Brushing and Flossing

How to Brush Your Teeth the Right Way

There is a right way and a wrong way to brush your teeth and the wrong technique can damage them. In this video, Dr. B demonstrates the right way to brush so you protect your pearly whites.

by Dr. Burhenne

How to Brush Your Teeth the Right Way

Many people are surprised to learn that, for years, they have actually been brushing their teeth the wrong way. Watch the video below — are you brushing like Natalie Portman in this clip? If so, you run the risk of stripping enamel from your teeth and causing permanent damage.

Believe it or not, toothbrush bristles can damage to your teeth. Learn how to brush your teeth the right way and you’ll protect them for years to come.

The Wrong Way to Brush

If you’re like most people, you take your toothbrush out and use a back-and-forth motion, similar to sawing back and forth, until you feel like your teeth are clean and slippery.

And, myself included, it always feels like the faster and harder you brush, the faster you can get out of the house and on to work or school.

But the reality is that you are scrubbing away precious tooth enamel when you brush this way. This sawing motion is very abrasive to your teeth and gums, and will age your teeth prematurely.

By using this method of brushing, you also run the risk of stripping the enamel from your teeth. This will make them sensitive to hot and cold much sooner then they normally would be otherwise.

This method is not only damaging to enamel, it also doesn’t clean as effectively. Since the bristles are moving back and forth, they are essentially bouncing from one tooth to the next, missing the spaces in between the teeth.

These spaces need to be kept clean in order to prevent cavities and gum disease. When brushing with a sawing motion, none of the bristles find their way into the spaces in between your teeth to remove plaque and other tiny particles of food. You are missing the entire goal of brushing when you use this method.

How to Brush Your Teeth the Right Way

Proper brushing technique is really easy. It’s so easy that you might not feel as if you are cleaning your teeth to begin with, but that’s okay. Give it time – it’s not easy to relearn brushing after you’ve been using one method your whole life. Try putting the toothbrush in your non-dominant hand to help relearn the habit. Switching over to this simple method will take some getting used to, but the results will speak for themselves.

To begin with, place the toothbrush over your teeth and wiggle it back and forth a little bit, making sure the bristles cover each tooth and work their way around the sides of the tooth. What you are trying to do is allow the bristles of the toothbrush to find their way into the spaces between your teeth. This will ensure that all of the food particles and plaque are removed during each brushing.

Once you finish one set of teeth as described above, move your toothbrush over to the next set of teeth and repeat the same process. Jiggle the brush, gently making sure the bristles work in between your teeth. Then, move on to the next set of teeth and so forth until you have covered your entire mouth. This is the correct way to brush your teeth and doing it this way will yield noticeable results the next time you visit your dentist.

Why Proper Brushing Technique is So Important

The harder and faster you brush might feel more effective, but brushing with this hard, sawing motion actually promotes unhealthy build up between your teeth and gums. Letting particles and plaque build up over time can cause serious problems. The proper method makes sure each tooth gets the full advantage of your toothbrush bristles.

The great thing about this entire process is that it does not matter how long you have been brushing your teeth the wrong way because you can fix it today! Before you go to bed tonight, brush your teeth using the recommended method described above.

Remember: Don’t saw back-and-forth! Use a gentle wiggle motion instead and you’ll save your teeth from damage and sensitivity.

Mark Burhenne DDS

read next: Can You Brush Your Teeth Too Much?

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Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS


Leave a Comment

  1. Thanks Dr. Burhenne! You’ve come through for me again. 🙂 Love this video and hope to get more people brushing this way.

  2. I knew the sawing motion was not a good way to brush your teeth so I do similar strokes like the video said to do but I also go in the other direction (up and down) more than anything. Is this an ok motion?

  3. Hi Dr. Burhenne in the video you mention the tooth brush stay between the gum and the tooth wiggle the tooth brush, so some dentist recommend circle motion is no significantly different for remove the plaque? and because I have the receding gums problems I am finding a way that can brushing my tooth efficient without wearing the gums, wish you can give me some advice.

