How to Clean Your Teeth Correctly

If only cleaning your teeth was a more exciting way to spend time we would not have to write this article. It is, however, one of those activities that we have to do, rather than like to do (similar to filling a car with petrol), and where time also plays funny tricks on us. Every twenty seconds spent cleaning your teeth feels like at least one minute. And you need to spend a good three minutes cleaning them once, but preferably twice, every day.


Most of us clean our teeth before or just after breakfast and/or just before bedtime. And most of us are not at our brightest at either of these times. So it is all too easy to start cleaning your teeth, then letting the mind wander over your plans for the day, or perhaps mulling over what actually happened. Unfortunately, at the end of scrubbing away for about a minute, you haven’t a clue whether you have cleaned your entire mouth or just a few teeth. It may sound pretentious, but teeth cleaning requires some concentration. We need a mechanism that allows us to clean our teeth properly and purposefully each time.


The trick of good teeth cleaning is to adopt a routine that covers every surface of every single tooth. Both parts of this are important – the conscious cleaning of each surface of each tooth and the routine that enables you to do this on some form of autopilot. Stick to a settled route around the mouth. If you are right-handed you may want to start on the back molar on the upper left side. First brush the surface next to the cheek, then the biting surface and then the surface on the inside. Working towards the centre, repeat this with each tooth until you reach the middle. Then go through the same routine with the bottom left teeth. Repeat these actions for the teeth on the right-hand side.


The actual route is up to you. You may prefer to clean all the top teeth first, then the bottom ones, or the inside of all the top teeth and then their outside surfaces. It does not matter providing the routine enables you to clean all the teeth, on all the reachable surfaces, all the time, every time.


The intention is to remove all the plaque. Plaque is a complex mixture. It is formed by a species of bacterium, the streptococcus. In other circumstances this can give us the classic sore throat. Here it sticks to the outer surfaces of teeth and forms a slightly sticky web that attracts other substances, salivary proteins and other bacteria. Sadly for us this process does not take long. About 6 hours after cleaning your teeth, they will be covered with plaque again, even if you have not eaten.


The actual process of cleaning doesn’t need a great deal of toothpaste, certainly not as much as the tooth­paste advertisements would have you believe. The classic description is ‘pea-sized’, which is the maximum of fluoride toothpaste to be used by a child under the age of 7. (N.B. Only use children’s toothpaste for children under 7 years of age, because it contains only half the optimum level of fluoride additive.) While on this topic it is worth repeating that the widespread use of toothpastes with added fluoride appear to have reduced tooth decay very substantially. They have done this by strengthening the enamel layer of the tooth, rather like adding super-toughened Chobham armour to a battle-tank. There are also toothpastes that promise to act against plaque and calculus deposits, but with less proven effects. However, a new breed of toothpastes with more claims to being effective are now being devel­oped.


When cleaning teeth, the toothbrush should be used so that its head is held at a 45 degree angle to the tooth, not the full face of the bristles. This is especially import­ant when cleaning at the junction of the tooth and gum, and where the tooth meets the one next to it, because it allows the brush to reach the plaque deposits that occur there.


You should brush in small circular scrubbing move­ments. Take care not to damage your gums or the teeth next to the gums by excessively strenuous brushing. Electric toothbrushes are just held against the tooth surfaces, and moved slowly along. Done properly you should brush away all the plaque.


But how do you know if you have removed the plaque totally? After all, it is not highly visible, unless it has been allowed to collect for a few days. The answer lies in tablets called ‘disclosing tablets’ that you buy from the chemist. (As these are only vegetable dyes, it might be cheaper to make your own ‘disclosing solution’ from a generic vegetable dye.) They are either a vivid ‘raspberry lolly’ red or a violent blue. The dye sticks to plaque, but not to a clean tooth. You avoid staining your lips by smearing them with Vaseline before using the tablets; in any event the stain wears off quickly.


Clean your teeth in your normal absent-minded manner, then chew a disclosing tablet for a full minute, and swoosh it around the mouth with your saliva. The amount of color remaining on your teeth (the plaque) will almost certainly come as a shock. You should then brush the areas of the teeth where the plaque remains. Try to see the inside surfaces of the teeth: using a bright light helps considerably. You should use the disclosing tablets regularly, either before or after the start of your cleaning, until it is clear that your new routine is remov­ing the plaque. You will find that the plaque is most difficult to remove from between the teeth where they meet each other, and where the teeth and gums meet, especially if calculus is present.


Let us suppose that you have all thirty-two teeth. With three sides to clean on each tooth this means that even if you spend as little as 1 second per side it would take you Wi minutes to clean them all. But proper removal of plaque will take longer than this, so even when practice has made perfect you are probably look­ing at a minimum of 3 minutes basic cleaning time.

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