It’s been ingrained in your mind since you were old enough to wield a toothbrush: spend two minutes brushing your teeth three times a day. You still might even hum a familiar tune every time you step in front of the sink or go through the exact same “up and down, round and round” motions you did at age five.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 80 percent of people develop at least one cavity by age 34, so something’s not quite adding up. While genetics plays a factor in your likelihood to experience tooth decay, it’s not the only variable. To uncover some of the most common oral hygiene mistakes that may be contributing to the problem, we asked dentists to weigh in.
Problem #1: Only brushing in the morning
Many are naturally compelled to brush in the morning in order to curb bad breath, but it’s all too easy to neglect nighttime brushing as we climb into bed exhausted.
“By the end of your day, you have the most amount of food debris stuck on and in between your teeth. Additionally, when you sleep, your mouth is the least active for saliva production, which functions to help bathe the teeth clean," explains celebrity dentist Dr. Jon Marashi. "As a result, the bacteria in your mouth now have a festive food supply in which they consume. The by-product is an acid secretion that leads to tooth decay. Brushing your teeth at night is a non-negotiable.”
Problem #2: Brushing your teeth too hard
There’s a misconception that says the harder we scrub, the better we clean. This is false.
“Aggressive scrubbing over time can cause enamel abrasion and gum recession, ultimately leading to sensitivity issues and tooth structure loss,” warns New York City-based dentist, Dr. Inna Chern. “Ideally, you should use a soft-headed toothbrush, or an American Dental Association (ADA)-approved electric brush, which comes standard with soft heads.”
Signs that you’re scrubbing too hard include a frazzled brush head in as little as one to two months, increased sensitivity, and a receding gum line. If you can’t break the habit, Dr. Chern recommends using an electric brush with a pressure indicator.
Problem #3: Not spending enough time brushing
Even if you’ve committed to brushing your teeth throughout the day, the effort is for naught if you aren’t allocating enough time to the task. Dr. Marashi says, “If you don’t spend adequate time brushing your teeth, it is likely that the tartar and biofilms will not have a proper removal from the tooth surface, leading to plaque deposits, gum inflammation, bad breath and even cavities.”
Also, he adds, brushing in a hurry often translates to missing teeth in the back, which is where many cavities form. He suggests using a sonic toothbrush with a built-in timer, or you can set a timer on your phone for two minutes.
Problem #4: Replacing flossing with mouth wash
“Although mouthwash is a great add-on for any oral hygiene regimen, it does not take the place of the mechanical cleaning of those hard-to-reach spots in between and around the teeth,” notes Chern. “After we eat, food debris gets broken down in the mouth into a compound called material alba. We have an eight to 12-hour window to remove the debris before it hardens into plaque and tartar, which require professional cleaning by your healthcare provider.”
Mouthwash disinfects the oral cavity, but it doesn’t effectively remove oral debris. Take the extra few minutes to floss with either traditional floss or a water flosser. In addition to getting a better clean, Chern says that people who floss see a marked improvement in gum health between dental visits.