We’re taught to clean our teeth from toddler times onwards, but could we actually be getting the whole brushing business wrong? If you’re used to having a good rinse after brushing and giving your pegs a going over after breakfast, you could be in for some dental revelations. We put our burning brushing questions to Dr Milad Shadrooh , aka The Singing Dentist, and discovered that we’ve been misusing mouthwash and possibly not polishing to our full potential. Guilty as charged, and we’re not the only ones - here are some of the biggest mistakes we make when it comes to teeth brushing…
1. You’re brushing after breakfast
Most of us know not to brush our teeth immediately after a bowl of Crunchy Nut (give it at least 15 minutes), but it turns out that even cleaning before we dash out of the door isn’t ideal, and here’s why:
“We should be cleaning our teeth before breakfast, preferably as soon as we wake up.This is because, while we’re sleeping, plaque and bacteria builds up in our mouth (hence morning breath) and if we have breakfast before brushing, we’re essentially feeding that bacteria as well as feeding ourselves.”
In short, greedy mouth goblins are appreciating that piece of toast as much as you are. So what’s the ideal brushing window?
“If possible, try to leave 20 to 30 minutes after brushing teeth to eat breakfast. This will allow fluoride to coat the teeth and neutralize the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Don’t panic if you can’t - brushing before breakfast helps in itself.”
Also, it goes without saying that you should brush your teeth twice a day. We’re not savages here.
2. You’re brushing for less than two minutes
Do you know long you’re supposed to clean your teeth for? Precisely? If you’re waving a toothbrush around your gob until you get bored, we’ve got some specifics for you:
“Official brushing time stands at two minutes. This is the optimum amount of time to give your teeth a thorough clean, and in my experience a lot of tooth decay problems are triggered by the fact that people don’t spend long enough cleaning, and as a result they miss bits.”
Speaking of which…
3. You’re brushing without a plan
I know that I for one have my most genius ideas when I’ve got a toothbrush in my mouth (humble), but not focusing on the job in hand is also a culprit where cavities are concerned:
“You’ve got to clean your teeth systematically to get the most benefit. Break down your brushing time so that you spend 30 seconds on the bottom right corner of your mouth, including inside and outside of teeth, then move to the bottom left and repeat. Do top right and top left and you should have your entire mouth covered. Think upstairs, downstairs, in and out.”
Incidentally, technique matters more than the tool you use, although of course ensure that your brush is fresh and not worn down or fuzzy. Dr Milad assures us that you can do a good job with a manual toothbrush, but you need to make sure that the angle you hold your toothbrush at tackles all of the areas stated above.
When it comes to cleaning infections or erupting wisdom teeth, you can clean under the gum flap with a very small brush, and rinsing with warm salty water during the day can help to soothe and heal infections. Just do your best, and if your gum becomes inflamed and painful, see your dentist, stat.
4. You’re rinsing your toothpaste away
Giving your mouth a swill post-brushing? Stop right there. That we should rinse after brushing is one of the most dramatic common misconceptions where dental hygiene is concerned apparently:
“If you rinse after brushing, you’re washing away all of the reparative fluoride that’s supposed to protect your teeth. Spit out excess toothpaste instead.”
This even applies to products designed to fight plaque…
5. You’re overdoing the mouthwash
For someone that gets through mouthwash by the gallon (££), I was surprised to hear this particular nugget of washing wisdom:
“If you’re brushing your teeth effectively, you don’t actually need mouthwash. It can have a detrimental effect if used directly after brushing as it can take away the fluoride “shield” that toothpaste leaves behind.”
Heard it from the horse’s mouth there, but that’s not to say that mouthwash doesn’t have its uses - it’s a question of timing and circumstance:
“ Mouthwash can be beneficial if you’re prone to dental infections or cavities, but I recommend using it at a separate time of day to when you brush your teeth. Have a rinse at work after lunch or snacking, or as soon as you get home in the evening.”
