Poor dental hygiene has been linked to a range of health problems, including life-threatening heart disease. But how can you tell if you’re routine brushing technique is in line with what dental experts recommend?
A surprising new study in the British Medical Journal finds advice on how to brush your teeth from dental associations and toothpaste companies is "unacceptably inconsistent, " at best, and may giving the wrong recommendations to many people. The findings, by University College London researchers, are based on standard brushing advice given by dental associations across ten countries, by toothpaste and toothbrush companies, and in dental textbooks.
They found wide variations on what brushing method to use, how often to brush, and for how long. The most commonly-recommended technique involves gently jiggling the brush back and forth in small motions, to shake loose any food particles, plaque, and bacteria. But no large-scale studies have ever shown this method to be any more effective than basic scrubbing, the researchers found.
"The public needs to have sound information on the best method to brush their teeth," said researcher Aubrey Sheiham. "If people hear one thing from a dental association, another from a toothbrush 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."
So what's the best way to brush?
"Brush gently with a simple horizontal scrubbing motion, with the brush at a forty-five degree angle to get to the dental plaque," Sheiham advised. "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.
He added that 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," he noted, "so if you brush your teeth a few minutes after eating sugary foods, the acid will have damaged the enamel."
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