How to Brush your Teeth

Tooth brushing recommendations
Tooth brushing techniques in adults
Tooth brushing techniques in children

Food particles that stay in the mouth mix with saliva and build up a sticky substance on the teeth. The colorless film of bacteria that thus forms on the teeth along the gum line is called plaque. The hardened form of plaque, called tartar, is attached to the enamel of the teeth below the gum line. The bacteria contained in the plaque cause gum disease and tooth decay. If plaque is not treated, it destroys the tissues holding the teeth, decays them, produces bad breath, and finally loses the tooth. It is, therefore, important to brush correctly and regularly to protect your teeth.

Tooth Brushing

Image Credit: Viktoriia Hnatiuk/

Tooth brushing recommendations

Brushing should cover the inside surface, the outside surface, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Brushing twice daily for a 2-minute duration in each session is ideal.

Toothbrushes come in different sizes and shapes; we can choose one that is easy to hold and comfortable in the mouth. Soft bristles are preferred as stiffer bristles can harm the gums. Due to regular usage, the bristles become less effective, so the ideal time to change the toothbrush is once every three to four months or whenever the bristles are damaged.

Removing the remaining paste and debris from the toothbrush should be rinsed thoroughly after each use, put in an upright position, and allowed to dry in the air to avoid microbial growth. Toothbrush sanitizer devices may be used if the brushes need to be sanitized. Toothbrushes should not be shared from a hygienic standpoint.

Unlike a manual toothbrush, electronic toothbrushes use different types of head movement—side-to-side, counter oscillation, rotation oscillation, circular, and ultrasonic, to facilitate brushing. Electronic toothbrushes are helpful for the elderly, children, people with disabilities, and individuals who use dental appliances such as braces.

Tooth brushing techniques in adults

Some of us brush too little while others brush too long, hurting the gums and straining the teeth' enamel. Due to this, it is all the more important to brush regularly and correctly.

In general, there are five types of brushing methods:

  • Horizontal method
  • Vibratory method
  • Roll method
  • Circular method
  • Vertical method

In the horizontal method, the brush is moved back and forth in short horizontal strokes, which may damage the gums. Therefore, although it is widely used, it is not very effective in controlling dental plaque.

The vibratory method includes the Bass or modified Bass, Stillman, and Charter's techniques.

The Bass, or sulcular, method is mainly used and considered very effective in removing dental plaque. The bristles are placed at a 45° angle to the long axis of the tooth and moved back and forth horizontally in small vibratory movements, covering three teeth at a time. Pressing the bristles firmly cleanses the occlusal surfaces.

The Stillman method is used to stimulate the gums. The bristles are positioned similarly to the Bass method and rest partly on the gums and partly on the tooth. Slight pressure is exerted to stimulate the gums using a vibratory motion.

Charter's method best suits people who have undergone periodontal surgery and use orthodontic and fixed prosthetic appliances. The bristles are directed coronally and are placed at a 45° angle to the gingival.

The roll method best benefits patients suffering from anatomically normal gingival tissues. The bristles are placed on the gingival margin pointed toward the apices and brought to the occlusal surface by exerting light pressure. It uses a rolling stroke and brushes occlusally to clean the interproximal and tooth surfaces in a single stroke.

How to Brush Your Teeth Animation MCM

Tooth brushing techniques in children

Parents can watch their child's first tooth's appearance and start cleaning daily using a clean, damp cloth until more teeth appear.

When the child is two years old, fluoride toothpaste is recommended as fluoride is essential in protecting against cavities. However, young children may swallow too much fluoride, leaving them with white spots on their permanent teeth. This can be prevented by using a small amount of toothpaste—about the size of a pea on a small soft toothbrush. Children must be taught to spit out the toothpaste and rinse well after brushing.

When children start to brush on their own, the circular method, or Fones method, can be taught. This method involves placing the brush on the teeth and pressing the teeth to activate the bristles. Following a circular motion with the toothbrush, the teeth and gums are covered in the brushing procedure.

For small children with primary teeth, the vertical method is most convenient. Vigorous brushing across the upper and lower teeth is the characteristic of this method. Since the teeth are held apart, each section is brushed separately.

It should be noted that kids and children need to be supervised until they can handle the toothbrush independently.


Further Reading

Article Revisions

  • Aug 1 2022 - This articles' title was changed from "Guide to Brushing Your Teeth" to "How to Brush your Teeth"
  • Aug 1 2022 - Article updated and expanded to offer a more detailed and comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. In addition, a table of contents with jump links was added and new wider images were included.

Last Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Written by

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Afsaneh graduated from Warwick University with a First class honours degree in Biomedical science. During her time here her love for neuroscience and scientific journalism only grew and have now steered her into a career with the journal, Scientific Reports under Springer Nature. Of course, she isn’t always immersed in all things science and literary; her free time involves a lot of oil painting and beach-side walks too.


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