Do you or your kids still get cavities or other dental problems, even though you brush your teeth every day?
Regular teeth brushing is one of the best ways to keep plaque and tooth decay at bay, but you need to make sure you're brushing your teeth the right way. Good brushing includes everything from your choice of toothbrush and toothpaste to how often you brush and your brushing technique.
Flossing is another core part of daily oral care that many people don't do properly or skip altogether. If you don't floss regularly, up to half the surface area of your teeth isn't being cleaned, putting you at risk of dental disease and bad breath.
If you think your brushing and flossing could use some improvement, read this guide to find out how to improve your daily oral hygiene routine and lower your health risks.
Why do I need to clean my teeth?
Tooth decay and cavities
Tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in Australia. It affects people of all ages, but children are especially vulnerable, as the enamel on their teeth is thinner and can be damaged more easily.
Tooth decay happens when bacteria builds up on the teeth in a sticky layer called plaque. When you consume sugar and starch, this feeds the bacteria which release acids that gradually wear down tooth surfaces.
Over time, this can lead to cavities that may need a dental filling or other restorative treatment to correct. Regular teeth brushing helps to reduce plaque build-up.
If dental plaque reaches the gum line, this can cause the gums to become irritated and swollen, leading to gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease.
Gingivitis can usually be treated with a combination of good home care and hygiene treatments provided by a dentist or hygienist. If gingivitis isn't treated, it can develop into periodontitis, which is a major cause of tooth loss.
If tooth decay wears right through the outer layers of a tooth, it can expose the soft tissues of the dental pulp to bacteria. An infected tooth can be extremely painful and sensitive.
A tooth infection requires root canal therapy, which can involve multiple appointments with a dentist. If an infection is more severe, the only option may be to extract the tooth.
When to brush your teeth
How many times a day should I brush?
Most people should brush their teeth twice a day, ideally once in the morning before breakfast and once at night before going to bed.
Your dentist will advise you if you or your kids could benefit from brushing more often.
How long should I brush for?
Dentists recommend that you brush for at least 2 minutes, spending around 30 seconds in each corner of your mouth. This helps to make sure that all surfaces of your teeth are being thoroughly cleaned.
Don't brush straight after meals
When you eat or drink, this can deposit acids on your teeth that softens the hard enamel surface. If you brush too hard while the teeth are weakened, this could cause permanent damage.
You should wait at least an hour before brushing, rinsing your mouth with plain water in the meantime.
What's the best type of toothbrush to use?
Electric or manual toothbrush?
Studies have shown that electric toothbrushes may be slightly more effective at removing plaque from teeth, as some people find an electric toothbrush easier to use.
There's no need to go electric if you're comfortable using a standard toothbrush, but your dentist might recommend a powered toothbrush if you or your child find it difficult to clean your teeth manually.
Hard or soft bristles?
Toothbrushes and electric toothbrush heads are available with firm, medium or soft bristles. Medium or soft bristles are recommended for most people.
Firm bristles should be avoided, as these are more likely to damage the teeth, especially if you brush roughly. If you have sensitive teeth or gums, your dentist will recommend using a soft-bristled brush.
How often should I replace my toothbrush?
You should replace your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head after three months of use, or following an illness.
What's the best type of toothpaste?
Make sure your toothpaste contains fluoride. This naturally occurring mineral helps to strengthen teeth enamel, providing a barrier against plaque.
If you have sensitive teeth or other special requirements, your dentist may suggest a toothpaste product that could help.
Multiple studies have proven that fluoride is safe for health, but young children who have too much fluoride may develop a condition called fluorosis that stains their teeth.
For this reason, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommends that parents of very young children only use water when brushing their teeth, up to 18 months. Low-fluoride children's toothpaste can then be used up to the age of 6.
What's the right way to brush teeth?
To brush your teeth properly, you need to make sure you're cleaning as much of the surface area as possible to remove plaque and leftover food. To do this:
- Squeeze a pea-sized amount of toothpaste onto the brush.
- Starting in one corner of your mouth, place the toothbrush in front of your teeth and angle the bristles at 45 degrees relative to your gum.
- Brush in circular motions along the front, back and chewing surfaces of every tooth. Do this for 2 minutes to make sure you're cleaning thoroughly.
- Finally, use the reverse side of your toothbrush to gently scrape your tongue from the back to the front.
- Don't rinse your mouth after brushing. Let the fluoride do its job and protect your teeth for longer.
Brushing children's teeth
Kids need help brushing their teeth until they have the coordination to move the toothbrush properly by themselves – usually by the time they can tie their own shoelaces.
Make sure your children know not to swallow toothpaste.
Do I also need to floss?
Even when you brush your teeth correctly, you're only cleaning three surfaces of your teeth. To clean the other two surfaces – the spaces between the teeth – you'll need to use floss or an interdental brush.
If you don't like the feeling of floss, or you find it hard to use, your dentist might recommend alternatives such as a water flosser.
How often should I floss?
While teeth should be brushed twice daily, most people only need to floss once a day to remove trapped food and plaque from the places their toothbrush can't reach.
It's recommended to floss before brushing your teeth. Some people prefer to floss in the morning, at night or after a meal.
How to floss
Flossing may feel uncomfortable at first, or can even cause gum irritation or bleeding if you don't floss regularly, but your mouth should soon get used to the feeling. Like brushing, flossing should be done gently to avoid causing pain or damaging your teeth.
- Cut a length of around 45cm of floss and wrap it around your middle fingers.
- Hold a length of floss between your thumbs and index fingers on both hands and guide it in between your teeth.
- Gently scrape the tooth from side to side, starting from the gum line to the crown.
- Use a new length of floss for each tooth and continue until you've cleaned between all of your teeth.
How else can I look after my teeth?
As well as brushing and flossing, a good oral hygiene routine should include:
Healthy food and drink
Sugar in food and drink feeds bacteria in plaque and leads to tooth decay, so cutting down on sugar can make a big difference to lowering your oral health risks.
Acidic food and drink such as fruit juices, soft drinks, wine and vinegar can also wear down the surface of teeth over time.
Eating a balanced diet high in calcium, vitamins and antioxidants will also help to protect your teeth.
Drinking plenty of water
Water isn't only important for keeping you hydrated – it also helps to rinse the mouth, removing some leftover sugar and bacteria from your tooth surfaces.
Tap water is better than bottled water, since most municipal water supplies in Australia have fluoride added at safe levels to help protect teeth and lower rates of tooth decay.
Avoiding tobacco and alcohol
Smoking and other tobacco use is a major risk factor for oral health and general health problems, including gum disease, dry mouth and oral cancer, giving you even more good reasons to quit.
These risks will be even higher if you also drink excessive alcohol.
Regular dental visits
The more often you see your dentist, the more likely it is that they'll catch oral health problems before they get serious and more expensive to treat.
It's recommended that most people see a dentist once or twice a year for a check-up and teeth cleaning. Your dentist will recommend the ideal timing based on your personal needs.
Do you need a dentist in Sydney CBD?
Whether it's time for your family's check-up or you need some dental care advice, our dentists at Sydney CBD Dental are here to help.
Healthdirect. Teeth cleaning [Online] 2018 [Accessed March 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-cleaning
Healthdirect. Dental care tips [Online] 2017 [Accessed March 2021] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-care-tips
Better Health Channel. Teeth and mouth care [Online] 2019 [Accessed March 2021] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/teeth-care