What's the best way to brush teeth? Even dentists and dental associations don't agree

August 8, 2014, University College London

Advice on how we should brush our teeth from dental associations and toothpaste companies is 'unacceptably inconsistent', finds new UCL (University College London) research.

The study, published in the British Dental Journal, looked at the brushing advice given by dental associations across ten countries, toothpaste and toothbrush companies and in dental textbooks. They found a wide range of recommendations on what brushing method to use, how often to brush and for how long.

The researchers found no clear consensus between the various sources, and a 'worrying' lack of agreement between advice from dental associations compared with dental textbooks.

"The public needs to have sound information on the best method to brush their ," says Aubrey Sheiham, Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health), senior author of the study. "If people hear one thing from a dental association, another from a company and something else from their dentist, no wonder they are confused about how to brush. In this study we found an unacceptably inconsistent array of advice from different sources.

"Dental associations need to be consistent about what method to recommend, based on how effective the method is. Most worryingly, the methods recommended by dental associations are not the same as the best ones mentioned in dental textbooks. There is no evidence to suggest that complicated techniques are any better than a simple gentle scrub."

The most commonly-recommended technique involves gently jiggling the brush back and forth in small motions, with the intention of shaking loose any food particles, plaque and bacteria. However, no large-scale studies have ever shown this method to be any more effective than basic scrubbing.

"Brush gently with a simple horizontal scrubbing motion, with the brush at a forty-five degree angle to get to the dental plaque," Professor Sheiham advises. "To avoid brushing too hard, hold the brush with a pencil grip rather than a fist. This simple method is perfectly effective at keeping your gums healthy.

"There is little point in brushing after eating sweets or sugary drinks to prevent tooth decay. It takes bacteria from food about two minutes to start producing acid, so if you brush your teeth a few minutes after eating sugary foods, the acid will have damaged the enamel."

The conflicting messages given by different organisations highlight the need for research into how effective different brushing methods are. At present, the expert advice in the guidelines, 'The scientific basis of dental health education', recommend a simple scrubbing technique as it is easy to learn and there is no evidence to justify a more complicated method.

"The wide range of recommendations we found is likely due to the lack of strong evidence suggesting that one method is conclusively better than another," says lead author Dr John Wainwright, who carried out the study at UCL and is now a practising dentist. "I advise my patients to focus their brushing on areas where plaque is most likely to collect – the biting surfaces and where the teeth and gums meet – and to use a gentle scrubbing motion. All too frequently I am asked why the method I am describing differs from how previous dentists have taught them in the past.

"What I feel we need is better research into what the easiest to learn, most effective and safest way to brush is. The current situation where not just individual dentists, but different dental organisations worldwide are all issuing different brushing guidelines isn't just confusing – it's undermining faith and trust in the profession as a whole. For something most people do twice a day, you would expect dentists to send a clearer, more unified message to their patients on how to brush their teeth."

Explore further: Early dental care can help keep kids smiling for years to come

Related Stories

Early dental care can help keep kids smiling for years to come

February 10, 2013
(HealthDay)—Every baby has a beautiful smile, and to keep it that way, parents should teach good dental habits at an early age, experts say.

Dentist appointment "do's and don'ts" for best results

May 19, 2014
Many dread a trip to the dentist, but there are important things you need to do, and not do, beforehand to have a successful visit. Communicating with your dentist before the visit is often critical.

Dentists' group expands recommended use of fluoride toothpaste for kids

February 11, 2014
(HealthDay)—Children should begin using toothpaste with fluoride as soon as they get their first tooth, according to updated American Dental Association (ADA) guidelines.

Most people brush their teeth in the wrong way

May 15, 2012
Almost all Swedes brush their teeth, yet only one in ten does it in a way that effectively prevents tooth decay. Now researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, are eager to teach Swedes how to brush ...

From one generation to the next, dental care changes

May 18, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Stephanie Crowe, a mother of three from Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., still remembers dreading a visit to the dentist as a young girl. It was often a painful experience, and her family's dentist showed little empathy ...

Recommended for you

Much-needed new antibiotic shows great promise for treating gum disease

October 23, 2018
A new antibiotic being developed at the University of Virginia School of Medicine appears ideal for battling periodontal disease, the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, according to dental researchers at Virginia Commonwealth ...

Researchers identify immune culprits linked to inflammation and bone loss in gum disease

October 17, 2018
An unhealthy population of microbes in the mouth triggers specialized immune cells that inflame and destroy tissues, leading to the type of bone loss associated with a severe form of gum disease, according to a new study ...

Periodontal disease bacteria may kick-start Alzheimer's

October 4, 2018
Long-term exposure to periodontal disease bacteria causes inflammation and degeneration of brain neurons in mice that is similar to the effects of Alzheimer's disease in humans, according to a new study from researchers at ...

Dental research shows that smoking weakens immune systems

September 26, 2018
As if lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease weren't enough, there's more bad news for cigarette smokers.

Regrowing dental tissue with stem cells from baby teeth

September 11, 2018
Sometimes kids trip and fall, and their teeth take the hit. Nearly half of children suffer some injury to a tooth during childhood. When that trauma affects an immature permanent tooth, it can hinder blood supply and root ...

The starch risk to teeth

August 7, 2018
An examination of research on oral health, commissioned by the World Health Organisation, has indicated that for oral health we should stick to whole grain carbohydrates and avoid processed ones, especially if sweet.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.