model would encourage longer brushing (they come with built-in timers), or if you have braces and could use the extra cleaning power, go for the gadget (and yes, there's now one that connects to an app on your Smartphone).

Your teeth and gums will be better off for it.

Photo credits: Dental Corporation of America, Alpha Dental Excellence


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