Health

Am I Brushing My Teeth Correctly?

Thorin Klosowski, Gawker Media

For most of us, brushing our teeth is one of those routine things we do without thinking much about it. As it turns out, how you do it-whether you floss before or after, rinse your mouth out, and how you brush-matters as well. Here's how to get the maximum benefit from each brush.

Brushing your teeth and flossing is always better than not doing it, but doing it right might take a couple subtle changes to your routine. I spoke with Dr. Steven Zervas to get the bottom of the best way to care for your teeth.

How and When to Brush Your Teeth for Maximum Dental Care

It seems pretty straightforward: you brush your teeth in the morning and in the evening then you're all set. It turns out it's not exactly that simple. While brushing your teeth at least twice a day is the usual recommendation, how and when you do it isn't as simple as you'd think.

First off, as we've pointed out before, the best time to brush your teeth actually depends on what you're eating. In most cases, it's good to brush your teeth after you eat because that's the best time to clean away all that sugar or starch that damages your teeth. However, in some cases-usually with acidic foods like orange juice-it's actually best to wait a little while before brushing. Mayo Clinic explains:

One caveat to brushing after you eat is if you've eaten an acidic food or drink - for example, orange juice. Avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes after acidic foods and beverages. These acids weaken tooth enamel, and brushing too soon can cause damage to the enamel. If you know you're going to eat or drink something very acidic ahead of time, you may want to brush your teeth first.



Technique matters here just as much as everything else, and most of us are probably brushing wrong. Dr. Zervas recommends brushing in a circular motion up to the gum line instead of brushing in a vigorous back and forth motion. This manages to get the bacteria out without rubbing your gums too much.

Finally, the last step many of us take in our tooth brushing routine is to rinse out our mouths with a little water. As it turns out, that's actually a bad idea. The Guardian points out, that you're just washing off the film from the toothpaste:

""For children, I would say wash out, because if they still have adult teeth that have yet to come through, they may end up with too much fluoride in their body, which can damage their teeth. For adults, it's good to leave a film, but in moderation-you don't want a mouthful of toothpaste. I have a semi-rinse: I put a tiny bit of water in my mouth to brush away the toothpaste on my tongue.""

So, to quickly recap: brush after eating unless you're eating acidic foods, brush gently in a circular motion, and don't rinse your mouth with water afterwards. While you're at it, make sure you pick up the right kind of toothpaste.

Be a Better Flosser

After you're finished brushing those teeth, you'll also need to floss. We've talked before about the importance of flossing, and it's probably the thing that we all hear we need to do more of every time we're at the dentist. According to the American Dental Association, it doesn't actually matter if you floss before or after brushing, but doing it before has some benefits:

Either way is acceptable as long as you do a thorough job. However, if you use dental floss before you brush, the fluoride from the toothpaste has a better chance of reaching between teeth.

Flossing isn't exactly as easy as it sounds either. If you're just sawing around inside your mouth then you're doing it wrong. The Wall Street Journal has the right way:

Sawing back and forward is wrong; that can abrade the tooth, create a groove and eventually saw off the crown.

You should always introduce the floss at the top of the tooth, in the gum line, and bring it down, then remove it and find an unused length for the next tooth.

The old piece of floss is fully laden with plaque. You wouldn't want to use it again and spread those germs. And be gentle: If you're too rough, you can cut into the gum and cause bleeding or even a soft-tissue wound over time. We also see a lot of what we call ""oral health athletes,"" who are overzealous about flossing. Once a day is plenty.

Dr. Zervas also adds that since so many people don't do it, he's usually happy as long as people are flossing regardless of whether they do it beforehand or after.

When to Use Mouthwash

As for mouthwash, Dr. Zervas recommends mouthwash for everyone because it helps get rid of bacteria in the mouth easily and helps with bad breath. That said, certain people can also benefit from mouthwash with fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. However, according to the National Health Service, you don't want to use that mouthwash right after brushing:

[D]on't use mouthwash straight after brushing your teeth. Choose a separate time, such as after lunch. And don't eat or drink for 30 minutes after using a fluoride mouthwash.

Brushing your teeth seems like a simple enough process, but if you really want to maximize that time and do it right, you have to make sure you're not causing more harm than good.

Photo by Kristina, Jono Winn, Steve Snodgrass, jchwhite.

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