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Oral health is a key part of overall wellness. You can help improve your oral health with regular brushing, which helps to:

  • prevent plaque and tartar buildup
  • prevent cavities
  • lower your risk of gum disease
  • lower your risk of certain oral cancers

Brushing habits differ from person to person, but experts recommend brushing twice each day for at two minutes at a time. Along with brushing frequency, it’s also important to consider the way you brush your teeth, the kind of brush you use, and other factors.

Read on to learn more about recommended brushing habits, including the ideal amount of time to spend brushing and good toothbrushing techniques.

Current recommendations from the American Dental Association (ADA) encourage brushing for two minutes, twice per day. If you spend less than two minutes brushing, you won’t remove as much plaque from your teeth.

If two minutes sounds much longer than what you’ve been doing, you’re not alone. According to the authors of a 2009 study, most people only brush for about 45 seconds.

The study looked at how brushing time affected plaque removal in 47 people. The results suggest that increasing brushing time from 45 seconds to 2 minutes may help remove up to 26 percent more plaque.

Along with making sure to brush your teeth for the recommended amount of time, it’s also important to use a good brushing technique.

The ADA has developed these guidelines for proper brushing:

  1. Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums.
  2. Brush with short strokes about the width of one tooth.
  3. Move your toothbrush back and forth along the outside surfaces of your teeth, applying gentle pressure as you brush.
  4. Use back-and-forth motion to brush along the chewing surfaces of your teeth.
  5. To properly brush the inner surfaces of your teeth, hold your toothbrush vertically and brush up and down along the insides of your teeth.
  6. Brush your tongue using a few back-to-front strokes to remove bad breath–causing bacteria.
  7. Rinse your toothbrush after you use it.
  8. Store your toothbrush in an upright position. If your partner, roommate, or family members store their toothbrushes in the same place, make sure toothbrushes don’t touch each other. Let your toothbrush air-dry instead of storing it in a closed toothbrush holder.

It’s also a good idea to floss once each day before brushing. Flossing helps remove particles of food and plaque between your teeth that you can’t reach with just your toothbrush.

Some dentists may recommend brushing after each meal. In general, though, if you’re brushing twice a day, you’ll probably brush once in the morning and once before you go to bed.

If you typically brush after eating breakfast, try to wait least an hour after you eat to brush your teeth. Waiting to brush is even more important if you eat or drink something acidic, such as citrus. Brushing too soon after having acidic foods or drinks can remove enamel on your teeth that’s been weakened by the acid.

If you’re planning to have orange juice for breakfast, for example, and don’t have time to wait an hour, consider brushing your teeth before eating. If that’s not an option, rinse your mouth with some water after breakfast and chew sugar-free gum until an hour’s passed.

Brushing your teeth three times a day, or after each meal, likely won’t damage your teeth. However, brushing too hard or too soon after eating acidic foods can.

Aim to use a light touch when brushing. While it might feel like you’re deep-cleaning your teeth by brushing forcefully, it can actually wear down your tooth enamel and irritate your gums.

brush check

Not sure if you’re brushing too hard? Take a look at your toothbrush. If the bristles are flattened, you’re probably brushing too hard. It’s also probably time for a fresh toothbrush.

It’s best to use a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean your teeth. Using a hard-bristled toothbrush may lead to receding gums and damaged enamel, especially if you tend to use a lot of pressure when you brush.

Replace your toothbrush as soon as the bristles begin to bend, fray, and wear out. Even if the bristles don’t seem to be frayed, it’s a good idea to replace your toothbrush every three to four months.

manual or electric?

A 2014 literature review looking at data from 51 trials suggests that electric toothbrushes may be more effective than manual brushes. The best results came from electric toothbrushes with rotating heads.

Still, your daily brushing habits matter more than the type of brush you use. Opt for whatever’s most comfortable for you or will make you more likely to brush for the recommended two minutes twice a day.

For example, if you tend to brush on the go, a manual brush is probably your best option. But if you’re motivated by that extra-clean feeling, a good electric toothbrush with rotating heads might be a better option.

Brushing your teeth regularly is a key way to improve oral health. Aim to gently brush at least twice each day, for two minutes each time. Experts also recommend regular professional cleanings, both to keep your teeth clean and to catch early signs of tooth or gum issues requiring treatment.