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Revealed: the best way to brush your teeth

By Dr. Mike Heffernan and Dr. Toby Edwards-Lunn

A survey by YouGov has found that 3 in 10 Britons only brush their teeth once a day. You might think this is shocking news – especially to a pair of professional dentists. Not so. Naturally, we dentists encourage our patients to brush regularly. But in fact it’s far more important that they brush properly. Here’s how.

1. Why you should go electric

Electric vs traditional hand-brush? No contest. Electric toothbrushes are infinitely better at removing the sticky plaque from your teeth. And the key word here is “sticky”: plaque is designed to stick to your teeth. It cannot simply be wiped off. It needs to be actively removed. To do this with a hand-brush requires a lot of effort – whereas an electric toothbrush will put in the elbow grease for you, leaving you free to concentrate on something equally important: your brushing technique. First, choose an electric toothbrush with a head the size of a small tooth. The head should rotate back and forth. You don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds – a £30-£40 model will do fine. When brushing, the head should be angled at 45 degrees to the line of your gums. You should brush all three external surfaces of your teeth – the outside, the inside and the biting surfaces – as well as your gum line. You should spend at least two minutes doing this.

2. Why you should read the small print

You will probably already know that the active ingredient in toothpaste that has made the biggest difference to dental health over the last 40 years is fluoride. But be sure to check that your toothpaste includes the recommended adult dosage, which is 1400PPM (parts per million). Other ingredients to look out for include triclosan and calcium phosphate, which are now being added to toothpastes to improve their effectiveness. However, treat toothpaste manufacturers’ “whitening” claims with caution: they are not typically backed up by solid clinical evidence.

3. Parts of the mouth people often forget to brush

The surfaces between your teeth is where the majority of tooth decay takes hold and where gum disease starts. For this reason, it’s crucial to clean the surfaces between your teeth every day. You’ll probably be pleased to hear that the prevailing wisdom about how best to do this is no longer flossing (hurray!) but using specially designed interdental brushes. Interdental brushes come in lots of shapes and sizes but our top tip is to use the biggest brush you can that will still fit between your teeth. (And remember that because the gaps between your teeth are different sizes, you will need at least two differently sized interdental brush heads to do this.) Brushing between your teeth shouldn’t take more than 60 seconds and you only need do it once a day.

But don’t stop the moment you’ve finished brushing your teeth. Brushing your tongue is very important too – even if it does feel a bit weird.

4. Why you should never rinse after brushing

The most important active ingredient in toothpaste is fluoride, which works by strengthening the outer surface of your teeth and making them more resistant to harmful acids. So why on Earth would you want to rinse this valuable defensive shield away a few moments after brushing?

5. Why using mouthwash can be bad for your teeth

Lots of people believe – often persuaded by adverts – that briefly swilling a luridly coloured liquid around your mouth will drastically improve your dental health. Unfortunately this is not the case, for the simple reason that most mouthwashes contain lower levels of fluoride than most toothpastes.

6. The best (and worst) times of the day to brush

The most important time to clean your teeth is just before you go to sleep. While you’re asleep, you have lower levels of protective saliva in your mouth and if sticky plaque is left on your teeth for extended periods then more of your teeth will suffer the effects of tooth decay. The worst time to brush your teeth is immediately after drinking or eating anything acidic, e.g. fruit juices, smoothies, vinegars, fizzy sodas or wine. Acidic drinks make the outer layer of your teeth enamel softer and brushing your teeth at this moment will actually damage the surface of your teeth, making them more sensitive and liable to staining (by exposing the yellow inner part of the tooth). Chewing sugar-free gum will also help by encouraging your mouth to generate more saliva, which in turn will start to neutralize the acidity in your mouth. You might also like to try Dr. Heff’s Remarkable Mints, the sugar-free dental health mint that we and other dental health experts have invented, which is clinically proven to clean and restore your teeth through a process called “remineralization.”

• This article was originally published in The Daily Telegraph.