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Dental Health
Oral Health

Mixed Messages About How to Brush Teeth

Advice on how we should brush our teeth from dental associations and toothpaste companies worldwide is “unacceptably inconsistent”, according to research done at the University College London and published in August 2014 in the British Dental Journal.

The study looked at the brushing advice given by dental associations across ten countries, toothpaste and toothbrush companies, and in dental textbooks. The team 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 among the various sources, and a “worrying” lack of agreement between advice from dental associations compared with dental textbooks.

A release from the college quotes senior author Aubrey Sheiham, Emeritus Professor of Dental Public Health, as saying, “The public needs to have sound information on the best method to brush their teeth. 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.”

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 organizations 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.

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