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How to properly brush teeth?

Brushing teeth is an important part of maintaining good oral hygiene and preventing tooth decay and gum disease. However, many people do not brush their teeth properly. Proper brushing technique is essential for cleaning all surfaces of the teeth and gums. This article will provide step-by-step instructions on how to brush teeth correctly.

Why is Proper Brushing Important?

Brushing removes plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. If plaque is not removed by brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar that collects above and below the gumline. Tartar can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. Plaque and tartar irritate gums and can lead to gingivitis, an early form of gum disease. Gingivitis causes red, swollen, tender gums that may bleed easily. If gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease that destroys the tissues and bone supporting the teeth. Periodontitis is the main cause of tooth loss in adults.

Tooth decay also results when plaque remains on teeth too long. Bacteria in plaque use the sugar in food and drinks to make acids that attack tooth enamel. Frequent acid attacks cause enamel to break down and cavities to form. Cavities (tooth decay) damage inner tooth structure and can lead to tooth pain, infection, and tooth loss. These potential problems highlight the importance of proper brushing technique to thoroughly remove plaque.

Choosing the Right Toothbrush

Choosing an effective toothbrush is the first step in proper brushing. The best toothbrushes have soft, rounded nylon bristles. Hard bristles can damage tooth enamel and irritate gums. The toothbrush size should allow easy access to all areas of the mouth. Electric toothbrushes may be beneficial for those with limited manual dexterity. Replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months or sooner if bristles become frayed and splayed out.

Toothbrush Types

Toothbrush Features
Manual Inexpensive, portable, available in various bristle textures
Electric Provides power for brushing, some models have pressure sensors and timers
Battery-powered Provides vibration for cleaning, most models have built-in timers

Choosing the Right Toothpaste

Using a toothpaste containing fluoride is vital for cavity prevention. Fluoride makes teeth stronger and more resistant to acid attacks. For optimal results, use a fluoride toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). Avoid whitening toothpastes, as they can be too abrasive on enamel. People with sensitivity may require a desensitizing toothpaste. Check with your dentist to determine the best toothpaste for your needs.

Toothpaste Ingredients

Ingredient Purpose
Fluoride Fights cavities by strengthening enamel
Abrasives Removes plaque and stains
Detergents Create foaming action to lift and remove plaque
Antimicrobials Kill bacteria
Flavors & Colors Improve taste and appearance

Proper Brushing Technique

Follow these steps to brush your teeth effectively:

  1. Place bristles along the gumline at a 45-degree angle. Bristles should contact both teeth and gums.
  2. Gently brush back and forth in short strokes. Avoid aggressive scrubbing.
  3. Brush outer tooth surfaces using this method. Use light pressure and let bristles reach into grooves.
  4. Use the same technique to brush the inside (tongue side) surfaces of teeth.
  5. To clean chewing surfaces, use gentle circles to brush each tooth.
  6. Gently brush tongue to remove bacteria and freshen breath.
  7. Brush for at least 2 minutes to remove plaque thoroughly. Set a timer if needed.

Be systematic and brush all inner, outer, and chewing surfaces. It is impossible to thoroughly clean each tooth surface in 30 seconds or less.

Proper Toothbrush Grip

Holding the toothbrush properly allows better access to all areas of the mouth.

Toothbrush Grips

Grip Description
Overhand Grasp handle with thumb on top and fingers underneath like a pen
Underhand Grasp handle with thumb underneath and fingers on top
Power grip Grasp handle near bristles for maximum control

Test different grips to find the one offering the best control. Those with arthritis may benefit from larger toothbrush handles.

Brushing the Upper Teeth

Follow these steps to properly brush the upper teeth:

  1. Tilt bristles to a 45-degree angle where teeth and gums meet.
  2. Use short strokes to brush the outer surfaces, starting with the back teeth on one side.
  3. Brush the inner surfaces in the same way.
  4. Clean chewing surfaces using gentle circles.
  5. Repeat steps on the opposite side.
  6. To clean the inside front teeth, hold brush vertically and make several up-and-down strokes.

