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the Australian Dental Association
Written by the Australian Dental Association, Apr 14, 2022
Fact Checked
Brushing your teeth every day is not done just to keep your breathe fresh and mouth feeling clean. It is an important part of keeping your teeth, mouth and whole body healthy. The Australian Dental Association recommends brushing two times per day, for 2 minutes each time.

Plaque is a sticky layer of bacteria that forms on the surface of the teeth every day. It can make the teeth ‘feel fuzzy’ when they have not been brushed. Brushing removes the buildup of plaque and bacteria. Tooth brushing helps to keep the teeth and gum healthy. It helps to prevent gum disease and tooth decay.

Bacteria also builds up on the surface of the tongue.


Read Should I clean my tongue?

Tooth brushing basics

It is important to have the right tools to care for your teeth. You will need a toothbrush with soft bristles and fluoride toothpaste.

Using a fluoride toothpaste is the best choice for both children and adults to protect against tooth decay. Squeeze a 'pea-sized' amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush for older children and adults. Place only a smear of toothpaste on the bristles for infants and young children.
 

An example of a 'pea-sized' amount of toothpaste. Getty Images.

 

Toothbrushing should be done twice per day. It should be done in the morning and again at night for two minutes each time. Brushing your teeth at night should be the last thing you do before bed, with no food or drink after brushing.
Brushing for two minutes means brushing the teeth in each corner of the mouth for approximately 30 seconds. Each corner of the mouth is called a quadrant. 

Research has shown that on average, people remove only 27% of dental plaque from the teeth with 1 minute of brushing. In 2 minutes, only 42% of dental plaque has been removed. Therefore it is important to use a good technique when brushing your teeth to make sure that you reach and clean all tooth surfaces. Following the same steps each time you brush can help you to make sure all surfaces of the teeth that can be reached by your toothbrushed are cleaned every time you brush.

Do not use too much pressure when brushing. This may cause damage to the teeth and cause your toothbrush bristles to become worn quicker. Toothbrush bristles that have spread apart or are worn can stop you from cleaning your teeth well. One way to tell if you are applying too much pressure when brushing is if the toothbrush bristles have spread out to sit outside the plastic base of the toothbrush head in less than 3 months. Some electric toothbrushes have a built-in pressure-sensor that will tell you when you are using too much pressure when brushing.




A new toothbrush (left) and a toothbrush with worn bristles that have spread apart to sit outside the plastic base (right). Getty Images.

How to brush with a manual toothbrush


 

  1. Wet the toothbrush's bristles with a small amount of water.
  2. Squeeze the toothpaste on to the toothbrush bristles. 
  3. Place the toothbrush into your mouth at a 45-degree angle with the bristles sitting half over your teeth and half over your gums. Move the toothbrush gently in small circular or back-forward motions. Move around the mouth to reach all tooth surfaces. Begin by brushing the top right hand side teeth and then moving to brush the top left hand side teeth. Then move on to brush the lower left teeth and finally brushing the lower right hand side teeth. 
  4. Turn the toothbrush as required to reach the outside, inside and top/chewing surfaces of the teeth.
  5. Brush down to the gums to remove the bacteria sitting on the teeth in these areas. 
  6. After brushing, spit out the toothpaste foam but do not rinse your mouth with water. Not rinsing your mouth allows a layer of the fluoride toothpaste to sit on the teeth for longer, increasing protection.

     

How to brush with an electric toothbrush


The technique for using an electric toothbrush is similar to using a manual toothbrush. Read below to see how it is different and tips for brushing with an electric toothbrush. 

There are two main types of electric toothbrushes in Australia:

  • Oscillating-rotating
  • Sonic electric toothbrushes

The brush head of an oscillating-rotating electric toothbrush is small and round. It looks similar to the toothbrush in the picture above. The brush head rotates and vibrates to break up and remove the plaque and bacteria from the surfaces of the teeth.
The sonic electric toothbrush looks similar to a manual toothbrush. It vibrates from side to side.

Many electric toothbrushes have a built-in timer. The toothbrush will let you know once you have reached two minutes of toothbrushing. Some timers will buzz or beep every 30 seconds. This can help you keep track of time and where you are brushing. Brushing the teeth in each corner of the mouth for 30 seconds is a good way to split up your brushing routine. Four corners, each brushed for 30 seconds will equal 2 minutes of brushing.

