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January 03, 2017

When it comes to fun ways to spend an afternoon, dental appointments come in somewhere above tax audits and below everything else in the known universe. It’s just not fun to have someone else’s hands in your mouth as they poke you with sharp instruments while asking about your summer vacation plans and critiquing your flossing technique.

Luckily, there are a few ways to make your dentist appointments easier—and it starts with learning the right way to brush your teeth. If you brush incorrectly, the bacteria in plaque (that sticky film that builds up on your teeth) can cause tooth decay and gum disease, unless it’s removed regularly through effective brushing. Turns out that what many of us learned during childhood dental visits was simply incorrect or has been updated as toothbrush technology has improved.

Here’s how you’ve been brushing your teeth wrong and how to fix it:

Using the Wrong Toothbrush

When you’re picking out a new brush at the pharmacy, avoid hard bristle brushes as they can damage delicate gum tissue. Instead look for a toothbrush marked “soft” and choose a size or shape that will easily fit in your mouth and allow you to access all areas easily.

Not Replacing Your Toothbrush Often Enough

While most people wait to pick up a new toothbrush until they’re at the dentist, you actually need to replace them more often. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends getting a new brush every two or three months or as soon as your bristles look frayed or are splaying outwards. Old brushes simply aren’t as effective against plaque.

Brushing In Circles

Manyof us were told by helpful hygienists to brush in tiny circles to get all the plaque out. Turns out this is no longer the best technique. Nowadays, the ADA recommends “gently moving the brush back and forth in short (tooth-wide) strokes.” Using those short strokes, hit the outer and inner surfaces of each tooth and then the chewing surfaces. As for those tricky front teeth, “tilt the brush vertically and make several up-and-down strokes.”

Here’s a helpful video made by the ADA to demonstrate proper brushing technique:

Not Brushing Long Enough

There are a lot of toothbrush timers on the market that recommend brushing for just one minute. That’s not enough time to get the gunk off your chompers, according to the ADA. They suggest brushing for two minutes, twice a day. Set a timer, if necessary, to make sure you’re hitting that time mark.

Forgetting to Brush Your Tongue

It may feel odd to brush your tongue, but it’s an important step of oral health. When you’re done brushing your teeth, drag your toothbrush across your tongue to remove

bacteria that can lead to tooth decay and bad breath, or buy one of those tongue scrapers that they sell in some pharmacies and health food stores.

Skipping the Floss

There’s no doubt that flossing can be a drag, but if you enjoy having teeth and want to keep them for your entire life, it’s absolutely paramount to floss at least once a day. As the ADA says, “Tooth decay-causing bacteria still linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can’t reach. [Flossing] helps remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.”

Eating Too Much Sugar

Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria in plaque comes into contact with its favorite food, sugar, which causes acid to attack the teeth. Avoiding excess amounts of sugar, or brushing after sugary treats, can help avoid tooth decay. Avoid soft drinks, sticky foods like raisins or gummy treats, candy, and cookies. Additionally, the ADA (and your mother) suggest eating a well-rounded diet that includes lots of vegetables, as it can help ward off infections. Plus, according to the ADA, “many researchers believe that [tooth and gum] disease progresses faster and is potentially more severe in people with poor nutrition.”

For more tips on eating a healthy diet, talk to your doctor or a registered dietician.

Avoiding the Dentist

Yes, going to the dentist is a drag, but getting regular cleanings, x-rays, and examinations will make each successive trip to the dentist easier. That’s why it’s important (and recommended) to get professional dental cleanings twice a year.

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