Brushing and flossing regularly are a no-brainer for oral health. Even so, only about 41% of women and men in the United States floss at least once daily. Another 20% don’t floss at all.
If you’re in the 41%, you’re on the right track, but it might not be the best track.
Addie Chang, DMD, an expert family dentist, knows that daily brushing and flossing are the basis of good oral health. But they’re just the start. At our office in Tukwila, Washington, she offers preventive dentistry with biannual exams and cleanings. But she also encourages you to brush and floss. However, you must brush and floss correctly to maintain your oral health. Are you making these common mistakes?
Your parents probably taught you to brush directly after a meal to build good habits. That gave you a good anchor to remember to brush, which made sense: Eat food, brush away the food.
However, dental professionals now believe it’s best to wait awhile after most meals or drinks before brushing. Why is that? Any foods that contain acid or sugar temporarily weaken our enamel, the hard surface that covers and protects our teeth.
Your teeth can remineralize if you wait about 30 minutes after drinking or eating acids or sugars. So that you don’t completely break with your eating anchor, rinse directly after eating. That removes food particles, some acids, and sugars, which also aids in remineralization.
If you brush with gusto and are determined to rid your mouth of baddies like sugar, acid, and bacteria, you could do more harm than good. Vigorous brushing, especially with hard bristles, can erode your enamel and irritate your gums.
Instead, choose a soft-bristled brush and use gentle, sweeping motions. The soft bristles are better than the hard bristles at getting to minute particles between your teeth. And they’re gentler on your enamel and gums.
Yes, even the angle of your toothbrush is important! While you may be holding your toothbrush straight across your teeth, that’s actually not the most efficient or safest way to brush.
Simply tilt your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle. Start at the gum line and rock back and forth, heading downward (or upward) in circular motions. Don’t scrub: You’re brushing your teeth, not cleaning grease off the garage floor.
Just jamming the brush in your mouth and swirling it around a few times won’t do. You have to reach every surface on your teeth multiple times.
That means spending about 30 seconds on each quadrant of teeth. You can get an electric toothbrush that times it for you or devise your own way of counting down the two minutes you need to do a thorough job.
Wait, what? Your dentist probably told you to floss after brushing to remove those last stray bits of food and plaque (i.e., the sticky film you get on your teeth after eating). But our knowledge has evolved.
While flossing either before or after brushing effectively removes dental plaque, flossing before reduces whole plaque significantly more. Marginal plaque reduction was the same for both groups.
But there’s another important advantage to flossing first. When you floss (or water pick) after brushing, you actually remove some of the fluoride or other minerals from your toothpaste that help remineralize your teeth. So, floss before brushing to keep your teeth strong.
Just as you need to brush properly, flossing takes finesse, too. Start with an 18-inch length of floss, and hold a few inches between two hands. Then move the floss around a single tooth in a C-shape, going up to the gum line and down again. That doesn’t just remove the plaque and bacteria; it helps stimulate your gums, too.
Always use a clean section of floss for each tooth. When you’ve flossed each tooth, throw the floss away.
Flossing and brushing are key to oral health. So is a regular visit to your dentist for biannual cleanings and exams. We clean your teeth more thoroughly than a toothbrush and floss by using specialized scaling tools to remove plaque, tartar (i.e., hardened plaque), and stains. We also administer X-rays annually and check for oral cancer.