  4. Hello Dr. Burhenne! I am a assiduous reader of your blog. Since you’ve mentioned proper brushing, I’d like to introduce you to the Kyoui Angle Neck Toothbrush. This innovative oral care tool was created by dentists to facilitate proper brushing techniques. Bristles are high quality Dupont soft single tapered bristles to enable cleaning between teeth and between gums and teeth while brushing. The angle makes proper brushing techniques easier and bristles are safe for gums and enamel.
    We are concerned about Oral-Systemic Health link and developed oral care tools to improve people’s overall health by providing more effective oral health. Please, visit our website to see more: Thank you for all your help about oral care problems!

  5. is it just as important to brush the back of the teeth? Also, can a person over-floss or do the gums just get stronger? Thanks for the great video. The teeth on your model are amazing!

    • In my case, yes it is. My dentist measured my gum pockets and the deeper ones are on the tongue side. So next time your dentist measures your gum pockets see where the problem areas are and perhaps concentrate on that.

      But one area that collects the most tartar is behind the bottom front teeth in front of the tongue. Saliva and calcium just tends to accumulate there.

      So if you do nothing else for the back of the teeth, just turn the toothbrush vertically and brush that one area. If the back tooth feels rough, it probably has deposits. If it feels smooth (and compare with right after a visit to a dentist) then it may not have deposits. So that’s one way you can measure the effectiveness of brushing, especially there.

  6. Thank you so much for this!
    Do you have any advice for brushing with a sonicare toothbrush? I find it difficult to angle it towards the gum.

  7. An explanation on the natural requirements of brushing will automatically demand an imitation of the chewing motion. Why not allow this info. so the rationale is obvious??

  8. tooth enamel ranks 5 on Mohs hardness scale, a copper penny is 3. Toothbrush bristles would need to exceed 5 in order to scratch the enamel. If you are brushing your teeth with a wire brush, you need more than a dentist, you need a psychiatrist.

    • What that is true, still you will be doing damage to the toothbrush by exerting a lot of pressure. So for me that’s a more important reason not to use a lot of force.

      Have you ever painted? If so you might be familiar that it is very easy to wreck a paintbrush by smashing it against the wall so the bristles go in all directions. Good painters never need to replace their brushes.

      So my suggestion is to use a tootbrush like you use a paintbrush which is is always stroke in one direction, up or down. and angled as it has been suggested.

  9. hello DR. my name is husna. i am having serious gum problems. should you even brush your gums? if so how many times do you brush? one more question how many times do you brush your tongue?

    • For serious gum problems, you might need periodontal care. So for go to a dentist and my measuring gum pockets and xrays the dentist can determine if you need periodontal work.

      No, you don’t brush your gums. For getting out tartar you can be very rough on your teeth, but whenever working with gums you need to be extra careful. But the gums touch the teeth and that’s the rub as it were.

      For the gums, especially bleeding gums use hydrogen peroxide (the store has it at 3%, but dentists recommend at 1.5%) and peroxyl ™ is that plus some glycol to stiffen it up and make it taste sweet and some blue coloring I guess because that’s what the marketing guy suggested.

  10. Thanks for the video. In my opinion more things like this should be done. And I find it sad that more dentists don’t focus on such basic preventative things.

    Worse, looking at the ADA’s recommendations for brushing teeth, I think in some ways it is misleading. So let me outline a regimen that seems to work for me.

    Since this is long here is an abbreviated and simple process.

    1. Remove loose food. Swig your mouth out with water. To be fancy you can swig with mouthwash such as peroyxl ™ which is just expensive hydrogen peroxide cut 50% with water and with some glycol for sweetness. I use a water pick at the lowest setting.

    One dentist opined that it isn’t that effective. That may be true for film and plague, but here we are just talking about loose food. My experiments by just watching what comes out in the sink shows that by far this is gets the most out and it is the easiest and fastest way too. Think of it like a leaf blower for a yard. Raking may be needed for some areas and to do a really fine job. But the leaf blower gets most of it with little effort and does it fast.

