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Children's Health

Brushing and Toothpaste

The importance of brushing

The single best way to remove harmful plaque from teeth and gums is to brush teeth regularly and correctly. Plaque is a thin, sticky film loaded with bacteria.

Man and boy brushing their teeth.

What is the correct way to brush teeth?

Every mouth is different, and there is more than one effective way to brush. Deciding which way is best for you depends largely on your teeth position and gum condition. Talk with your healthcare provider to decide which brushing method is best for your mouth.

Generally, most healthcare providers recommend a circular method for brushing. This includes brushing only a small group of teeth at a time -- gradually covering the entire mouth. It's important to use a circular  motion because using a back and forth motion may cause the following:

  • The gums around the teeth may wear away (called receding gums)

  • Exposed and sensitive root surface

  • Wearing down of the crown and root surfaces at the gum line

Instead, healthcare providers recommend the following method:

  1. Place the toothbrush next to your teeth with the bristles pointed at the gums at a 45-degree  angle.

  2. Gently brush only a small group of teeth at a time. Use a circular or elliptical motion. Do this until the entire mouth is covered.

  3. Brush the outside of the teeth, inside of the teeth, and the chewing surfaces.

  4. Gently brush the tongue to remove bacteria and freshen breath.

  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 at least twice daily, especially after meals and snacks.

What type of toothbrush should be used?

A toothbrush head should be small—about 1 inch by 1/2 inch—and should have a handle suitable for firm grasping. The bristles of the brush should be soft, nylon, and rounded at the ends. This helps ensure that the brush bristles are gentle to the gums and tooth surfaces. Soft, polished bristles allow you to reach into the crevice between the teeth and gums to remove plaque without damaging the gums. Some brushes are too abrasive and can wear down tooth enamel. So in most cases, medium and hard bristles are not recommended. Only gentle pressure is needed when brushing to remove the plaque. Too much pressure can cause the gums to recede and can wear away the tooth surface.

How often is brushing needed?

Generally, brushing is recommended twice a day for at least 2 minutes each time. People often think they are brushing long enough. But in fact, most people spend less than 1 minute brushing. In addition, it is generally better to brush 2 minutes twice a day instead of brushing quickly 5 or more times throughout the day.

Healthcare providers advise brushing your teeth during the day while at work, school, or play. Keeping a toothbrush handy—in your desk or backpack—increases the chance that you will brush during the day. Replace your toothbrush every 2 to 3 months.

What is toothpaste?

Toothpaste is made up of the following cleaning ingredients:

  • Humectant (helps retain moisture) and water (75%)

  • Abrasive (20%)

  • Foaming and flavoring agents (2%)

  • pH buffers (2%)

  • Coloring agents, binders, and opacifiers (1.5%)

  • Fluoride (.24%)

Facts about toothpaste

Brushing with toothpaste, especially one that has fluoride, helps to:

  • Remove plaque

  • Resist decay

  • Help strengthen the enamel that been attacked by acids

  • Clean and polish teeth

  • Remove teeth stains

  • Freshen breath

Which type of toothpaste is best?

Fluoride is the most crucial ingredient in toothpaste. As long as the toothpaste contains fluoride, the brand or type (paste, gel, or powder) generally does not matter. All fluoride toothpastes work effectively to fight plaque and cavities, and clean and polish tooth enamel. The brand you choose should have the ADA (American Dental Association) seal of approval on the container. This means that controlled, clinical trials have shown enough evidence the product is safe and effective.

Some toothpastes offer tartar control pyrophosphates to prevent the build-up of hard calculus deposits on teeth. Others offer whitening formulas to safely remove stains, making teeth brighter and shinier. But fluoride is the true active ingredient that works the hardest to protect your teeth.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Kapner MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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