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Woman Brushing Her Teeth

When you learn how to brush your teeth and take care of your mouth, you receive specific instructions. Brush with a circular motion. Floss after eating. Brush twice a day.

But why are you supposed to do things the way you’ve been taught? Is there logic behind the instructions, or were your parents just telling you the same things they were told? You won’t be surprised to hear it’s a combination of the two, but you may be surprised about which dental instructions are hearsay and which have a real purpose.

Why Use a Circular Motion When Brushing Your Teeth?

Moving your toothbrush along the sides of your teeth with little circular motions is OK, but its status as the only right way to brush is old. When you brush the sides of your teeth, you can use those little circles (or get an electric toothbrush, which has a circular head that mimics the circle motion), or you can move the brush up and down. The real point is to cover all of the tooth’s surface.

The only time when brush position really comes into play is when you are brushing along your gum line. Angle the brush a bit toward the gums and sweep along the line, nudging out any food bits from just under the gumline. Don’t scrape your gums with the brush bristles.

What About Cleaning the Chewing Surfaces of Your Teeth?

Yes, you need to clean those, too, and a back-and-forth motion is just fine. Much of the brushing instructions that kids got decades ago focused on getting the sides of the teeth clean, and many people may have missed the message that the chewing surfaces aren’t going to clean themselves.

Should You Brush or Floss First?

Whether you brush or floss first does not matter; choose the order that works best for you. For example, if you have teeth that tend to trap a lot of food debris, flossing first may be more helpful because it removes the debris (and thus exposes more of the actual tooth enamel) before you brush.

Do You Really Have to Brush Twice? Three Times? After Every Meal and Snack?

At a minimum, you need to brush twice a day and floss at least once. You can floss twice if you prefer (and it’s a good idea to do this if you can). If you get food caught in your teeth, floss that out as soon as possible – even if you’ve already flossed that day.

Brushing and flossing after every meal and snack can be beneficial as long as you follow two rules.

One is to not brush until after at least half an hour has passed. When you eat, bacteria and the acids in many foods make your tooth enamel a tiny bit weaker. If you brush when your teeth are in this state, you can scratch the enamel and increase the chances of stains or tooth decay. Wait half an hour to let that weakening effect diminish.

The other is that you need to use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Hard- and medium-bristled brushes can cause microdamage to your tooth enamel and gum tissue, leading to irritation and more stains. (If your tooth enamel is scratched, staining compounds from food and drinks like wine can lodge in the scratches.)

What Happens If You Don’t Wet the Toothbrush Before Brushing?

This seems to be a divisive issue among people. Some insist you need to wet the brush and then add toothpaste, while others like to live dangerously and wet the toothbrush after adding toothpaste (and risk that toothpaste getting washed off into the sink).

Either one will work; this is solely a matter of preference. You really don’t even have to wet the brush at all. A common reason for wetting the brush is that it softens things up, but a soft-bristled brush shouldn’t need that type of help.

If you still have questions, even questions that you think are silly, contact Family Dental Center. We’re here to answer any tooth-care questions you have.

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