Are We Brushing Our Teeth Wrong? Dentists Explain

Aly Walansky
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We know we’re supposed to brush our teeth, obviously. But are we supposed to brush morning and night, or after every meal? Should we be doing so for 2 minutes, 3 minutes, or more? Should we be holding the brush at a 45 degree angle? What age should you start?

You’d think there would be steadfast rules, but there aren’t. A British Dental Journal recently posted a study contradicting  a lot of what we’ve been taught for years. So, who is right? And what should we be doing for healthy teeth and gums?

Dr. Emanuel Layliev, D.D.S., of the New York Center For Cosmetic Dentistry says: “There are multiple approaches to brushing and no one technique is better than the other, but is customized to one’s specific oral condition. Speak to your dentist about what brushing technique is best for you.”

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Time Matters
“I tell my patients to turn the faucet off while brushing. Brushing for two minutes is a good barometer, and if we turn off the faucet, it helps us mentally not to rush through the process. Plus, you don’t waste water!” Layliev adds.

Avoid brushing for 30 minutes after a meal, says Layliev. During this time the pH in the mouth is low, acidic, and brushing even gently (using any technique) is too abrasive and potentially damaging.

After cleaning all the tooth surfaces, it is extremely important to brush your tongue as well, as we know the tongue harbors the majority of the bacteria in our mouths, says Dr. Sivan Finkel, DMD, who practices aesthetic and general dentistry at New York’s Dental Parlour and is a Clinical Instructor at NYU Aesthetics.

The Brushing Technique Controversy
Dr. David Tarica of 34th Street Dental in New York City agrees with Dr. Layliev that one technique never will fit all. “Just like one size can’t fit all, there is no toothbrush or technique that is suitable for all to use. The current recommendation that most dentists and dental hygienists are recommending is the use of a soft toothbrush, positioned on a 45° angle towards the gumline, with circular strokes to remove plaque at the gingival level. Often we find that our patients have recession and toothbrush abrasion at the gumline caused by the wrong method of toothbrushing. It is for this reason that we recommend our patients remain consistent with their hygiene visits. On the visit, we take a few moments to perfect their techniques based on their own dental needs and make individual adjustments based on the patient’s dental history.”

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Be Gentle
Dr. David Genet, a periodontist in Aventura, Florida, likes to use an analogy about how hard to brush: It’s the difference of scrubbing the kitchen floor vs. lightly dusting a priceless piece of furniture. Teeth need to be brushed lightly. Use just two fingers to hold the brush.

Be wary of whitening toothpastes, especially if your dentist has already told you you are brushing too hard, says Dr. Finkel. Whitening toothpastes contain silica particles that are meant to scratch away the surface stains, and if you are heavy-handed, you could potentially damage your teeth or gums.

Never Skip Flossing
Dr. Layliev cautions to always complement your brushing routine with daily flossing. It’s best to floss first, then brush teeth, then brush tongue, then rinse.

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Munching on crunchy snacks like apples or celery is a great way to naturally clean teeth, if your toothbrush isn’t handy, says Dr. Layliev. Raw fruits and veggies are loaded with fiber, a natural abrasive.

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