When we do something every day, it can be easy to stop thinking about how we do it. But for some things, like our daily dental care, how we do it is as important as doing it consistently.

In this post, we’ll go over proper brushing and flossing technique, compare tooth cleaning products and explain what else to keep in mind in order to keep your teeth strong and healthy.

The proper order for brushing, flossing and rinsing

Step 1. Floss thoroughly

While you might not always like doing it, flossing your teeth really does help make sure you’re keeping your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. Flossing is how you remove plaque and debris from areas that a toothbrush can’t reach – which is also why you should floss before you brush.

You generally only need to floss once per day, but you can floss twice per day if you do it very gently. If it hurts to floss, it may mean that you’re flossing too roughly. To floss properly:

  • Wrap an 18-inch piece of floss around each of your middle fingers until you have one or two inches left in the center to floss with.
  • Hold each end of that middle section with your thumbs and index fingers so that it’s taut.
  • Gently work the floss between your teeth, and for each tooth, pull it so it curves around the sides. Slide it up and down a few times on each tooth before moving on to the next area, making sure to get beneath the gum line.
  • Use a new section of floss for each tooth.

If you’re not sure if you’re flossing properly, just ask your dental hygienist for a refresher at your next checkup.

Types of dental floss

You have a few options when it comes to floss. The two main types of floss are nylon and single-filament. Both will get the job done, but single-filament floss is a little more expensive because it’s stronger and easier to get between teeth.

In addition to traditional floss, there are flossing alternatives that can be used to clean between your teeth. But standard string floss is the most effective when used properly.

No matter the type of floss you choose, always look for products with the Seal of Acceptance from the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA’s Seal means that the product has been proven to be safe and effective.

Flossing alternatives include:

  • Dental picks – Disposable dental picks often look like toothpicks with a small length of floss at one end. Their design can make them easier to move around in your mouth than regular floss.
  • Interdental brushes – These brushes take the form of bristles mounted around a piece of plastic or wire. They can be used to brush in between your teeth, and are especially useful if you have an orthodontic device in your mouth (such as a permanent retainer) that interferes with flossing.
  • Water flossers – As the name implies, a water flosser cleans out the spaces between teeth using a small stream of water.

Step 2. Brush your teeth with a dentist-recommended toothbrush

You’ve probably heard the general rule about how often you should brush your teeth: two times a day. This is part of the ADA’s official recommendations, along with using fluoride toothpaste. Of course, you can brush more often, such as after meals. But brushing at least twice a day is just one part of good brushing.

How long should you brush your teeth?

It’s recommended that you brush your teeth for around 2 minutes twice a day.

How should you brush your teeth?

One of the most important parts of tooth brushing technique is pressure. It doesn’t actually take a lot of force to get plaque off of teeth. But brushing too hard can wear on the protective enamel and irritate your gums. To get a feel for how hard you should brush, try brushing your teeth while holding your toothbrush with only your thumb and index finger.

The motions of your toothbrush also matter. For the front and back surfaces of your teeth, brushing with your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gumline using small vertical strokes is gentlest on your gums and enamel. Small, circular motions are also good. Avoid brushing directly side to side, make sure to brush every surface and don’t forget your tongue.

What kind of bristles should your toothbrush have?

The ADA recommends using toothbrushes with soft bristles. They also recommend changing your toothbrush every three months, when the bristles fray or after you’ve been sick.

Electric toothbrushes versus manual toothbrushes

You can clean your teeth well with both regular toothbrushes and electric ones. Many electric toothbrushes use soft bristles, circular motions and regulate how hard you press. This means that you don’t have to focus as much on how you brush with an electric toothbrush, but you still have to be thorough and remember to keep it charged. It’s a tradeoff that you can make based on your preferences or your dentist’s recommendation.

Step 3. Rinse (but not right away)

Many of us are used to rinsing out our mouths as soon as we’re done brushing. However, it’s actually best to avoid rinsing your mouth right away, even with mouthwash. This is because if you’re using a fluoride toothpaste like the ADA recommends, rinsing your mouth can rinse off the layer of fluoride that builds up on your teeth while you brush.

Leaving your mouth unrinsed for 10-20 minutes after you brush means getting the full protective benefits that fluoride can provide. But you can still spit out any extra toothpaste. And if you use mouthwash, it’s best to use it after you’ve brushed and waited – or better yet, at a different time entirely. Using mouthwash before you brush can make your teeth more sensitive to brushing.

Bonus step: Get a dental checkup if you’re due

With the right equipment and technique, you can do a really good job of keeping your teeth clean. But no matter how well you clean your teeth, regular dental checkups are still just as important as brushing and flossing. Not only are they opportunities for a dentist to catch signs of dental issues early – they’re also chances for you to improve your technique.

After examining your teeth, a dentist can tell you if you may be missing some spots, if you should be brushing more gently, whether certain brush types or flossing tools are right for you, and more. Any questions you have about caring for your teeth, they can answer.