Brushing teeth in ancient days must have taken a bit of courage. If you had lived as an ancient Egyptian, you would brush your teeth with frayed tooth twigs. In 15th century China, you might have gone off the wooded path and started using boar's hair bristles attached to ivory or bamboo handles. If European, you may have followed suit with horse hair.
But it's really ancestral toothpastes that could give brushing your teeth the skin creeps. Crushed bones and oyster shells, hoof powders, charcoal and soap made up some of the more interesting ingredients for teeth brushing. And even though the Chinese started with animal bristle brushes, they took a more reserved approach with toothpastes using ginseng, herbals and salt.
The Victorian era brought us toothpastes in jars, but we didn't see nylon bristles for brushing teeth until World War II. Now our toothpastes ooze many different ingredients from pumps or tubes and many of our brushes flex, pick or pack power.
The choices are confusing, but if you want to know how to brush your teeth effectively, here's a brush up on the tools and methods for the best plaque-blasting teeth brushing possible:
Choosing Your Weapon: Brushing Teeth With Today's Tools
Whether you brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush (first invented in 1939) or use a manual tool, results should remain nearly the same IF you brush correctly, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
Let's review the most basic rules for choosing your teeth brushing tools:
Comfort: Powered or unpowered, buy the toothbrush that you will use. That means it should be comfortable in your mouth and in your hand.
Safety: Here's how to brush your teeth safely: Use soft or extra-soft bristles. Brushing your teeth should not irritate your gums. All devices and their features for brushing teeth should protect teeth and gums, not uproot them.
Cleanliness: Brush your teeth with a new toothbrush or brush head every three to four months to cut oral bacteria buildup. Rinse your brush thoroughly after every use, store it upright and air dry. Teeth brushing continually with brushes stored in closed containers continually spread oral bacteria.
Don't share your toothbrush with anyone or you'll just trade bacteria with each other. Brushes sharing a container or holder shouldn't touch.
Size: Get a brush to fit your mouth comfortably. Don't worry if you're an adult who prefers a child's toothbrush. The important thing is that you brush your teeth reaching all areas of your mouth; not that you prefer princess brushes over hi-tech adult models.
Selecting Ammo: Brushing Your Teeth With the Right Toothpaste
You want to blow away your oral bacteria, not your soft tissues or tooth enamel while brushing teeth. Which paste is the right one for you? Just make sure you like it so you don't avoid your teeth brushing duties.
Here's the advice on dentifrice (toothpastes):
Fluoride: It strengthens tooth enamel to ward off cavities. Because it preserves enamel which covers your yellowish dentin layer, it helps tooth whitening and tooth sensitivity. It also reverses early decay. Brush your teeth with fluoride for the best oral health.
But swallow too much fluoride (in your water, your toothpaste or mouth rinse) and you might watch your teeth begin to yellow. It could also make you sick.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): This detergent's foaming action while brushing your teeth lifts away film, bacteria and other debris.
Unfortunately, SLS promotes canker sores, tooth sensitivity, gum irritation and halitosis for some. If you're prone to mouth ulcers or bad breath your teeth brushing should be SLS-free.
Sodium Pyrophosphate: Often found in tartar control toothpastes, this compound may cause tooth sensitivity. And though brushing teeth with this ingredient may prevent tartar, it doesn't get rid of what's already there. Sodium pyrophosphate can irritate gums.
Whiteners: No toothpaste changes tooth color, but some lift certain surface stains. Hydrogen peroxide with baking soda scrubs surfaces and kills certain bacteria that cause gum diseases. But peroxide irritates too. Think moderate when brushing your teeth with whiteners.
Abrasives: Hydrated silicas and calcium carbonates are the usual ingredients the level of abrasiveness varies from paste to paste. Some dentists recommend toothpastes with a lower Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) score (the scale runs from 8-200) according to Consumer Reports, especially if you use an electric toothbrush, tend to over-brush your teeth, or have receding gums.
Sticking to Your Gums' Guns: How to Brush Your Teeth Effectively
So what's the right way? There is a standard technique called the Bass Method for brushing teeth, but your dental hygienist or dentist might have some additional advice tailored to your needs. Make an appointment for a dental cleaning to make sure you're brushing your teeth correctly.
In the meantime, keep these rules of plaque engagement in mind during teeth brushing:
Frequency: Brush your teeth two or three times each day and floss at least once. The floss removes plaque from between your teeth, where brush bristles won't reach. (The ADA says it doesn't matter if you floss before or after teeth brushing.) Remember: Over-brushing your teeth damages soft tissues.
Duration: Spend about 30 seconds brushing each quadrant of your mouth about two minutes for the total job. Most electric toothbrushes have a two-minute timer or 30-second alarms. If you brush your teeth manually, try to go the length of a song on your radio or digital music player.
Force: Brushing teeth is not like scrubbing shower scum. Keep light pressure on your teeth and gums. If it hurts or your gums bleed, lighten up a bit. Bristles fanning out after a few months say you brush your teeth too hard.
Angles: Tilt your toothbrush up to a 45-degree angle when brushing your top teeth, and tilt down at the same angle when brushing teeth on the bottom. Position your plaque-blasting weapon so bristles engage your gum line and the tooth surface.
Use the same angles on the backs of your teeth, especially along the sides. For the backs of your front teeth, hold your toothbrush vertically tip of brush up for the tops and tip of brush down for the bottoms.
Don't forget the chewing surfaces and edges. Jagged crowns harbor criminal bacteria in cracks. Brushing your teeth thoroughly roots out plaque from every nook and cranny.
Motion: Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine recommends tiny circular movements or sliding back and forth in short strokes. Brushing teeth in small sections (one or two teeth at a time) ensures a more complete job.
Teeth Brushing Habits
While learning how to brush your teeth effectively, you may have to un-learn things taught in your childhood. And if you're a parent, it's best to instill good behavior for beating oral bacteria now.
But remember that no matter how well you or your children brush, have your dentist and hygienist take a closer look at your mouth. You should get dental cleanings twice each year and annual exams to beat back plaque. Brushing teeth probably won't get it all.
Need a dentist or pediatric dentist to double check your dental work? Our number is 1-866-970-0441. We can find a great dentist to help you blast away bacteria.