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Brushing your teeth every day isn’t just a way to keep your mouth feeling clean. It’s a way to keep your whole body healthy, too.

The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice per day, for 2 minutes each time.

When you brush correctly, you eliminate the plaque buildup and bacteria that can otherwise collect between your teeth and on your tongue. This can prevent gum disease and tooth decay, as well as promote a stronger immune system and a healthier lifestyle.

We cover the ins and outs of brushing correctly, no matter your circumstance.

The first step to brushing correctly is making sure you’re prepared with the right tools. You’ll need:

Your toothbrush should be replaced every 3 to 4 months. If your toothbrush has been overused, the bristles can become frayed and brushing loses some of its efficacy.

A fluoride toothpaste that’s approved by the American Dental Association is the best choice for most adults.

Fluoride fortifies your teeth against decay. Some very young children shouldn’t use fluoride toothpaste. However, the ADA still recommends that:

  • children younger than age 3 whose first teeth have come in can use a smear of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a rice grain
  • children 3 to 6 can start using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste

Special fluoride-free toothpastes also exist for younger kids if you’re worried about them swallowing the toothpaste.

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Brushing your teeth should take about 2 minutes.

The simplest way to brush your teeth involves your standard plastic-handled, nylon-bristled toothbrush.

The entire process should take about 2 minutes. Practice timing yourself until you get used to how long 2 minutes feels when you’re brushing.

  1. Lubricate your brush with a small amount of water. Put a small amount of toothpaste — about the size of a pea — on the head of the toothbrush.
  2. Insert the toothbrush into your mouth at about a 45-degree angle to your gums and use gentle, short strokes to brush your front teeth.
  3. Brush the outside surfaces of your teeth, making sure to get the back molars and upper areas of your chewing surfaces.
  4. Flip the toothbrush upside down to get the inside surface of your top front teeth. Flip it back around to get the inside surface of your bottom front teeth.
  5. Brush your tongue to get rid of any bacteria buildup or plaque that has gotten stuck there during the brushing process.
  6. Spit out the remnants of toothpaste, saliva, and water into a clean sink. Finish by rinsing your mouth with cold water.

Brushing your teeth with an electronic toothbrush head is slightly different since the brush head rotates or vibrates on its own.

  1. Prepare your toothbrush by rinsing it with a little bit of water. Add a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on top.
  2. Turn on your electric toothbrush and start at the back bottom row of your teeth, holding the head at a 45-degree angle toward the gum line.
  3. Applying light pressure, move methodically, one tooth at a time, buffing each tooth with the rotating vibrating brush head.
  4. Switch to the back top row of your teeth and repeat, cleaning and polishing one tooth at a time.
  5. Use the electronic brush head to stimulate and clean your tongue, moving it slowly across your tongue’s surface.
  6. Spit out the remnants of toothpaste, saliva, and water into a clean sink. Finish by rinsing your mouth with cold water.

Brushing your teeth with braces is pretty straightforward, but it does take a couple of extra steps.

  1. Start by removing any rubber bands or removable parts of your braces. These should be rinsed before reapplying them to your braces.
  2. Get your toothbrush ready with a little bit of water and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.
  3. Carefully clean around your braces, including under the wires and pins.
  4. Brush the actual wires of your braces so that they’re free of any food particles that could cause plaque or bacteria buildup.
  5. Brush your teeth as you normally would, moving from one side of your mouth to the other and spending at least 2 minutes on brushing.
  6. Gently brush your tongue.
  7. Spit out any remaining toothpaste and saliva. Rinse your mouth with water and check the mirror to make sure your braces have been fully cleaned.

Spacers, also called separators, are temporary instruments that make space for braces and bands that your dentist plans to install.

To brush your teeth with spacers, you can brush as you normally would, with one crucial exception. Brush your teeth in a back-and-forth movement, instead of up-and-down strokes. This will help keep the spacers in place.

Check after brushing to make sure that all the spacers are still where your dentist placed them.

After a tooth extraction, such as wisdom tooth removal, there are a few extra precautions to take when brushing:

  1. Start with your toothbrush lubricated with cool, clean water. Don’t use any toothpaste in the first few days following tooth removal.
  2. Brush carefully as you normally would. Don’t brush over the site where your tooth was removed. Do your best to avoid dislodging the blood clot and stitches at the site of your extraction.
  3. Don’t rinse at all until the day after surgery to avoid dislodging the blood clot. After the first day, rinse gently and carefully with water.

Remember that children under the age of 3 may need to use fluoride-free toothpaste or a much smaller amount of fluoride toothpaste than an older child or adult.

A baby’s teeth can start to decay from when they emerge from the gum line, so be proactive about teaching them good dental habits.

  1. Use a soft, child-sized toothbrush, water, and a small smear of toothpaste the size of a rice grain (if under 3) or pea-sized (if above 3).
  2. Slowly brush the backs, fronts, and sides of your child’s teeth. Also brush the gums where teeth have not yet popped out.
  3. Make sure to brush your child’s tongue. Have them practice rinsing their mouth and spitting out their toothpaste.

There are several alternatives to toothpaste that have become popular products in recent years. Some work better than others.

Whether you get stuck traveling and forget to bring your toothpaste, or if you just want to give more holistic teeth cleaning options a try, these are ingredients to consider.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil has antibacterial properties, which means it attacks the bacteria buildup in your mouth. It can also dissolve plaque, which makes it a decent alternative to toothpaste. It even fights tooth decay and gum disease.

While you should still use fluoride in your toothpaste, using coconut oil regularly has benefits of its own and can be used for “oil pulling” or brushing your teeth without much risk or drawbacks.

Activated charcoal

Most people don’t keep extra activated charcoal tablets laying around, so this option might not work if you’re just stranded in a hotel late at night without toothpaste (in which case, try calling the front desk instead). But pure activated charcoal and activated charcoal toothpaste products may be effective at cleaning your teeth.

But activated charcoal is abrasive and can wear down your enamel, which means it’s not an alternative to use regularly.

It also lacks fluoride, so your teeth might be more susceptible to decay if you switch your fluoride toothpaste for this option.

Baking soda

Many commercial toothpastes add baking soda to their formula to give it extra whitening power. Baking soda does work to help lift stains off your teeth. It’s also effective at removing plaque.

A baking soda paste is a great option if you’re in a pinch and have run out of toothpaste for the night.

Baking soda lacks fluoride, so over time you’re missing out on the enamel-protection benefits of that ingredient.

The process of brushing your teeth may look a little different in different times of your life. But what’s certain is that there’s no circumstance where you should avoid or skip brushing your teeth.

Brushing twice a day for at least 2 minutes each time is the foundation of good dental health and a smile that will last a lifetime.