The single most important thing you can do on your own, to minimize your time in the dental chair, to make your visits easier, is brush your teeth! Now I have heard from many, many people over the years how much they dislike a dental visit, yet, they don’t take care of their teeth, which leaves the clean-up duty to the dentist and/or dental hygienist and adds to their dental problems. There are additional things you could (and should) do such as flossing, rinsing, water pik usage, rubber tipping, but today I am devoting this writing purely to brushing.
Do you think that you know the best way to brush your teeth? From what I see coming through my hygienist’s chair, the answer for most people would be “no”. There are 3 simple points about brushing I am going to go over: 1) Amount of time you should spend brushing; 2) Different types of toothbrushes; 3) Toothpastes. Easy, right? I have even added some extras at the end to make this whole topic a little more interesting.
I surveyed about 25 people at random. Some were patients, some were not. I asked them to time themselves brushing their teeth. Now you have to figure that just because they were being timed, maybe these people took a little longer than usual. Maybe they were a little more careful than usual. Well, the first thing you should know, before I tell you the answers I got, is in order to do a great job cleaning a full adult mouth of teeth, it should take you about TWO MINUTES. Just two minutes, twice a day. Two minutes is about as long as 4 television commercials. That’s shorter than your favorite song. That’s only 28 minutes a week. Come on! You can at least do 4 minutes a day. Well, the answers I got ranged from 20 seconds (yikes!!) to 4 minutes or more. Incredible! There was a trend. The faster brushers were using manual, regular toothbrushes. The longer brushers were using electric powered toothbrushes, most of which come with a built in timer, that keeps the brush going for 2 minutes. You just keep brushing until it stops. Dental studies have shown that most people brush for about 30 seconds.
So here are a few tips to get you to improve your brushing. Maybe you want to try a brush with a timer in it. The longer you brush, the more likely you are to do a better job. Even if you use a manual brush, be prepared to have to stop and spit a few times. I think most people think that when they have to stop and spit, they are done. Also be prepared to brush, rinse and repeat! Repasting your brushing is totally acceptable, and may be necessary. Make sure you do the inside surfaces as well as the outside surfaces of the teeth; the most commonly forgotten place is the inside of the lower front teeth. Gentle, circular motion is the best, with the bristles of the brush angled towards the gumline.
ALWAYS use a soft bristled brush. Hard bristles can damage your gums, and cause recession. If you use an electric brush, the sonic action ones seem to get the best results. An electric powered brush just has more bristle action that you cannot provide manually. Personally, I use a manual brush in the morning, and a powered brush at night.
Paste. There are so many to choose from, how do you pick the right one? Well, no matter your age, you want a paste with fluoride. Everyone can benefit from fluoride, from the developing child’s teeth to the adults with edges around fillings or receeding gums, there are many benefits to fluoride. If you have sensitive teeth, the sensitive formula pastes work well, if they are used consistently. It takes about 2 weeks for them to take effect. Conversely, if you have sensitive teeth, you shouldn’t be using a tartar control toothpaste. The ingredient that prevents the tartar can actually make your teeth more sensitive. One ingredient that is helpful in keeping teeth their cleanest is baking soda. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not abrasive in the amounts found in over the counter toothpastes. Some of my patients who exhibit the cleanest teeth tell me that they put the regular toothpaste on their brush and then dip it in straight baking soda. This isn’t the best taste, but it sure works. One man just told me that he brushes with paste and baking soda, and then holds hydrogen peroxide in his mouth for up to 10 full minutes to keep his teeth white.
With all this being said, some of you may still not spend those 2 minutes twice a day brushing, so here is something that can help you – an APP! Yes, someone out there came up with a Toothbrush Timer App, and it wasn’t even me.
I have over 60 apps on my iPhone, and my favorite one is the Toothbrush Timer. It has many features, but the thing it helps the user do is actually time how long you brush, which we now know should be a full 2 minutes. It has a cartoon type picture of an open mouth, and it shows you where you should be brushing at what time and when to change areas.
There are extras like entering when your last dental visit was, when you are due for one, and when to think about changing your toothbrush (which is when the bristles start to bend or fray). Definitely check out this APP. It is free, and fun!
One final note: for all of you who participated in my survey about toothbrushing, I promised I would give away to one of you a powered toothbrush. The winner is Michael, of Greenwich, CT! He actually also had the shortest reported brushing time, so this should help him spend some more time brushing!
So grab your brush, paste up, and get to it! Remember to brush, rinse, repeat, and 2 minutes “2th brushing” can make your next dental visit a whole lot easier!