What is the Best Way to Clean Your Teeth?

wrong way to brush your teeth

From the time we are little, we are told the importance of brushing and flossing our teeth. Not only does it lead to a greater appearance, brighter teeth, and healthier gums, but it can also lead to better health. But while brushing and flossing are beneficial, are they truly the best way to clean your teeth?

The Proper Way to Brush

How to Properly Brush Your Teeth

In short, the reason we are told to brush our teeth from the moment teeth appear is that it truly is the most effective way to clean your teeth, gums, and mouth. In fact, some health professionals are even encouraging cleaning a baby’s gums prior to teeth even appearing.

Even though we begin this practice at a young age, many of us are doing it incorrectly. Below are just a few techniques to help you achieve a healthier smile while brushing.

Choosing your Toothbrush

The first step in properly cleaning your teeth through brushing starts with finding the right toothbrush. First, it’s important to choose soft bristles. Soft bristles will be able to bend and reach tight spaces, including right under the gums for a thorough and pain-free clean.

While you may think that hard bristles can get tough plaque and bacteria that refuses to come up, they can actually affect the tooth structure. The goal of the toothbrush is to loosen the plaque and bacteria so it can be expelled from your mouth. A soft-bristled brush is just as effective at doing this as hard-bristles and can protect your teeth in the process.

The Brush Head

The size of the brush head is another factor to consider when choosing a toothbrush. If you have a small mouth, be sure to choose a small head that will fit comfortably in those hard to reach areas. Toothbrushes also come with different sized angles and handles, so take care to find one that fits best for you and your mouth.


woman using string floss

While not considered brushing, flossing is a critical step to be performed prior to brushing. Flossing gets into the small crevices of your mouth that a toothbrush won’t necessarily reach. It loosens the plaque and bacteria in order for the toothbrush to sweep it away.

If you are just starting to floss, it may be painful for a time. However, a cleaner, healthier mouth is well worth the time, effort, and slight irritation you may experience as you begin to floss.

Prepping Your Toothbrush

To begin the process of properly brushing your teeth, it’s best to prepare your toothbrush. You will want to wet it and squeeze a strip of toothpaste onto the brush head.

With so many options of toothpaste, you may be wondering which one is best. Really it comes down to personal preference. The ADA, or American Dental Association, just recommend one that contains fluoride as this can help prevent tooth decay and cavities.

Start in the Back of Your Mouth

When trying to brush effectively, it is best to start with your molars in the back of your mouth, then move your way forward. Use a 45-degree angle, pointing the bristles toward the gums and brush in a clockwise motion. The back portion on one side of your mouth should be brushed for about 20 seconds.

Once you have finished that section, move the brush away from the gums in a sweeping motion. This will brush the surface of the teeth and carry away the food particles and plaque that were loosened in brushing.

Moving to Other Areas of the Mouth

Once you have finished with the molars on one side of the mouth, move to the other side and repeat the process. You will then move to the inside portions of the molars. When it’s time to move to the front teeth, you will actually use a slightly different technique for brushing.

With the front teeth, you will use the tip of the toothbrush head. Point the bristles toward the gums and move them down the back of the tooth, always moving away from the gumline. Repeat this for the bottom and top front teeth, repeating it several times.

Brushing the Top

Lastly, you are going to want to brush the top surfaces of the teeth. These areas are primarily used for biting and chewing your food and should receive just as much care and attention as the surface of your teeth. Move-in a circular motion covering the top of each tooth.

Don’t Forget Your Tongue and Cheeks

Once you have covered all of your teeth, it’s easy to assume you are done. However, that’s not quite the case. Your tongue, cheeks, and even the roof of your mouth can hold onto food particles, plaque, and harmful bacteria. Not only can this cause bad breath, but when in contact with your teeth and gums can cause disease and yellowing.

Using the same circular motion, gently brush the roof of your mouth, insides of your cheeks, and tongue. Now, you have covered all areas of your mouth and provided a thorough cleaning.

Rinsing Your Mouth

image of a mouthwash

After you have flossed and brushed your entire mouth, there is still one critical step to perform when completed. You have brushed off plaque, food particles, and bacteria, but where has it gone? Rather than swallowing these, it’s best to rinse out your mouth and expel them.

This can simply be done by swishing and spitting out water or a mouthwash of your choosing. Though not necessary, an ADA-approved mouthwash can help to reduce bad breath, gingivitis, tooth decay, and plaque.

Common Mistakes While Brushing

Now that you know how to properly brush, there are some common mistakes to be aware of. We will explore these mistakes below along with the best ways to correct them.


In our world today, everyone is busy! It can be easy to fall into a routine of running a toothbrush over our teeth and thinking that they are clean. However, this is not the case.

You should be brushing your teeth for at least two minutes, two times a day. With a tool that we all carry all the time, our cell phones, set a timer or listen to a two or three-minute song. This will ensure you are getting a thorough brush and healthier teeth and gums every time.

