We all know brushing our teeth is important — it’s been programmed into our brains since we were children — but most of us have the wrong idea as to why we brush, and it’s causing big problems! What is most frustrating is how avoidable these problems are. With the majority of us still brushing too hard, with poor technique, not often enough and not for long enough, it’s time someone focused on telling you how it really is, rather than on trying to sell you needless gimmicks that gloss over the real problems. After all, what use is an awesome toothbrush if you are using it all wrong? So take a quick read below, and we hope you will come out the other side with a whole different perspective on why we brush, and therefore how to do it right.
We do it to prevent plaque (which leads to decay)
Ok, so most of us know this part, but the main reason we brush our teeth is to prevent plaque. Plaque is that sticky film that forms on teeth when foods containing carbohydrates (think milk, soft drinks, fruits, candy, etc.) are left untouched. The bacteria that live in the mouth love these foods, and live in the plaque, creating enamel-eroding acid as they stuff themselves with your leftovers. The least damaging effect this has on health (but most on your ego) is that plaque stinks. You can think of plaque as left over rotting food, so it should be of no surprise that leaving it between teeth can lead to bad breath! On a more serious note, these acids erode enamel, causing decay. Decay (“holes in your teeth”) not only leads to sensitivity and pain but, more worrying, it can develop on the roots under the gum line, causing the loss of your natural teeth all together. You think that’s the worst bit? Think again. Oral health (and in particular gum health) is being increasingly linked to broader health problems, primarily surrounding the heart. So, all in all, plaque looks bad, smells bad, feels bad and can lead to a whole world of irreversible and dangerous health problems.
But we barely brush the areas plaque gathers!
Here’s the good news: preventing plaque is EASY. In fact, it’s so easy that simply drinking water, eating fibrous foods, running your tongue over your teeth and generally doing anything that produces saliva can do a decent job of preventing it on the most visible front surfaces of your teeth. But here’s the problem: those front surfaces are not where plaque is most dangerous, or where it tends to build up. The danger area, and the place where it won’t be removed from just eating and drinking well, is between each tooth and between teeth and gums. THIS is why we use a toothbrush. The ultra-fine bristles are designed to get in the gaps between tooth and gum, and between teeth, to clear away food particles that lead to plaque. So brushing the “front” of your teeth isn’t doing much at all, and yet that’s where most of us concentrate. Even worse is the fact that most of us brush so hard, so fast and with such broad strokes that the bristles don’t stand a chance of getting inside the gaps they need to. Not only is brushing this way useless, but it can lead to receding gums and damaged enamel and, in general, not good.
Let's get it right, and start brushing where it matters!
So how do we prevent plaque and brush without damaging our gums? First, stop brushing too hard, too fast and focusing only on the front of your teeth! Dentists recommend brushing one tooth at a time, focused on the areas that teeth meet each other and the gum, using short strokes that are more like a “wiggle” than a “brush” to allow the fine bristles to get in the gaps and then wiggle food out. Now it is all making sense. This also explains why dentists recommend “2 minutes”. Put simply, there is no way you can concentrate on each tooth with gentle short strokes in less than 2 minutes. If you are, you are brushing too fast and too broad. It also helps to angle the brush at 45 degrees to your gum line to make it even easier for your bristle to get inside. And remember, the softer you brush, the easier for your bristles to get inside the gaps and wiggle the food out. Plus, gums are sensitive areas, so this will help prevent receding gums due to hard brushing. And last, but by no means least, brush twice a day. Given that plaque is formed by letting food sit, it’s no use to have perfect technique if you’re only brushing in the morning. In fact, the evening brush can be even more important as saliva production while sleeping can be low, meaning the worst thing you can do is leave food sat in your mouth undisturbed over night.