6 biggest mistakes people make when brushing teeth

If you brush your teeth twice a day, for “two minutes”, there’s still a good chance you could be getting it wrong. Bupa Dental’s Executive Clinical Consultant, Dr Mark Psillakis, reveals the greatest mistakes people make when it comes to toothbrushing. 

Most people know they should be brushing their teeth morning and night, and many know they should be brushing for two minutes at a time. But when put to the test, some patients are still getting their dental hygiene all wrong. 

So, in celebration of World Oral Health Day, here are the six greatest mistakes people make when it comes to toothbrushing.

1.  Not brushing teeth for the full two minutes

Many people tend to believe they’re brushing their teeth for a full two minutes. However, when timed, the average person only brushes for around 45 seconds. Even those who do brush for two minutes often aren’t brushing correctly, and the guidelines are referring to two minutes of proper brushing.
I usually tell my patients to aim for four minutes morning and night because, that way, your teeth are likely to get a good clean even if you’re not brushing with perfect technique. Why not get into the habit of setting yourself a timer?
Don’t forget: there’s no rule that says you have to stand in front of a mirror in the bathroom and brush for the entire two minutes! Take a cup, sit in front of the TV or read a book, spit into the cup and keep on brushing. 

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2.  Brushing at the wrong angle

When it comes to toothbrushing, you should be holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle placed where the tooth and gum meet. This cleans the surface of the tooth but also helps you gently reach under the gums to get rid of any hidden plaque.

I often find patients have spotless teeth from the gum line up, but they have inflamed gums. This tells me they’re probably brushing at the wrong angle. Remember to be extremely gentle with your gums - all that’s required is a little jiggle! That brings me to mistake number three…

3.  Brushing too hard 

When people clean their pots and pans, or their floor tiles, a harder scrub can mean a better clean. Teeth are very different - scrubbing too hard can damage your teeth! 

The biting surface is designed to withstand grinding and chewing food, so you can scrub as hard as you like on that part of your tooth. But when it comes to the front and sides of your teeth (e.g. the large flat area), you have to be very gentle. Just below the gum line, the tooth doesn’t contain the same hard enamel. This means that scrubbing hard can recede your gums and expose the roots of your teeth, which can lead to sensitivity. 

I often give children some advice that can work for adults too. Pretend to be a ballerina when brushing the front and sides of their teeth, gently dancing across the surface. When it comes to the biting surfaces of your teeth, make like a truck driver and scrub as hard as you want!

childs toothbrush being rinsed in bathroom

4.  Rinsing after a brush

This habit goes back for generations, so many people don’t realise that you should skip rinsing your mouth with water after brushing. Plaque produces acid and acid pulls the minerals out of the tooth.

The fluoride in toothpaste re-mineralises the tooth – which is a good thing. But as soon as you rinse your mouth with water, you’re rinsing away that fluoride. If you just spit without rinsing, you’re giving your teeth a little extra fluoride protection.

5.  Forgetting to floss 

No matter how well you brush, the toothbrush bristles don’t get right down in between the gums. Some of my patients tell me they use a toothpick instead. While a toothpick may help you get rid of a piece of meat stuck between your teeth, it won’t do the same job as flossing. 

When you eat, a film of plaque develops across your tooth surface. Flossing helps to remove the film of plaque between two teeth. This is the most common area of decay and is generally caused by poor flossing habits. 

Good dental hygiene involves flossing every day, but it’s important to be gentle. If your gums are bleeding, you’re either traumatising them or they’re inflamed. Try to use a sawing action to get past the contact point: slide the floss down the tooth on one side, up to the contact point, then back down the other tooth and out.

6.  Using toothbrushes for too long

It’s hard to put a specific time on how long you should use a toothbrush before you throw it out, but the general rule of thumb is three months. 

It’s best to keep an eye on how the brush’s bristles look. The moment the tip starts to curl, get rid of it and start using a new one. The same goes for electric toothbrushes - if the bristles look damaged or start to bend, it’s time for a new electric toothbrush head! 

Happy brushing and don’t forget to “live mouth smart”! 

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