10 Mistakes You're Making When You Brush Your Teeth

Woman Flossing
Woman Flossing
(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

We all know dental hygiene is important - in fact, new research suggests up to half of rheumatoid arthritis cases could be linked to inadequate brushing. You might think you're doing everything right - brush your teeth after every meal? Rinse after brushing? Floss twice a day? Always pick Diet Coke over regular? Visit the dentist every six months without fail?

Well, you could be doing your teeth more harm than good... New research findings have just turned some of the most time-honoured tenets of dental care upside down. Read on to find out which mistakes you're making, and how to fix them...

1. Flossing

We know - for years, flossing has been lauded as a panacea for everything from tooth decay to heart disease. But it's quietly being dropped from government recommendations amidst reports that scientific research has failed to demonstrate its effectiveness in removing plaque.

Brushing only reaches three out of five of our teeth's surfaces, though, so The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy recommends swapping floss for interdental brushes, unless the spaces between your teeth are particularly tight. How about those squirty 'water picks'? Probably not worth it, according to the experts - but if you must, use them before brushing, not after, so they don't rinse away tooth-strengthening fluoride.

2. Brushing Horizontally

Experts say you should hold your brush vertically, directing the bristles down towards the gumline and tooth surface (front and back) at a 45° angle for the most effective clean.

3. Using A Manual Toothbrush

It is possible to clean teeth effectively using a manual toothbrush, but, unless you're a dental professional, it's highly likely you'll be missing a few key areas. Using an electric toothbrush with an oscillating head makes the brushing process up to 20% more effective.

4. Brushing Too Hard

Over-zealous brushing can cause irreparable damage to gums and tooth enamel. If you're using an electric brush with an oscillating head, let it do the work for you - there's no need to scrub. If you think you could do with a refresher on technique, take your toothbrush along to the hygienist and ask them to teach you how to brush most effectively.

5. Brushing For Over Two Minutes

Just as you can brush too hard, you can brush for too long. If you want to maximise plaque removal, two minutes is optimal. Research participants who brushed their teeth for longer than two minutes failed to remove any additional plaque, and, researchers warned, exposed their enamel to potential damage.

6. Brushing After Every Meal

Yes, a theme seems to be emerging - turns out you can brush too hard, too long and too often. Dentists recommend brushing 2-3 times per day. Any more, and you risk damaging tooth enamel. It's particularly important not to brush for at least 30-60 minutes after eating acidic foods (fresh fruit and juices are prime culprits) as they soften tooth enamel, increasing susceptibility to erosion. You might like to try rinsing with water or a fluoride-containing mouthwash instead, although experts say that if you're already brushing 2-3 times a day, it might not confer any additional benefits.

7. Using Mouthwash

Whilst rinsing with mouthwash after meals and snacks may be a good idea, rinsing your mouth immediately after brushing your teeth isn't. This is because it rinses away the fluoride left behind by your toothpaste, which helps to strengthen your teeth and prevent decay.

8. Swapping Regular Fizzy Drinks for Diet Versions

We all know that sugary drinks can encourage tooth decay, but did you know that sugar-free fizzy drinks may be just as bad? Research has found that diet soft drinks can cause as much damage to tooth enamel as standard versions, due to their acid content. Using a straw can help to minimise damage.

Your fruit juice habit shouldn't make you feel too smug, either - it's one of the prime causes of acid erosion and should be limited to one glass per day. Even fruit-based herbal teas have come under fire from dentists - try to limit your intake, and switch fruit teas for mint or chamomile where possible. Black tea, in contrast, has actually been found to have plaque-fighting properties. Watch out for staining, though!

Alcoholic drinks tend to be highly acidic - particularly those containing bubbles. Oddly, dental experts would advise you to switch prosecco for beer, which contains fairly high levels of calcium. Vodka and whiskey are also more tooth-friendly than wine - adding ice dilutes any potential for damage.

9. Relying on the Hygienist

Whilst a visit to the hygienist could be just the thing if you think you could do with a lesson on brushing technique, a regular professional clean is no substitute for efficient everyday dental care. In a recent review, the Cochrane Oral Health Group concluded that insufficient evidence exists to support claims that regular 'scale and polish' treatments reduce plaque build-up or prevent gingivitis.

10. Visiting the Dentist Every Six Months

Though a check-up shouldn't do you any harm, the Cochrane Group suggest that it may be a waste of time and money, concluding that there is 'no good evidence to support six-monthly check ups'. How often should you go? Whilst under-18s should visit the dentist at least once a year, as children's teeth are more prone to decay, otherwise healthy adults should only need to make the trip once every two years.