8 Things You’re Doing Wrong When You Brush Your Teeth

Generally, I try not to make a lot assumptions about the audience I am writing for. It’s not very nice to do, in the first place, and it’s also pretty easy to arrive at a mistaken conclusion when one’s audience is large, faceless, and, other than leaving angry comments on an article about the pros and cons of fall (as in the season) can’t really speak for itself. I am going to go into this piece with a pretty large assumption, which is this: That you brush your teeth.

If you don’t brush your teeth, I am sorry for making a mistaken assumption about you. I would also like you to brush your teeth, and also visit a dentist, if possible! Lack of brushing can lead to tooth decay, which can lead to a tooth abscess, which can lead to a heart infection, which can lead to death (which is something that I learned recently on UnusualCelebrityDeaths.com). For the rest of you, I am happy that you brush your teeth. I am sure you are aware of the many dangers of tooth decay. What you might not be so aware of, however, is that there are a ton of things you’re probably doing wrong when you brush your teeth. Check ’em out here:

Not Brushing For A Long Enough Time

Your dentist has *probably* told you that you need to be spending a full two minutes brushing your teeth, but really--who's actually doing that? Two minutes isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, obviously, but it can feel long when you're doing something that is objectively pretty boring. Like brushing your teeth. To make sure that you're actually getting your two minutes in, divide your mouth into sections of four and spend thirty seconds on each section. You can also play a song that lasts about two minutes and make sure you brush for its entirety.

Image source: iStock

Skipping Your Tongue

Tongue-brushing can often feel counterintuitive, especially if your tongue is sensitive or ticklish. But your tongue can basically serve as a big Petri dish of bacteria. There's even a name for the thin layer of microorganisms that comes from the food and drink you consume throughout the day, called a "microfilm". So, uh, make sure to brush your tongue, too--doing so can reduce bad breath by up to 70 percent.

Image source: iStock

Brushing Too Hard

One of my favorite moments from controversial HBO Original Series Girls comes from the latest season, in which Hannah Horvath is staying at a self-help center for older women with her mom (this is relevant, I promise), and her mom asks if she's going to brush her teeth before she goes to bed and Hannah's like, "No, it's fine, I just brush extra hard in the morning." It's a good TV moment because it's...so wrong for real life. First of all, you should be brushing your teeth at least twice a day. It's also not going to do you any good to just, like, scrub harder if you miss a brush--this can actually damage your tooth enamel and cause bleeding in your gums. Instead, just use a gentle amount of friction and let your brush do most of the work.

Image source: iStock

Using A Toothbrush With Hard Bristles

Another cause of enamel damage could be your toothbrush itself--while hard bristles might seem like they're more effective for cleaning, they can actually wear down on your tooth enamel, causing it to weaken. To prevent this, look for a toothbrush that says "soft" or "extra soft" on the packaging.

Image source: iStock

Doing It The Same Way Every Time

Since people generally like routine, most people start brushing their teeth at the same spot every single time (for me, it's my back left molar). This actually isn't great, though--it means that some places get really clean but others get neglected. Instead, try to start from a different part of your mouth every time you brush. Since it feels "new" (it's the little things, I guess), you'll be more likely to pay attention to the rest of your mouth when you brush and give yourself a dentist-worthy cleaning.

Image source: iStock

Flossing After Brushing

You probably already know that you should be flossing your teeth once a day, since plaque and bacteria can build up within a 24-hour period and can contribute to gum disease if it isn't moved around. But you might not know that you should also make sure to floss before you brush, not after--according to the Massachusetts Dental Society, this loosens up particles and bacteria and makes them easier to get rid of once you actually floss. Plus, it makes it easier for the fluoride in your toothpaste access hard-to-reach places in your mouth.

Image source: iStock

Not Replacing Your Toothbrush Often Enough

It's easy to forget to replace your toothbrush--it's probably not something that's always at the forefront of your mind--but most dentists recommend getting a new one every three or four months. This is because the bristles tend to become worn and frayed over time, and therefore less effective. Plus, a lot of bacteria from your mouth ends up on your toothbrush, which you probably don't want sticking around that long. (You should also spring for a new toothbrush anytime after you get sick, since you don't want to pick the germs from that illness back up every time you brush your teeth.)

Image source: iStock

Not Using The Right Form

Chances are good that you probably do a sort of wide, sweeping motion when you brush. This actually isn't great, since it can miss layers of plaque and scrape up your gumline. Instead, the ADA recommends holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and making an up-and-down motion with short strokes. This gets at hard-to-reach areas easier, and also just cleans better in general.

Image source: iStock

Were you surprised by any of these things? Which ones? Let us know in the comments!

You can reach the author, Sara Hendricks, on Twitter and Instagram.


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