Ask the Dentist: Up-down, round and round – what's the right way to brush teeth?

Duration and direction and less important than the end result – clean teeth
Lucy Stock

SINCE ancient times early humans have been susceptible to some of the same beliefs that persist nowadays, such as the idea that healthy teeth represent youth, health, vigor, and good reproductive potential, whereas toothlessness sends a message of weakness and disease.

So that we can all maintain our image of virility and youthfulness, many tooth-cleaning implements have been developed. However, many people are still ineffective when it comes to tooth brushing, so what is the correct tooth brushing method?


Apparently, we are all meant to be placing our toothbrushes at a 45-degree angle to the gums. Back in reality land, if when you look at your teeth there’s no soft white plaque then you are brushing well. The general idea is to brush over where the gum meets the tooth and to brush all the surfaces of the teeth – top, bottom, inside, outside, front and back. As its often quoted, “Clean only those teeth that you want to keep.”


It’s super easy to miss the tongue side of the teeth, meaning that the gum in this area becomes red and inflamed. Leaving gums red and inflamed leads to bone loss and teeth rotting. Remember, the more nervous you are of the dentist the more desirable it is for you to keep your teeth as squeaky clean as possible, thus avoiding the need for dental treatment.


Much talked about too is the motion of the toothbrush. Round and round, up and down, side to side, curly whirly motions – whatever, I really don’t think that the exact movement of the brush makes a big difference. If at the end of brushing you have removed all the damaging soft white plaque, then job done.


Super clean teeth don’t mean that you need to go hell for leather in the pressure department either. Even if your gums recede this is often to do with other factors such as the thickness of your gum and the position of the tooth in the jaw rather than how hard you brush. The other extreme of being too gentle also causes problems. Like with most things in the body, it’s about balance. Medium force applied to a medium-sized, medium firm toothbrush is generally what’s needed to achieve clean teeth.


I’ll let you into a secret: many people can clean their teeth in less than two minutes because they are effective – it’s not how long you do it but how you do it. With children tooth brushing time shouldn’t be stress central – try focusing on gentle positive encouragement rather than keeping to a strict two-minute rule.

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