Brushing and Flossing

Brushing your teeth mechanically removes plaque and food particles that are adherent on the tooth surface. It also prevents the bacterial build up on the tooth surface. This makes the oral cavity less prone to decay and gum problems.

It will be ideal to brush our teeth after every meal. However, as this is not practical it is recommended to brush our teeth at least twice a day (Once in the morning and once before bedtime). Brushing at bedtime is especially recommended as this maintains a clean oral cavity throughout the night.

Brushing should take as long as is required to clean all the surfaces of all the teeth, which takes an estimated minimum of two minutes to attain. However, the time may vary depending upon the dexterity of the individual.

Your dentist will be able to recommend a toothbrush suitable for you. However, adults should choose a small to medium-sized brush head. This should have soft to medium, multi-tufted, round-ended nylon bristles. A quick guide to buy a good size toothbrush is that the head should be small enough to reach into all parts of the mouth: especially the back of the mouth, which is usually difficult to reach. Children need to use smaller brushes but with the same type of filaments.

Specialised toothbrushes are also available. For instance, people with sensitive teeth can now use softer-bristled brushes. There are also smaller-headed toothbrushes for people with crooked or irregular teeth. Some people find it difficult to hold a toothbrush, because they have a physical disability. There are now toothbrushes which have large handles and angled heads to make them easier to use. Electric tooth brushes are also an available option.

A power brush has a rotating or vibrating head, which provides a large amount of cleaning action with very little movement needed from the user, which is often very helpful in time management during the daily rush to get ready. However, you do need to position the brush correctly for the best results.

Tests have shown that power toothbrushes are more effective at removing plaque. Those with heads that rotate in both directions ('oscillating' heads) are the most effective. Everyone can use a power brush. They are especially useful for people with limited movement such as disabled or elderly people, who often find that using a normal toothbrush does not allow them to clean thoroughly. Power brushes can also be better for children as they too do not easily access certain parts of their mouth and also may be more likely to brush regularly because of the novelty of using a power brush. Discuss the idea with your dentist to find out if you would benefit from using a power brush.

Brushing mainly removes plaque and bits of food from the inner, outer and biting surfaces of your teeth. This reduces the available food sources for the bacteria in your mouth thereby protecting your oral cavity.

Here is one way to remove plaque – discuss with your dentist the various methods which are available and which is the best for you:

Place the head of your toothbrush against your teeth, then tilt the bristle tips to a 45-degree angle against your gumline. Move the brush in small circular movements, several times, on all the surfaces of every tooth. To clean the inside surfaces of your front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several small, circular strokes with the front part of the brush. Don’t forget to brush the biting surfaces of your teeth and finally brush your tongue using the back of your brush or a tongue cleaner to help freshen your breath and clean your mouth.

Various toothpastes are available in the market. Starting from regular family toothpastes, there are many specialised toothpastes. These include anti-plaque control for people who get tartar build-up, anti-cavity pastes, desensitizing toothpastes. ‘Total care' toothpastes include ingredients to help fight gum disease, freshen breath and reduce plaque build-up. ‘Whitening' toothpastes are good at removing staining to help restore the natural colour of your teeth, but are not strong enough to change the natural shade of the teeth.

Children have special tooth paste designed for them. Some children's toothpastes only have about half the fluoride that adult toothpastes have. If your children are under 7 you should monitor their bushing. Encourage them not to swallow the toothpaste and to just spit, not rinse, after brushing. To have a clean and healthy mouth you need to use the correct dental-care products. Ask your dentist to tell you what choices there are and to give their recommendations.

You do not need to cover the head of your brush in toothpaste. A pea-sized amount is enough. Children should use a pea-sized smear of toothpaste. Prefer using a fluoride toothpaste as it helps to strengthen and protect teeth, and can reduce tooth decay.

It is important to change your toothbrush every two to three months, or sooner if the filaments become worn. When bristles become splayed, it is time to change your toothbrush.

It is often considered that good oral hygiene comes from cleaning the teeth and oral tissues but many forget that most food gets stuck between the teeth. Hence, regular cleaning between teeth is important. Cleaning in between your teeth removes plaque and bits of food from between your teeth and under your gumline - areas a toothbrush can't reach.

You can clean between your teeth with various other methods. These include an ‘interdental' brush, or dental floss.When flossing or using interdental brushes, keep to a regular pattern and remember not to miss any teeth. It helps to use the mirror for guidance. Don't forget the rear surface of your last teeth. It is also very important to clean around the edges of any crowns, bridges or implants. Ideally, you should clean between your teeth at least once a day. Your dentist can show you how to clean between your teeth properly.

Interdental brushing

Interdental brushes come in various sizes. It may be helpful to ask your dentist to show you the correct size based upon your oral cavity. Hold the interdental brush between your thumb and forefinger. Gently place the brush through the gap between your teeth. Do not force the brush head through the gap. If the brush splays or bends then it is too big - you will need a smaller brush head for this space.


Break off about 45 centimetres (18 inches) of floss, and wind some around one finger of each hand. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers, with about an inch of floss between them, leaving no slack. Use a gentle ‘rocking' motion to guide the floss between your teeth. Do not jerk the floss or snap the floss into the gums. Hold the floss against the tooth. Gently scrape the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on the other side of the gap, along the side of the next tooth.

Oral irrigators are simple devices which use a stream or jet of water to remove plaque and food debris from around your teeth. They can be particularly helpful if you wear an orthodontic appliance (‘brace') or a fixed bridge that is difficult to clean, or if you have deep seated gum infections or find it difficult to use interdental brushes or floss.

Last updated on 07 December, 2018.

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