    2. Floss to get in between the teeth which may dislodge more food.
    Or a plastic toothpick. Both of these not only dislodge food but break up film and disrupt surfaces between the teeth. I find a little plastic Christmas-tree like brush called a proxabrush useful here.

    But to be simple, you can use just a toothbrush but *without toothpaste*. The toothbrush should have plastic bristles and be soft. Don’t use a lot of pressure and stroke angled in one direction only.

    If you want to do the tongue with the toothbrush or use something fancy there ok.

    3. Rinse mouth. Again hydrogen peroxide or peroyxl is good as it will further loosen attached tartar. Here give the mouth wash or H202 some time to get into surfaces and dissolve stuff.

    4. Apply toothpaste on toothbrush as you would painting a surface. It takes at least a minute for the toothpaste to bind with the teeth to form its own film. Rinsing your mouth here is optional. Most people prefer to do so. Just don’t do it before a minute or so is up from applying paste the the last surface.

    Ok. So now back to the more complete story.

    Let me outline my understanding of the overall process of tooth decay.

    You eat food and drink stuff. Particles in that food and drink linger in the mouth and on the teeth. In a little while a biofilm develops. That changes the pH or acidity in the mouth. Your mouth naturally has bacteria some good and some bad. But the tooth decaying stuff, or bacteria that causes caries isn’t there initially. That can only develop after the biofilm forms. And that takes about 2 days!

    So that means that if you are very very careful about brushing your teeth properly or have just come back from the dentist you can wait 2 days, assuming you do a great job. Of course, if you do a less good job, then yes, brushing more frequently is good.

    One thing that is woefully missing in brushing your teeth is any discussion of measuring effectiveness. The simplest measure is whether the tooth feels glassy or not. And this has to be done before adding toothpaste.

    If it feels rough, then it probably has some build-up on it. You could feel this with your tongue or your finger or a fingernail. But a little warning. A tooth with film also can feel slimy which is similar. So scraping that with a fingernail or a plastic toothpick might give you a feel for the difference. If you can scrape stuff off that is slimy, that’s the film.

    There are probably other ways. One of the more elaborate ones is a USB endoscopic camera to visually inspect. But the main point and something I think missing is some way to measure effectiveness of what you are doing. Imagine how good a job you would do painting a wall blindfolded.

    And that’s what most people do when they brush their teeth.

    So now let’s go over again the overall process.

    1. Remove loose *food*.
    2. Now that surfaces are exposed, remove film on teeth and buildup
    3. If bleeding and for further tartar breakdown swig with water, peroyxl or hydrogen peroxide
    4. Apply toothpaste like you would paint. Let it sit for a minute

    Another pet peeve of mine is how bad a tool a toothbrush is. First, most people use it to both try to clean the surface and paint at the same time. It can be used that way, but it does a bad job. Again think of the analogy of painting a wall. Better painters scrape the wall smooth and then possibly wash it down to remove dust. Then they apply the paint. If you apply paint on a service that has dirt or the old paint about to chip off, then clearly the paint isn’t getting to the surface (or tooth).

    So use the toothbrush dry for one purpose and with toothbrush for the other purpose.

    But the main way a toothbrush is inadequate is that it is too large. Imagine painting a picket fence (your teeth) with a brush that covers 2 or 3 pickets. Does your dentist polish and clean your teeth with a brush that spans more than one tooth? And while on that topic, does the dentist try to both apply paste and clean surfaces at the same time? No, so you shouldn’t either if you want to do a good job.

    Alternatives are this thing called a proxabrush which is like a Christmas tree. it is smaller. It can be used to get both the front and the back of teeth easier.

  11. Hello Mark Burhenne,
    Thanks for your outstanding advice with video demo. It is great to see that dentists demonstrate brushing .
    My kids do bit rush while doing brushing (Specially in morning as they need to catch school bus)
    For this reason, i made schedule at night for main brushing and morning can be minor one.
    According to me, brushing technique and proper brush selections also important.

    Warm Regards,

  12. When brushing your gums, if they start to bleed, what is happening and why? Even though when I do this, I very gently brush, they will still bleed a little. Can this be prevented?

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