How to Properly Brush Your Teeth: Do’s & Don’ts

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Am I Brushing Correctly
  2. How to Brush Your Teeth
  3. Things to Avoid
  4. Good Oral Hygiene Steps
  5. Tips for Better Tooth Brushing
  6. References

Properly brushing your teeth is the primary way to maintain good oral hygiene, but are you brushing the right way?

Brushing for two minutes, twice per day, with a soft-bristled toothbrush is the best way to keep your teeth clean. Hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle as you move it back and forth in short strokes.

Am I Brushing My Teeth the Right Way?

how to properly brush your teeth

Maintaining a good oral health routine, or dental hygiene routine, keeps your mouth healthy between visits to your dentist.

The two basic steps of any good dental hygiene routine are brushing your teeth and flossing or using interdental brushes. Although you may brush your teeth regularly, you may still experience a frustrating buildup of plaque and tartar that can lead to sensitivity, pain, cavities, and gum disease, including periodontitis.

Brushing your teeth at least twice a day is important. Proper technique and duration can greatly improve your oral health. You can further enhance your oral hygiene routine by introducing different toothpastes or mouthwashes.

How to Properly Brush Your Teeth

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends these steps to brush your teeth properly for best dental hygiene:

  • Place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums.

  • Move the brush back and forth in short strokes.

  • Use this motion to gently scrub the outside surfaces of your teeth, then the inside surfaces, and finally the chewing surfaces.

  • Consider starting from the molars and moving toward the incisors.

  • To best clean the inside surface of your incisors, tilt your brush vertically, and move it in short up and down strokes.

  • Brush your teeth for at least two minutes total.

  • Consider brushing your tongue once you have finished brushing your teeth, to remove additional bacteria.

It may be helpful to brush in basically the same pattern when you brush your teeth twice per day, so you can remember to gently scrub the surfaces of all your teeth. Cleaning between your teeth is also important, either with dental floss or interdental brushes. You may consider adding mouthwash or rinse to further remove particles of food or plaque after brushing and flossing.

Dentists recommend using a soft-bristled toothbrush with a smaller head, which can reach the back surfaces of your teeth more easily. Your dentist may recommend using an electric toothbrush, which can modulate scrubbing speed and improve the cleanliness of the surface of your teeth. This can also help to prevent overbrushing.

Things to Avoid When Brushing Your Teeth

If you are worried about your oral hygiene, you may scrub the surfaces of your teeth too hard since you are trying to remove plaque or tartar. This can actually harm your oral health.

Overbrushing your teeth is not about brushing your teeth too much, but about how you brush them. Here are some problems that can occur:

When using an electric toothbrush, spend about one to two seconds on every tooth's surface, including the front, the top, and the side, and if you have any missing teeth to brush in-between.

This is the loss of tooth structure due to force on the teeth, including from a toothbrush being wielded too hard. Brushing too hard and too much can wear away tooth enamel and cause pitting, worn spots, and even yellow and brown spots on the tooth near the gum line.

Dental abrasion may come from:

  • Horizontal brushing rather than using a 45-degree angle.

  • Brushing too hard.

  • Biting objects, including pens or your nails.

  • Abrasive toothpastes.

  • Hard toothbrushes, including natural fibers like boar bristles.

  • Denture clasps.

This is the result of thinning enamel. It could be caused by brushing your teeth too hard or with a toothbrush with hard bristles. This is sometimes from dental abfraction, which is the loss of subsurface tooth structure as gums and enamel become thin.

This is often caused by overzealous brushing or using a toothbrush with tough bristles. The softer cementum of the gum line is exposed, which can cause sensitivity and leave room for infection to take hold, leading to tooth decay.

You may also ask your dentist for recommendations on toothpaste, interdental brushes or dental floss, and types of toothbrushes. Toothpastes that have added abrasive substances, like some types of charcoal toothpaste, can also damage your teeth.

Some toothbrushes may have thicker or stiffer bristles, made from natural or artificial fibers. While you may assume these make your teeth cleaner, they can actually cause further harm to the enamel of your teeth. If you already brush too hard, adding these abrasive substances can lead to cavities, staining, and gum disease.

Good Oral Hygiene Steps

Properly brushing your teeth twice per day, for at least two minutes per time, is the foundation of a good oral healthcare routine. You should also visit your dentist at least once per year for an exam and cleaning. Many dentists recommend visiting every six months, or twice per year, to ensure you have healthy teeth and gums.

Your dentist can recommend types of toothpaste, interdental brushes, dental floss, or even types of toothbrushes that can help your oral health improve. You should swap out your toothbrush every three to four months or as soon as the bristles become frayed.

Avoid chewing too much gum or using other types of mints, which might be high in sugar and can harm your dental health. Also, consider adjusting your diet to reduce your overall intake of sugary foods and drinks.

In addition to these refinements, you may also consider longer term treatments like clear teeth aligners. Getting proper dental alignment makes it easier to clean your teeth, which can reduce tartar buildup and other oral health problems.

Tips for Better Tooth Brushing

  • Time your brushing. Aim to brush your teeth for 2 minutes, twice per day. It can be tough to gauge this on your own, so set a timer to keep yourself honest.

  • Use the right toothpaste. If you have sensitivity, choose a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth and gums. If you’d like a brighter smile, choose a whitening toothpaste. If you’re prone to tartar, opt for a tartar-fighting toothpaste. Toothpastes that contain fluoride can strengthen your teeth.Talk to your dentist about the type of toothpaste that will work best for your mouth.

  • Get the right toothbrush. An electric toothbrush can help to ensure all your teeth get effectively cleaned if you use it for the instructed duration and move it around your mouth appropriately. If using a manual toothbrush, choose a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small enough head to reach all areas of your mouth.

  • Cover all surfaces. Make sure to get all sides of every tooth. People tend to focus on the front of teeth, but remember to brush the top and back too. Don’t forget the back of the molars as well.

  • Replace your tools. Swap out your manual toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every three to four months. This ensures the bristles remain in good working order, and it keeps your toothbrush clean.

  • Wait after consuming certain foods and drinks. If you eat or drink anything acidic, like orange juice or wine, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth. If you brush immediately, it can speed up the deterioration of tooth enamel.

  • Be gentle. While you want to ensure you clean your teeth thoroughly, you don’t need a strong hand when you brush. Brushing too hard can result in gum recession, mouth injuries, and tooth sensitivity.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.