I hate to be the bearer of bad news (it’s kind of my thing, I guess), but turns out the one thing you thought you had down pat in this lifetime, you, uh, maybe don’t? I’m talking a life skill so basic, it almost defies explanation (or so you thought) — I’m talking brushing your teeth.
Here’s the thing about it… we’ve all screwed it up on occasion. Maybe you don’t really brush the recommended two times a day, every day. Or you’ve become a little lax about flossing; who among us hasn’t? But once you’re past the tooth fairy stage, you really only have one set of teeth and thus one attempt at keeping them around. It’s important to get this one hygiene habit squared away. Turns out, it’s harder than we thought.
Here, all the things you’ve been doing wrong when it comes to keeping those teeth of yours clean.
1. You’re Brushing in the Wrong Direction
According to Dr. Timothy Chase, cosmetic dentist and co-founder of SmilesNY, you’re supposed to be brushing in small circles, not up and down, and certainly not back and forth. A back-and-forth movement in particular can result in gum inflammation and eventually gum recession, says Dr. Chase. “Cross brushing in a back and forth fast, repetitive motion can lead to abrasion or gum recession,” he says. And that’s no good.
2. You’re Using Too Abrasive of a Toothpaste
Both Amy Hazlewood, registered dental hygienist and member of the Crest + Oral-B Smile Council, and Dr. Chase agree — using too abrasive of a toothpaste is a no-go. Talk to your dentist about your preferred toothpaste, but in general, your safest bet is to use a regular toothpaste with fluoride, especially if you have sensitive teeth. As for whitening? Dr. Chase recommends saving that for specific whitening products or procedures, and keeping it out of your everyday paste. Hi Smile makes a teeth whitening kit that’s favored by many a celeb — hey Kylie and Kendall — and regular people, too.
3. You’re Brushing Too Soon After Eating or (Sorry) Vomiting
“You must wait at least a half hour for the saliva in your mouth to remineralize the teeth,” warns Dr. Chase. “If you brush too soon you can actually brush away enamel.” This is particularly true after eating super acidic foods (like tomatoes or citrus fruits), and after vomiting (thanks to the acid in your stomach). This is gross but important to think about if you're sick, or maybe dealing with a difficult pregnancy. “It is unwise to brush when the pH of the mouth is very low, AKA acidic,” agrees Hazlewood. “If the surfaces, especially the roots, are microscopically softer, it can lead to tooth damage. This is why brushing [immediately] after vomiting isn't good."
4. You’re Using Too Much Force
You might think using a ton of pressure ensures your mouth is super clean, but you could be hurting your enamel. “Light pressure should be used,” says Dr. Chase. “I recommend using a quality electric toothbrush to remove the need to use much force at all, let the brush do the work.” We love an Oral-B Genius 8000 ($275, Amazon) which has an automatic sensor to keep you from going too hard, or Instagram’s favorite, the Quip ($40, getquip.com) at a lower price point.
5. You’re Using Too Big of a Toothbrush
Toothbrushes come in different sizes for a reason. Our mouths are different sizes. “Too large of brush head keeps you from conforming to the shape of the arch in your mouth, and would block the bristles from reaching the teeth,” warns Hazlewood. She recommends choosing a brush head that is able to clean two of your teeth at a time when it comes to a manual brush, or using a compact brush head on an electric toothbrush. (She likes the Oral-B Genius 8000, too: “It resembles a dental polisher, which fits one tooth at a time exceptionally well.”)