Some electric toothbrushes have a built-in pressure sensor. This sensor will let you know if you are using too brush pressure when brushing your teeth. The toothbrush may make a noise or a light may flash.


The below steps are based on using an oscillating-rotating electric toothbrush. 

  1. Wet the toothbrush bristles with water and add toothpaste.
  2. Place the toothbrush head into your mouth and turn the toothbrush on. Hold the toothbrush in place and move it slowly to clean one tooth at a time. Follow the surfaces of your teeth. Hold the brush head in place for a few seconds against each tooth before moving on to the next one. 
  3. Begin by brushing the top right hand side teeth and then moving to brush the top left hand side teeth. Then move on to brush the lower left teeth and finally brushing the lower right hand side teeth. 
  4. Turn the toothbrush as required to reach the outside, inside and top/chewing surfaces of the teeth
  5. After brushing, spit out the toothpaste foam but do not rinse your mouth with water. This allows the fluoride paste to sit on the teeth for longer, increasing protection.
"Some ways to keep track of the two-minute period is to use a sand timer, phone timer, play a song or use a toothbrushing phone app. Some powered toothbrushes have built-in timers that can help you to keep track of time when brushing."

Should I use an electric or manual toothbrush?

review of scientific studies showed that there are benefits of using electric toothbrushes compared to manual toothbrushes. The study showed electric toothbrushes removed plaque and gum inflammation more than manual toothbrushes over both short and long periods of time.
A manual toothbrush can brush the teeth well but it is important that it is used well to reach all surfaces of the teeth.

Your dentist may recommend using an electric toothbrush if you have trouble holding and controlling a manual toothbrush, have braces or gum disease.

There are some differences between manual and electric toothbrushes. But, the most important point is that you brush your teeth two times every day. Daily toothbrushing removes bacteria and plaque from the surfaces of the teeth. This helps to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Brushing children's teeth

A baby's teeth can begin to develop tooth decay as soon as they come into the mouth. It is important to clean your baby's teeth from the very beginning and teach your children about brushing. 

Children's teeth should be brushed two times per day. They should be brushed once in the morning and once at night. At night, toothbrushing should be the last thing done before bed and you child should have no foods or drinks after brushing.

Brushing for 2 minutes is recommended. This can be tricky with little kids. If your child only has a few teeth, you can brush for less than 2 minutes. Just try to make sure all teeth have been cleaned. 

Brushing time can be made fun by playing a song or using a phone app that has a timer to keep track of time and can provide positive reinforcement.

Use a toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles. Electric toothbrushes can be used from 3 years of age. Some electric toothbrushes have a 2-minute timer to make brushing for the recommended amount of time easy.

Parents should assist their children with toothbrushing until approximately 8 or 9 years of age when they have better control of their toothbrush. A good reference for this time is when a child starts using a pen at school.

 

Toothpaste

Toothpaste is an important part of toothbrushing. Toothpaste has ingredients that can help to protect our teeth.

Read more about toothpaste ingredients


Below are general recommendations for using toothpaste at different ages. Toothpaste made for older children and adults has more fluoride present.


0 to 18 months of age

Children do not need to use toothpaste when brushing.


18 months to 6 years

Use a 'children's' toothpaste that has fluoride as an ingredient. These toothpastes have less fluoride present than toothpastes for older children and adults. They are also available in flavours liked by children, such as strawberry. 

Only a smear of toothpaste should be placed on the toothbrush. Pushing the paste into the bristles can help keep the toothpaste on the brush. Blobs of paste placed on top of the bristles can come off easily. After brushing, your child should spit out the excess toothpaste but not rinse their mouth with water.


6 years and older

Use a toothpaste that has fluoride as an ingredient. Different toothpastes will have different amounts of fluoride present. The amount of fluoride can vary from 1000 parts per million (ppm) to 1450ppm. 
People with severe tooth decay may be recommended by a dentist to use toothpaste with a higher amount of fluoride. 

Cleaning between the teeth

No matter how well you brush, the toothbrush bristles cannot reach the spaces in between your teeth. Not cleaning these spaces can leave food and bacteria behind that can cause gum disease or increase the risk of tooth decay developing.

Read more about cleaning between the teeth.

Summary

It is important to understand the basics of toothbrushing to be able to care for your teeth and gums. Remember to brush twice a day, brush for 2 minutes each time and to use a fluoride toothpaste. It is also important to clean between your teeth every day.

More information

Brushing factsheet