- Dentists recommend brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time.
- If you have visible plaque or bleeding gums, try an electric toothbrush to improve your technique.
- Make sure to brush your tongue to avoid bad breath, but wait 30 minutes to brush after meals.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
After a lifetime of brushing your teeth every day, your oral hygiene routine may feel like second nature.
However, incorrect brushing can cause several problems for your teeth, tongue, and gums. Since oral health has cascading effects on your overall wellness, it’s important to make sure you’re brushing your teeth properly.
The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. The experts also recommend changing your toothbrush every few months, and flossing once daily to get the hard-to-reach spots.
But beyond the basics, there are a few things you can get wrong about brushing your teeth. Here are some signs that you need to improve your technique.
Your teeth are stained with yellow plaque
The number one sign you’re brushing your teeth wrong would be leftover plaque or food debris on the teeth, Joshua Golden, DDS, told Insider.
If your teeth feel sticky or appear yellow even after brushing, there’s probably some leftover plaque that needs cleaning. Plaque can be easily removed with a thorough brushing, but if left for an extended period of time, it will turn into a hardened bacteria layer known as calculus or tartar.
Golden said the easiest way to ensure you don’t leave any plaque behind is to switch to an electric toothbrush. Make sure to use it for a full two minutes — many electric brushes come with a timer to ensure you get a full cleaning.
Your breath stinks, even after brushing
If your breath is bad enough to make your loved ones recoil, you’re probably not brushing your teeth correctly. And as long as we’re wearing masks, keeping your breath fresh is a favor to yourself as well.
Bad breath occurs as a result of bacteria buildup on the tongue. To fix it, make sure to brush your tongue as well as your teeth, or you could try a tongue scraper designed to combat bad breath. Mouthwash can freshen your breath in a pinch, but it may just mask the real problem.
If your breath becomes a persistent problem despite regular and through brushing, talk to a dentist.
Brushing your teeth makes your gums bleed
Bleeding gums can occur if you’re brushing incorrectly, or as an early sign of gingivitis. Brushing too hard can irritate your gums, making them prone to bleed, according to the Berkeley Clinic.
If bad technique is your problem — evidenced by splayed bristles on your toothbrush — invest in a brush with softer bristles and a smaller head.
Plaque buildup along your gum line can also cause your gums to become inflamed and bleed. Make sure to gently attend to your gum line when brushing. An electric toothbrush can help with this.
You brush your teeth right after eating or drinking
While you might be tempted to brush your teeth right after your morning coffee, it’s best to avoid brushing immediately after consuming acidic foods or drinks.
Brushing your teeth right after an acidic snack can remove the protective enamel over time. Dentists recommend waiting at least 30 minutes to brush after eating, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you want to freshen your breath after eating without risking your enamel, try a breath mint, mouthwash, or brushing your tongue instead.
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