Brushing the Lower Teeth

Cleaning the lower teeth also requires angling bristles along the gumline:

  1. Tilt bristles at a 45-degree angle aimed upward to reach both gums and teeth.
  2. Starting with the back teeth on one side, brush outer surfaces using short, gentle strokes.
  3. Brush inner surfaces in the same way.
  4. Clean chewing surfaces using gentle circles.
  5. Repeat process on the opposite side.
  6. Brush the insides of the front teeth using gentle up-and-down motions.

Brushing Orthodontic Appliances

Those wearing braces or other fixed orthodontic appliances require some specialized brushing methods. Extra care is needed to clean around orthodontic brackets and wires:

  • Use orthodontic brushes that have angled heads and extra-soft bristles.
  • Carefully brush each bracket, wire, and band.
  • Gently brush where gum meets bracket, using vertical motions.
  • Use floss threaders to insert floss under wires and between teeth.
  • Rinse after meals to remove food debris.

Consult your orthodontist for specific recommendations to keep braces clean.

Brushing Dental Implants

Dental implants require diligent plaque removal to prevent infection and inflammation. Special care must be taken around implant abutments:

  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid abrasive scrubbing.
  • Angle bristles to contact implant surfaces below the gumline.
  • Brush implants just like natural teeth, using gentle motions.
  • Floss around implants, curving floss into a C-shape around each side.
  • Clean between implant crowns just like natural teeth.
  • Use antiseptic mouthwash to reduce bacteria and prevent infection.

Schedule regular dental cleanings to keep implants plaque-free.

Brushing Dentures and Partials

Proper cleaning is essential for maintaining dentures and partials:

  • Rinse dentures after eating to remove food debris.
  • Remove and gently brush dentures daily using a soft brush and paste.
  • Clean all denture surfaces, avoiding aggressive scrubbing.
  • Soak dentures overnight in cleansing solution or water.
  • Brush partials still in the mouth, avoiding metal components.
  • Take partials out to gently brush each tooth and wire clasps.
  • Rinse under water after handling or brushing.

Diligent denture care prevents stains and keeps gums healthy.

Proper Brushing Duration

Enough brushing time is needed to remove plaque thoroughly:

  • Spending only 30 seconds is not enough time to clean all tooth surfaces.
  • Dentists recommend brushing for 2 full minutes to effectively remove plaque.
  • Set a timer or play a 2-minute song to track brushing time.
  • Spend the first 30-60 seconds on the upper teeth and palate.
  • Spend the remaining time on the lower teeth, tongue, and gums.

Rushing through brushing leaves plaque behind and provides minimal benefit.

Brushing Pressure

Applying excessive pressure can cause enamel wear and gum damage:

  • Use light pressure the weight of the brush itself provides sufficient force.
  • Allow bristles to do the work avoid forceful scrubbing.
  • Let bristles gently glide over surfaces do not press hard.
  • Use extra-soft bristles if you tend to brush aggressively.
  • Electric brushes require only very light pressure; let the brush do the work.

Take care not to brush too hard. Let bristles gently remove plaque without damaging enamel.

Brushing Hard-to-Reach Areas

Some oral sites are more challenging to access:

  • Tilt the brush to reach the chewing surfaces of back teeth.
  • Pull the cheek out with the opposite hand for better access inside molars.
  • Tilt the brush vertically to reach the insides of front teeth.
  • Rotate the brush for better access to rear molars.
  • Use the tip of the brush to clean closely spaced teeth.

Take the time to properly clean all areas, even those difficult to reach.

Common Brushing Mistakes

Avoid these common brushing errors:

  • Not brushing long enough to remove plaque thoroughly
  • Applying too much pressure that can damage enamel
  • Using a brush with hard, worn bristles that can irritate gums
  • Not cleaning all inner, outer, and chewing surfaces of teeth
  • Failing to replace toothbrush at 3-month intervals
  • Not angling bristles where teeth meet gums
  • Not cleaning the tongue

Being aware of these mistakes can help avoid them.


Effective plaque removal is essential for oral health and requires proper brushing technique. Always use a soft-bristled brush with fluoride toothpaste. Gently brush inner, outer, and chewing surfaces of teeth for at least 2 minutes. Angle bristles to clean along the gumline. Avoid applying excess pressure. With proper technique and thoroughness, brushing can keep teeth and gums healthy.