6. You’re flossing when you should be interdental brushing
You’ve been flossing and you’re feeling pretty smug. We don’t mean to wipe that smile off your face but…
“If you’ve got relatively wide gaps between your teeth, floss could actually be a bit redundant. For that reason, dentist’s refer to ‘interdental cleaning’ rather than simply flossing, as large gaps between teeth are better cleaned by interdental brushes.”
That doesn’t mean that you should forgo floss if you’re not in the gappy bracket, however…
“Floss once a day, before brushing, so that toothpaste reaches between teeth.”
No getting out of jail free card in the floss camp, unfortunately.
7. You’re ignoring your tongue
When was the last time you gave your tongue a good scraping (*shudder*)? Dr Milad feels quite passionately about this one:
“We in the UK are some of the worst offenders when it comes to not cleaning our tongues. If your tongue is coated in a white (or any other coloured) film, it needs cleaning, ideally every day. Using a purpose-designed tongue brush or tongue scraper, clean from back to front, and make it the last thing you do in your tooth brushing routine.” Try this Ayurveda copper tongue scraper , £5.25.
A less than fresh tongue is also a prime suspect when it comes to bad breath, so all the more reason to sweep off last night’s curry (bleurghh). Your tongue may also be trying to tell you something about your health...
8. You’re using the wrong toothpaste
You don’t need to buy fancy pants pastes for clean and shiny teeth, but there’s one particular ingredient that you can’t skimp on:
“Fluoride is vital. There are some that say that it’s a toxin, but considering that we expose ourselves to toxins all day long, not to mention the likes of alcohol and tobacco, fluoride really isn’t a risk to health (quite the opposite in terms of dental health). As long as you spit out toothpaste and don’t swallow it, a coating of fluoride over your teeth is very much a good thing. The introduction of topical fluoride over the past forty years in this country has made an astounding difference in reducing tooth decay in the general population.”
As long as your toothpaste has high levels of fluoride, it’ll be doing it’s job, but the addition of xylitol can also be beneficial. For starters, it’s a sweetener that makes toothpaste taste less “burny”, plus bacteria in your mouth thinks it’s sugar, so xylitol helps to nix potentially decay causing bugs. As for stuff that shouldn’t be in there, look out for SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate) in the ingredients list if you have sensitive skin or are aware that it causes you problems.
As for whitening toothpastes, Dr Milad reckons they work- to an extent:
“ Whitening toothpaste can tackle external staining and polish the exterior surface of the teeth, but if the internal structure of the tooth is discoloured, only a dentist can technically “whiten” them. It’s actually illegal for anyone but a dentist to provide whitening treatments and procedures .”
9. You haven't embraced technology
As discussed, there’s nothing bad about a manual toothbrush if used correctly, but disregard tooth tech at your peril - as with almost every other area of our lives, clever technology can have a transformative effect on both our habits and health:
“ Electric toothbrushes are brilliant as to an extent they do the action for you- you just need to make sure that you hold your brush in the right places and cover the whole of your mouth. You can do a bad job with an electric toothbrush, but many brushes now have sensors to warn you if you’re scrubbing or applying too much pressure, plus timers make sure that you’re brushing your teeth for the right amount of time.”
“Even better, some brushes now have bluetooth installed to connect with an app, and this can really help you to identify how you’re brushing, whether you’re missing anything, for general education and to encourage good brushing practice and routines. I think that all toothbrushes will be installed with reminders and features such as this in the future. We use technology and apps to help to sleep, eat well, exercise and organise our lives, so why not to enhance our dental health? It’s only a matter of time until it becomes the norm.”
10. You stop brushing when you see blood
Nobody likes seeing blood when they brush, but whatever you do, don't stop brushing! You should actually continue brushing, particularly in the area where blood is coming from. Why? Because bleeding gums are a symptom of gum disease, or gingivitis, a sign that you haven’t been cleaning that area effectively. According to a 2019 survey by the Oral Health Foundation, almost one in five people immediately stop brushing if they see blood. “The last thing we should be doing if we experience bleeding gums is stopping brushing - even if the area is tender,” warns Doctor Zainab Al Mukhtar of Harrow on the Hill Dental . “If our gums are bleeding it is because we need to brush more or amend our brushing method to make it more effective.”