Not Using a Circular Motion

Since we do it every day, brushing your teeth can become a mindless action and one which causes us to fall into bad habits. One of these habits is our brushing motion, specifically brushing back and forth. Not only can this action cause you to miss important spots in the mouth, but it can also do damage.

Instead, use the clockwise, circular motion previously discussed. This covers a greater area on the tooth and provides a more effective clean.

Neglecting the Gums

One of the most dangerous areas to miss when brushing our teeth is the gumline. There is actually a small portion of gum tissue that overlaps the tooth causing a nice, cozy spot for bacteria to accumulate and multiply. Because of this overlap, this spot can be missed or neglected all together causing major issues for your teeth and gums.

Cleaning the Gums

To combat this, make sure you are using a toothbrush head with soft bristles. These bristles can bend and reach under the gumline to clear out the harmful bacteria. Angle the brush down into the gums and make sure you are employing a motion that sweeps away the plaque and bacteria.

Additionally, don’t forget to brush the backside of your teeth. Because we only see the front of our teeth, this is, again, another portion that is often neglected. Use the same angled technique to sweep the gums and effectively remove that bacteria.

Brushing too Soon

When you consume a meal, it’s tempting to brush your teeth right after, especially if returning to work after a lunch break. However, this may be causing more harm than good. When you eat and have acid in your mouth, brushing before your saliva has a chance to get rid of the acid could mean you are spreading the acid around in your mouth.

The combination of the toothbrush and acid could actually be causing your teeth to erode. Instead, wait 15-20 minutes after eating to brush your teeth. If you don’t have that much time, rinse out your mouth, ridding it of acid, and then proceed with brushing.

Using an Old Toothbrush

Like any piece of equipment, the more you use it, the more it will wear down and less effective it will be. Though you may love your toothbrush, it is no different. As the bristles lose their color, become bent or even dirty, it is time for a replacement.

A good practice is to change your toothbrush every three to four months and store it in the open air to prevent bacteria and mold from developing. Another key is to not share your toothbrush. It’s best to get rid of the plaque and bacteria, not transfer it from one person to another.

Brushing too Hard

tooth pain

Often, when our homes, we have a tendency to “scrub” it in order to have it sparkling clean. Naturally, we would assume that scrubbing our teeth would have the same effect. However, when it comes to our teeth, scrubbing isn’t necessary to remove the plaque and bacteria.

Choosing to “scrub” your teeth can not only be detrimental to your teeth, but your gum line as well. It can cause irritation and pain making brushing miserable and less effective. Fortunately, plaque is soft and loose, so brushing should be considered a massage rather than a hard scrub.

Going the Extra Mile

While it is recommended to brush your teeth twice a day, at least one of those times should include the “works.” This means that in addition to brushing, you should be flossing, and using mouthwash. Going the extra mile during one of your brushing sessions will disrupt bacteria and keep its production down, helping to prevent issues affecting your oral health.

If you don’t have time to do this whole process before you head out for the day, schedule it into your evening routine. Taking the time to prevent an issue will ultimately cost you less time and money from treating it.

In Summary

Most of us have never considered how we brush our teeth or if we are doing it correctly. So you may be feeling slightly overwhelmed by all of this new information. However, it really breaks down to a few simple steps:

  • Choose a toothbrush that has soft bristles for those hard to reach places
  • Find a toothbrush with a brush head that fits your mouth and can achieve the right angle
  • Floss before brushing
  • Start in the back of the mouth and work in a circular, clockwise rotation
  • Brush the outside and inside of the molars before moving to the front teeth
  • Use the tip of the brush to clean the front teeth
  • Don’t forget the top, or biting portion, of the teeth
  • Brush your tongue, roof of your mouth, and inside of your cheeks
  • Rinse to remove the plaque and bacteria that have released during brushing

Extra Tips

Want to keep your teeth clean outside of brushing and flossing? Make sure that you are eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Also, avoid processed foods and beverages that tend to be high in sugar.

Additionally, make sure you are visiting your dentist regularly. He or she will be able to update you on how well you are caring for your teeth and will catch any issues you may have before they become advanced. Most insurance companies allow for regular check-ups and cleanings every 4-6 months.

Don’t Neglect Your Mouth

We don’t often consider the impact that our mouth, teeth, and gums have on our day-to-day life and well being. In fact, without healthy teeth and gums, you may not be able to eat what you like or even pronounce words correctly. A healthy mouth allows you to avoid certain infections and diseases preventing not only pain and irritation, but ultimately saving time and money.

Keeping your mouth healthy has been linked to an increase in life expectancy. So next time you are tempted to skip brushing because you are too tired, remember the impact a dirty mouth can have. Take two minutes to brush, floss, and rinse to experience better health and just maybe a longer life!

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