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Ever found yourself with morning breath but no toothbrush? If so, you may have wondered if finger brushing your teeth is enough to kill bacteria and get your teeth clean.

The answer is: Finger brushing in a pinch is better than not brushing at all. But don’t make it a habit!

In this article, we’ll tell you how to finger brush your teeth effectively and share some additional teeth-cleaning options.

If you need to clean your teeth without a toothbrush, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  2. If you have access to dental floss, use it to before you finger brush. This will help loosen and remove plaque between teeth and under the gum line
  3. Place a strip of toothpaste along your index finger
  4. If you don’t have toothpaste, dip your finger into a solution of baking soda mixed with water or saltwater
  5. Using a circular motion, brush the front and back of each tooth. Make sure to also brush above the gum line
  6. Rinse

Finger brushing is better than not brushing at all. That said, it should be used only occasionally or when needed.

Finger brushing with toothpaste can help freshen breath and reduce some of the plaque and bacteria found on teeth. But it can’t effectively get under the gum line or in the crevices between teeth.

A small study analyzed the differences between finger brushing and using a manual toothbrush. Researchers found that the manual toothbrush reduced plaque by 79 percent, and finger brushing removed plaque by only 62 percent.

They also found that finger brushing was less effective on the outsides of teeth, removing only 55 percent of plaque buildup.

To put it plainly, you can catch someone else’s germs, including the ones that cause mononucleosis, colds, and the flu, when you use their toothbrush.

If you find yourself with a new, intimate partner and no toothbrush, you might assume using their toothbrush is about the same as kissing them, germ-wise, but this isn’t really so.

When you kiss, you primarily trade saliva. When you use someone else’s toothbrush, you’re introducing millions of germs and bacteria onto your teeth and under your gums.

Toothbrushes provide a moist environment, which lends itself to the colonization of bacteria, germs, fungi, and viruses. The average toothbrush can harbor millions of microorganisms. And, the older the toothbrush, the more bacteria it can hold.

Toothbrushes may even become contaminated from toilet plume, which might play a role in transmitting infectious diseases.

One study found that long-term couples who kiss a lot share the same oral microbiota, whereas new partners do not. So, if you’re in strange surroundings without a toothbrush, finger brushing is probably your better option.

Here are some other teeth-cleaning options to consider when you don’t have a toothbrush.

  • Paper towel. Wrap a textured paper towel that has been dampened over your finger. Place toothpaste on the paper towel and use the same steps as those used for finger brushing.
  • Coconut oil. Coconut oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties. You can use it on your finger or on a paper towel.
  • Sugarless gum. Chewing on sugarless gum helps stimulate salivary production, which can wash away food particles and bacteria.
  • Parsley. Chewing on parsley may have antibacterial properties and makes the breath smell sweet.
  • Mouthwash. Mouthwash that contains fluoride can reduce tooth decay, plus freshen breath.
  • Oil pulling. Oil pulling refers to swishing oil around your mouth the way you would with mouthwash. There’s some evidence that oil pulling with coconut oil may reduce bacterial levels in the mouth.

To avoid the situation altogether, try keeping a portable toothbrush or dental wipes with you when you travel or go on a date. Hotels and motels often have complimentary toothbrushes and floss you can keep.

Finger brushing is not effective enough to make it a viable alternative to using a toothbrush.

Finger brushing is, however, preferable to using someone else’s toothbrush.

Finger brushing can be done on occasion, without sacrificing oral health. However, it should not become a routine go-to that’s used in place of brushing with a toothbrush.