A friend of mine (hi Allan!) recently confessed to me that he didn’t really know what the best technique is for brushing and flossing. Having said that, he’s not the only one! When I ask my patients if they have ever been shown how to brush correctly, most of them will tell me that they have never been shown or told. So I’m going to lay out some tips below, as well as some explanations about what to do, and why we do it.
This week I’m going to explain some of the reasons for brushing, at what age your kids should start, and how often to brush/floss. I’m also going to outline some of the common misconceptions about brushing and dental health in general.
Next week, I will give specific advice about how to brush and floss, with some videos showing the technique.
- We brush our teeth to remove any food.
Whilst nobody wants “spinach smile”, it is mainly the plaque that you are trying to remove when brushing/flossing. Plaque is the sticky white coating that builds up on teeth, particularly after eating/drinking sweet things. This is a layer of bacteria that are using the sugar in your diet as fuel, and these bugs can be very destructive to your teeth as well as your gums.
- It’s ok to eat sweeties if you brush your teeth immediately afterwards.
Unfortunately it’s not that simple. The sugar gets into your saliva, and washes the teeth, causing a build up of plaque. Even if you brush your teeth, you obviously cannot brush away your saliva, so the bugs keep multiplying. It takes about 90 minutes for the sugar to go away, and for your saliva to return to normal.
- Sugar in tea/coffee or other drinks doesn’t count.
- If you cut down on the amount of sugar in tea/coffee then this is good for your teeth.
Sort of true, but what’s more important is not how much sugar/sweets you have, but how often you have them. Remember it takes 90 minutes for the sugar to get out of your saliva? That’s often just when people are thinking about another cup of tea or a snack. The longer you leave between these “sugar attacks”, the more chance that your saliva has to repair any damage done. Limit the frequency of sugar, avoid “grazing”, and give your mouth recovery time.
- Brush your teeth immediately after eating.
It’s probably better to wait a little while after eating before brushing, particularly if you have had something acidic. I have seen many patients suffering from acid damage to their teeth from brushing immediately after breakfast, which may contain orange juice or some other acidic juice (e.g. grapefruit juice – VERY acidic). If you think about what’s happening – it’s like dipping your brush in acid and scrubbing away at the enamel. Avoid very acidic fruits/drinks, wait 45 mins after breakfast before brushing & if you can’t do that, it’s probably better to brush before breakfast, or wait until lunchtime.
- It’s best to brush 3 times a day
This is debatable as overbrushing can be very damaging to your teeth. There is no doubt that brushing/flossing properly twice a day is better that a half-hearted effort three or more times, and twice is probably sufficient for most people who don’t have significant dental problems.
Next week I’m going to go through some specific techniques and tips for brushing, including some video of the tricky bit – flossing!