If you think you’ve been brushing your teeth the right way all these years, Carole Palmer, professor of public health in community service at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, has some news for you: Most people make simple mistakes that can do their teeth serious damage.
Are you one of them? Take our quiz to find out -- and start brushing right tonight.
1. True or False? The harder the toothbrush bristles, the better.
False. Soft bristles are safest for teeth and gums.
Palmer suggests choosing a soft nylon-bristle brush. Bristles that are too hard will irritate your gums and can erode the enamel on your teeth. Your toothbrush should also be multi-tufted -- meaning it has as many little bristles as possible to get between teeth and around gums better.
2. True or False? The goal of brushing after eating is to remove food particles from your teeth.
False. It’s more important to remove plaque.
Contrary to popular belief, brushing your teeth is essential because you’re trying to remove plaque, not food debris, says Palmer. Plaque takes a while to form, so brushing doesn’t have to be done right after meals -- although it can help prevent staining from foods like berries or coffee. Still, Palmer recommends brushing twice a day to prevent cavities.
3. True or False? Jiggling the brush up and down is the most effective brushing method.
True. Jiggling the brush up and down is better.
Palmer recommends you hold the brush down against the gumline at a 45-degree angle and then jiggle it in that spot for about 10 seconds before moving on to the next area. After you’ve brushed along the entirety of your gums, use the same motion to clean the surfaces of your teeth, this time holding your brush at a 90-degree angle. Finish by scraping your brush against your tongue in a downward motion to get rid of bacteria there.
4. True or False? It’s best to floss after brushing.
False. You’ll remove more plaque by flossing first.
Floss gets down into the gumline and helps remove plaque that your toothbrush can’t reach, so it makes the most sense to floss and then brush: That way you’ll loosen the plaque and then brush it away. If you use mouthwash, you should do that last.
5. True or False? If you can’t see plaque on your teeth, it means you removed it all.
False. There could be plenty left, ready to do damage.
“Plaque is clear and colorless,” says Palmer. “I can tell you that you have a mouthful of plaque right now, but you won’t believe it until you see it for yourself.” The next time you go to the dentist, ask for a few extra pink tablets -- the ones that reveal where you have dental plaque, suggests Palmer. Then chew them up at home from time to time and you’ll see all the spots you usually miss.
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