How to Brush and Floss Properly
Last updated November 2023
You’ll reduce the length of time you have to spend in a dentist’s chair—and drastically reduce the procedures your teeth need—by regularly performing proper routine dental care.
What Should You Do Every Day?
Thoroughly brushing at least twice per day and regular flossing help prevent tooth decay, and may help prevent periodontal disease. Also, eat a balanced diet and don’t use tobacco products.
How Should You Brush?
It takes two or three minutes to brush properly. Begin by placing your brush on the outer side of your teeth, with the bristles angled toward the gum line. Move the brush back and forth using very short strokes, with the bristles rubbing against both teeth and gum. This massages the gum and cleans both the teeth and the areas where gums meet teeth. Extend brushing below the gum line. When you finish brushing the outer sides of your teeth this way, use the same technique on the inner sides (hold your brush vertically to reach the inside of the front teeth). Finally, brush the chewing surfaces.
How Should You Floss?
Here is the American Dental Association’s description of good flossing technique:
- Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the rest of it around the same finger of the opposite hand. This finger can take up the floss as it becomes dirty. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
- Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion. Never snap the floss into the gums.
- When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a “C” shape against one tooth. Gently slide it into the space between the gum and the tooth.
- Hold the floss tightly against the tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum with up-and-down motions.
- Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth.
- Don’t forget the back side of your last tooth.
What Type of Toothbrush Should You Use?
Use a toothbrush with soft nylon bristles and a head small enough to easily reach all areas. Used correctly, electric toothbrushes are extremely effective.
What Type of Toothpaste Should You Use?
Be sure to use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Though others may be effective, choose one that carries this American Dental Association (ADA) endorsement: “Shown to be an effective decay-preventive dentifrice that can be of significant value when used as directed in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care.”
Should You Use a Fluoride Mouthwash?
A fluoride mouthwash is especially helpful for cavity-prone children, and may have value for adults as well. However, if you drink your community’s drinking water and it is fluoridated (as are public water supplies in most areas), and you use fluoride toothpaste, a fluoride mouthwash may not be necessary.
Remember that children should not use a fluoride mouthwash until they are old enough not to swallow it.
What About Diet?
Brushing, flossing, and seeing a dentist regularly won’t help much if you’re not providing your teeth and gums—and the rest of your body—proper nutrition. Also, avoid foods that contain high amounts of sugar.