It’s not exactly a newsflash that one of the most important reasons to brush your teeth is to fight off cavities (not to mention prevent bad breath). But what if the way you brush your teeth actually makes you more susceptible to cavities, tooth decay and gum disease? Scary.
Turns out, there are a host of common mistakes that many of us make morning and night that can damage teeth and turn a healthy smile upside-down. Find out what you’re doing wrong—and how to break these bad habits for better teeth.
You don’t brush for long enough.
Most people don’t spend nearly enough time brushing their teeth, notes prosthodontist Michael Lenchner. Most dentists recommend brushing for two or three minutes, but few people ever make it to that. Next time, check your watch see how long your routine takes. Chances are, whether you’re rushing to get to work or ready to collapse into bed, you’re only brushing for a minute or so. To go the distance, bring an egg timer into the bathroom and set it for two or three minutes before you get started, or use an electric toothbrush (like Sonicare) with a two-minute timer.
You’re not watching what you’re doing.
Make a point to look in the mirror while you brush your teeth and see where the brush is actually going. It’s easy to miss the area right at the gum line, which is the most important part. That’s where plaque, tartar and bacteria can build up, which cause the gums to become inflamed and infected (aka gingivitis). Also keep a close eye on the back molars. If the brush head hits your cheek before you get to them you could miss them completely. Bonus: Paying better attention to your chompers will increase the likelihood that you’ll notice if something is awry, like chips, cracks or “bruxisms,” which are cupped out or overly shiny areas where your upper and lower teeth might be wearing into one another. Wearing away can also be a sign of TMJ problems, clenching or sleep apnea. Mention any unusual observations at your next dentist appointment.
Your technique needs a major makeover.
Enamel is made of tightly packed, glass-like rods that extend out toward the surface of the tooth. When you brush side-to-side, these brittle rods can break, leading to cracks and weakening teeth. Dr. Lenchner likens it to sawing down a tree. Remember: Teeth are not trees. Hold the brush so the bristles are at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the teeth and brush in small circles. Focus on a few teeth at once, then move on to the next set, continuing around from one side to the other, top and bottom, front and back. It’s okay to brush in straight lines on the chewing surfaces. After completing your circles, brush away from the gum line to clear off loosened plaque and bacteria.