You have heard it for years...brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day. Even the American Dental Association recommends it. But why? We believe it's better to teach than preach so let's explain so you can fully understand why and how to perform this daily duty for clean teeth.
The concept of tooth brushing is nothing new. In fact, the earliest dental cleaning devices, called chew sticks, date back to 3500BC and were used by the Babylonians. During the 15th Century the Chinese invented the first "toothbrush" made of bone, bamboo and hog hair bristles. Today, the material of our toothbrushes may be more advanced, but we still brush daily and now include flossing to remove plaque and food debris. Plaque forms when bacteria in your mouth mixes with sugary and starchy foods. As the bacteria in the plaque breaks down the food debris, it releases acid, which breaks down the surface of teeth. If not removed in a timely manner, plaque hardens to calculus also known as tarter. Think of calculus as a condo for bacteria. (An instructor in Dental Hygiene school would say that often. The image of millions of tiny bacteria dancing around in a condo has never left me.) Leaving this sticky substance and the bacteria it houses on your teeth can cause major problems like cavities, gum disease and bad breath.
Two Minute Concept
Think of two minutes as 120 seconds and an adult having a set of 28 teeth, not including wisdom teeth. When we break down the math, it comes out to 4.3 seconds per tooth, which barely seems long enough to clean each tooth. According to the ADA, on average people only brush for 45 seconds! That's less than 2 seconds per tooth. I challenge you to clean anything properly in that amount of time. We want you to make the most of your time brushing, so here are a few tips to do so:
- Brush in quadrants. Brush your teeth in sections - upper right, lower right, upper left and lower left. Spend 30 seconds per quadrant.
- Split each tooth into 3 sections - the chewing surface, the tongue side and the cheek side.
- Angle the bristles of the brush towards the gum tissue using a soft wiggle motion as if you are massaging the gum tissue of each tooth.
- Use a timer. There's no better way of ensuring an adequate cleaning.
- Switch to an electric toothbrush. We recommend buying one that is rechargeable, offers replacement brush heads, offers multiple settings and has a built-in timer.
- Replace your toothbrush or brush head every three months, after being sick or if when the bristles become frayed. This minimizes bacteria build-up in the brush and does a more effective job cleaning.
- Select a toothpaste with fluoride and anti-tarter protection.
Why Twice a Day?
The process of plaque turning into calculus starts to happen in as little as 8 hours. This process starts invisibly to the naked eye, but can be felt as that "fuzzy sweater" feeling on your teeth. As the plaque continues to build up, it can be seen as a whitish, sticky film. Within 10 days of forming, the calculus hardens to the point it can only be removed by a Dental Hygiene professional. Very few people are perfect brushers, so every time an area is missed, it allows plaque and calculus to buildup on the teeth's surface, causing destruction. Brushing twice a day disrupts the plaque formation process preventing the breakdown of the teeth's surface. Unfortunately, even with the best habits and perfect brushing form, some patients still develop heavy calculus. In these instances, we recommend more frequent professional cleanings.
Brushing is the first step in keeping your mouth healthy, but it is only cleaning about 60% of your teeth's surfaces. Don't forget to floss your teeth once a day to remove the plaque and food debris stuck in between your teeth. Adding other oral hygiene aids such as a tongue scraper and mouth rinse can help keep your teeth and mouth as clean as possible. Now that you know why and how to brush properly, we hope pairing these at-home tips with healthy eating habits and frequent dental visits will help you maintain your teeth for a lifetime.