girl brushing teeth

Tooth Brushing: Back to Basics


It has come to my attention that many patients learn to brush their teeth from watching TV commercials. They put lots of toothpaste on their toothbrush, then brush side to side, for the length of the commercial.

Get the Plaque

So what are you really trying to accomplish when you brush? You’re trying to knock plaque off teeth. The most important area to clean is right at the gum line, along the side of the tooth, into the gum. If plaque is trapped there, it will change the organisms (mostly bacteria) that are living in there, and you can become more prone to inflammation (red, swollen gums) and even bone loss.   These conditions are called gingivitis (inflamed gum) and periodontal disease (bone loss).

How to Brush

The recommended brushing method is known as the Bass technique. With the bristles aimed at a 45 degree angle into the sulcus (the area where the tooth and gum meet), make circular brushing motions with your soft bristle tooth brush. Brush all the teeth, and the inside part of the teeth as well. This applies to mechanical tooth brushes rather than electric models. Also note that there are other variations of this technique. I think all techniques work as long as you actually use the toothbrush and stay with the brushing long enough to get a good portion of the plaque off the teeth before it calcifies (which is tartar, also known as calculus, which must be scraped off).


How much toothpaste should you use? From TV ads, it looks like you totally cover the brush. In fact, you only need an amount about the size of a pea. Most of the benefit of brushing comes from the bristles, not the toothpaste.