What is the right way to brush your teeth?

A good brush and a little technique go a surprisingly long way to enhance your smile and health.

Getting your teeth professionally cleaned can feel like a dental health reset. Your teeth are thoroughly cleaned, degreased and polished. Whether they stay that way is up to you. What happens at home (think Vegas rules) can be very different from what happens at the dentist’s office. But don’t grind your teeth on it. Check out these three tips to boost your tooth-brushing game and improve your health in the process.

1. Understand incentives.

Every time you eat or drink something, bits of food or debris can stick to your teeth and gums. The debris and its bacteria turn into a sticky film called plaque. If it is left on the teeth for too long, it hardens. Hardened plaque is called calculus, and it cannot be removed with a toothbrush.

“There are bacteria inside calculus that release acids that cause cavities, break down your enamel, and tunnel inside the tooth towards the nerve and jawbone, which if left untreated can lead to infection. From there, the bacteria can travel to other parts of your body, including the brain, heart, and lungs,” says Dr. Tien Jiang says.

Plaque-related bacteria can also irritate and infect the gums, which leads to damage to gum tissue, the ligaments that hold teeth in place, and the jawbone—resulting in tooth loss.

Knowing all this, it may not come as a surprise that poor dental health is linked to health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and pneumonia.

2. Choose a good toothbrush.

A dizzying variety of toothbrush options range from simple plastic sticks to high-tech tools with bristles that spin or vibrate. But guess what: “It’s not the toothbrush that matters, it’s the technique,” says Dr. Jiang. “You can have a brush that does all the work for you. But if you don’t have an excellent brushing technique, you’ll miss plaque, even with an electric toothbrush.”

So be wary of fancy marketing promises that suggest one toothbrush is better than another. Instead, she recommends:

  • Get a toothbrush that you like and will use regularly.
  • Choose bristles based on the health of your gums. “If your gums are sensitive, you’ll need softer bristles that don’t cause irritation. If you don’t have gum problems, it’s fine to use stiff bristles,” Dr. Jiang says.
  • Change your toothbrush every few months. “It’s time for a new brush if the bristles have grown out and are no longer straight, or your teeth don’t feel clean after brushing,” says Dr. Jiang.

What if you want an electric toothbrush because it’s hard for you to hold a brush or brush with good technique, or you enjoy the gadgety-fun appeal of high-tech brushes?

Dr. Jiang says that’s fine too — whether it’s a flimsy device with a timer, pressure sensor, Bluetooth connectivity, and guide to guide you through brushing (prices range from $40 to $400) or a basic battery. powered gizmo (prices begin at $5). “Just try testing the settings to see if you’re comfortable with them, and bring a toothbrush with you for cleaning teeth if you have any questions about using it,” she says.

3. Use the correct brushing technique.

No matter what type of toothbrush you use, Dr. Jiang suggests using this brushing method twice daily and flossing before or after each time:

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes. Divide the time between the upper left, upper right, lower left and lower right teeth – 30 seconds per section.
  • Angle the brush. “The bristles should be aimed toward the gums where they meet the teeth, a junction where plaque and calculus collect. You don’t want the bristles to be perpendicular to your teeth at a 90-degree angle, but at a 45-degree angle.” be at a .-degree angle,” says Dr. Jiang.
  • Draw circles from the bristles. “Swirl the bristles around in a gentle sweeping motion to help catch debris at the gum line,” says Dr. Jiang.
  • Brush without distractions so you can focus on your brushing technique.
  • Be gentle If you press down too hard when you brush, you will become irritated and possibly hurt your gums. Brush your tongue too. It collects loads of bacteria that need to be removed.
  • Rinse your mouth and your brush. Wash off all traces of toothpaste and food debris.
  • Take a look at your gums. When you’re finished brushing, pull your lips away from your teeth to see if you’ve left any food particles around your teeth. Your gums should not look red or swollen.

Not sure you’re brushing correctly? Dr. Jiang suggests practicing without toothpaste. When you rub your tongue over your teeth, everything should feel smooth.

See the dentist for a cleaning every six months, and at least once a year to see your dentist — even if these visits worry you. And if you spot a problem between appointments, call the dental team. But remember: Much of the work of keeping your teeth clean comes from good habits at home, not at the dentist’s office.

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