Admit it -- brushing your teeth is so second nature you barely think about it. But doing it right is a key part of good oral health, and it can help you avoid cavities and gum disease.
Brush up on your skills with these easy-to-follow tips.
1. Choose the Right Tool
Do you have the right toothbrush? Think about the size of your mouth, says Richard H. Price, DMD, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. "If you are straining to open wide enough to let the brush in, the brush is probably too big," he says. It should feel good in your mouth and hand, so you’ll use it often.
Know your bristles. If they're too stiff, they can hurt your gums. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends a soft brush.
Should you go electric or manual? "It's an individual preference," says Michael Sesemann, DDS, former president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Price agrees. "It's not the toothbrush, it's the brusher."
Electric toothbrushes can make it easier to do a better job, especially if you have arthritis or other trouble with your hands, arms, or shoulders. “If we see someone having issues with the manual (toothbrush), introducing an electric brush has excellent results,” Sesemann says.
2. Give It Time
Are you brushing enough? Twice a day is recommended. ''Three times a day is best," Sesemann says.
You should brush for at least 2 minutes. “Most people fall short of the time period,” he says. He suggests you divide your mouth into four sections and spend 30 seconds on each.
Some electric toothbrushes have built-in timers and can even track your use patterns by syncing to your smartphone.
To make the time go faster, Sesemann says he watches TV while he brushes. If you go too long, though, plaque will build up and boost your chances of sore gums and other problems, he says.
3. Don’t Overdo It
Brushing more than three times a day might not be ideal, Sesemann says. That's because too much brushing can wear down tooth enamel and damage your gums.
Also, “don’t bear down too hard,” he says. “Use a lighter touch.”
“With electric brushes, you let the bristles do the work and just guide the toothbrush,” Price says.
Be gentle. It doesn’t take a lot of force to remove plaque, he says.
4. Perfect Your Technique
Are you brushing correctly? Wide, side-to-side strokes can cause scrapes along your gum line, Sesemann says. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums, and make an up-and-down motion. Use short strokes.
Brush outer and inner tooth surfaces, back molars, and your tongue. “Don’t forget about those hard-to-reach areas,” Sesemann says. If you aren’t thorough, plaque has time to sit in your mouth and cause damage.