Most people brush their teeth at least once a day, but a recent study in Sweden found that as many as one in ten people are not brushing their teeth in the most effective way. So why is it important to brush your teeth, and how should we be doing it?
A combination of social conditioning and the enormous choice and range of food and drinks available to us in the modern Western world has made tooth-brushing a necessity. As bombarded as we are with advertisements and images of fresh breath and glistening white teeth, it’s no wonder that cosmetic dentistry is experiencing a huge boom as we seek the perfect smile, but from a more practical, healthy point of view, brushing our teeth helps to keep bacteria and the gum disease and tooth decay that they cause at bay.
While eating, the digestive enzymes in our saliva start to break down some of the carbohydrates in our food to simple sugars. While these sugars are an important energy source for us, they are also an energy source for the millions of bacteria living and growing in our mouths. Usually, the numbers of bacteria are kept in check by our immune systems, but the more sugar is present, the more bacteria can feed and grow. Brushing our teeth with a good quality toothpaste and an effective brushing technique is vital to remove excess bacteria and prevent the build-up of plaque, tartar and the onset of gum disease.
What is the correct way to brush?
It doesn’t matter whether you use an electric toothbrush or a regular manual toothbrush, as long as you have the right technique that will rid your teeth of any plaque, which is a product of bacteria that can harden and cause yellow, unsightly tartar. Dentists recommend that you should brush your teeth for at least two minutes, twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening to make sure that you give your teeth a thorough clean – but the average person only manages between 30 seconds and one minute. To ensure that you brush for long enough, try timing yourself with a stopwatch – some electric toothbrushes will pulse or stop vibrating after two minutes, so this is another way to make sure you are brushing for long enough.
To brush correctly, you should alternate an up and down motion with a side to side motion to ensure that you are not only cleaning the surface of the teeth, but that the toothbrush bristles reach between the teeth as well. Using dental floss between your teeth can also help to stop tartar from building up between your teeth. Make sure you pay particular attention to the gum line, since bacteria can become lodged in between the tooth and the gum, and ensure to brush across the tops and around the sides of your back teeth to reach in between the fissures. Dentists also now recommend that you should brush your tongue in order to remove any bacteria that may adhere to the tongue’s surface – some toothbrushes have special ridges on the underside of the head of the brush, especially for this purpose.
What if my gums bleed?
Sometimes our gums bleed if we use a toothbrush that has bristles which are too hard, or if we apply excess pressure when brushing. Do not brush your teeth so hard that you damage the bristles of your toothbrush, as this will render it ineffective. Similarly, do not brush too lightly, or use a toothbrush that is too soft as you will be unable to remove all the plaque. If bleeding gums persist, and especially if they become sore, visit your dentist, as this can be a sign of gum disease, and you may require treatment.