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The best approach to brushing your teeth

23 September 2021 at 11:15

The best approch to brushing your teeth

Most of us are familiar with the advice to brush our teeth for 2 minutes, twice a day. But when and how is it best to brush?


Why brush teeth?

Plaque is caused by a film of bacteria that builds up on the surface of the teeth, and contributes to tooth decay and gum disease. Happily, it can be removed by regular brushing. 

Before or after breakfast?

Overnight, bacteria collects in your mouth due to the reduced amount of saliva while you sleep. Sugar and carbohydrate foods react with this bacteria, which begin to turn sugars into acids almost immediately – and this acid in turn attacks the tooth enamel. Brushing before breakfast removes these bacteria before they have a chance to come into contact with food. For greatest protection, it’s best to wait 30 minutes after brushing before eating.

If you aren’t up early enough to brush 30 minutes before breakfast, then wait 30 – 60 minutes after eating before you brush.  This is because brushing too soon after eating acidic foods can damage tooth enamel – this includes not only citrus fruits but other acid forming foods like coffee, dried fruit, sugar, bread and toast. Waiting for 30 minutes or more allows the pH in the mouth to return to normal.

Should you brush after every meal?

Although brushing is good – over brushing can weaken enamel so the advice remains that twice a day is best – at least half an hour before breakfast and then again before bed. After other meals it may be helpful to rinse the mouth with water to remove debris and reset the mouth pH.

For coffee drinkers

Coffee not only causes staining but is acidic, which can encourage erosion of the tooth enamel. It’s better to brush your teeth half an hour before drinking coffee than after, as this removes plaque build-up on the surface of the teeth making it more difficult for stains to stick. If you brush your teeth straight after a cup of coffee when the enamel is weak it can become damaged. Rinsing the mouth with water after drinking coffee helps minimise staining and restore the pH balance to protect your enamel.

Electric or manual?

The type of toothbrush you choose doesn’t really matter, as long as your technique is good and you brush all surfaces of the teeth thoroughly. Some people find using an electric toothbrush easier to reach certain teeth and maintain a steady pressure. But manual brushing can be just as effective if that’s your preference.

How much pressure?

You do need a certain amount of pressure to dislodge the bacteria that build up in the mouth, however, too much pressure can also damage the enamel. If the bristles on your toothbrush wear down or look splayed after a few weeks then you are probably pressing to hard. This can cause sensitivity and gum exposure.  It has been shown that a pressure of 150-200g is adequate for plaque removal – you can test this by pressing your brush against a digital kitchen scale. You can also ask your dental hygienist for a demonstration of the correct technique.

Is longer better?

Studies show no advantage to brushing for longer than the recommended 2 minutes, and over the long run it can actually do more damage. The main mistake people make is to brush harder for a shorter time. To best protect the enamel use a gentler pressure, as described above, over a longer period.

Further information: 

NHS - How to keep your teeth clean

British Dental Association - TopBrushing: top tips

American Dental Association - 8 bad brushing habits


Photo by Dan Cook on Unsplash

Tags: Health | Dentail health

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