This post is dedicated to the art of brushing. The art of brushing, you say?

Yes. Brushing your teeth is more than a perfunctory task (although that is how most of us treat it). Proper tooth brushing is an art even when it comes to power brushes, but even more so with manual brushes (there is a separate post on power brushing with electric toothbrushes).

Proper brushing all starts with identifying the toothbrush that is ideally suited to your teeth and gums, and then optimizing its use with the proper technique.

So, let’s start with potential toothbrush options:

You can buy manual toothbrushes in hard, medium and soft, and everything in between. However, all studies now show that soft brushes work the best – hands down, no questions asked! It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true. Why?

Well, let’s use an illustration to extract the concept.

Imagine brushing your teeth with a steel bristled brush – like you might use to clean your BBQ grill, for example. How well do you think those stiff steel bristles are going to flex and adapt to the round contours of your teeth? Aside from absolutely destroying your healthy gum tissue, how well do you think that brush will be able to access the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies between your teeth? Well, if the bristles won’t bend and flex then you simply will NOT be able to clean the all-important areas between the teeth. You will ONLY be able to clean the outer – or, superficial – surfaces.

So. What’s the lesson?

Of course, no one on the planet would consider brushing their teeth with a steel brush and so it goes; no one on the planet should be buying anything other than “SOFT” bristled toothbrushes. Soft bristled brushes are clinically proven to clean better – ALWAYS!

Then why do companies make medium and hard bristled brushes, and the like? Because as usual, corporate interests are about making profit. As long as people buy hard bristled brushes, they will sell them. Corporations – even dental “health” corporations – aren’t so much as interested in what’s best for your teeth as they are interested in what’s best for their bottom line.

Therefore, we can confidently recommend that you ONLY buy “SOFT” bristled brushes.

There. Now that we have that out of the way we can discuss technique.

Step 1: angle the bristles of your soft manual tooth brush so that they are pointing into your gum line at a 45 degree angle. For your upper teeth that means the bristles will be directed upward and for the lower teeth that means they will be directed down.

Step 2: with the bristles oriented properly, start moving the brush in a circular pattern – NOT “back and forth” and not “up and down”. Only a circular motion will properly follow the arched contour of your gum line.

NOTE: It is necessary to modify the 45 degree angle and circular cleaning motion as described above when brushing the inside (tongue side) of the front six teeth – top and bottom – as well as when cleaning the chewing surfaces of the teeth directly. For brushing the inside aspect of the front six teeth you will need to position the toothbrush semi-vertically (in line with the semi-vertical inclination of the teeth themselves) and use a vertical, up & down cleaning motion as well (see illustration below for clarification on this point). As for brushing the chewing surfaces, simply use a flat back and forth motion (also pictured in the illustration below).

Step 3: use a soft – medium-soft pressure. Medium-soft is fine for the back and front teeth, but you should reduce the pressure as you “round the corner” passing over the canine teeth. Failure to use gentle pressure on the corners often results in gum recession due to brushing trauma.

Step 4: brush thoroughly for at least 2 minutes. Use a timer or put on a short song if you have to; studies show that the time you spend brushing your teeth is directly related to their cleanliness.

Step 5: rinse and spit : )

Ok. So, step 5 wasn’t necessary to point out but hopefully steps 1-4 helped clarify the proper brushing technique with a manual toothbrush.

Please reference the illustration below for further clarification.

Manual Toothbrush Technique

Bonus Point:

If your toothbrush bristles start to splay outward then it’s time for a new one. You need to replace it as soon as you notice any splaying. If it looks like the one pictured below then you have been brushing ineffectively for a while now.

When to Replace Your Toothbrush