The Science of Toothbrushing

toothbrushingBrief History of the Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Toothbrush designs and tooth brushing techniques has gone a long way. Back in the old days, people have used twigs that have been frayed to be able to clean their teeth. The roughness of the frayed twigs removes the thickening of food debris on the tooth surface. Humans have started using toothbrushes way before toothpaste has been invented. Instinct has played a big role in the invention of toothbrushes. Grooming is inherent in humans because grooming is part of self-preservation. It is self-preservation that has brought humans to invent and seek better ways to clean themselves.

From animal hairs to the modern synthetic materials with which it is made, the toothbrush has truly evolved. The first tooth brushes were flat and straight. These days, toothbrushes vary from bristles that come in different shapes and contours, to angled heads and handles. The sizes of the head have also been modified for extra efficiency. The shape of the head has also been altered multiple times, from square tips, to angular and narrower ones; even to a circular tip for motorized type of toothbrushes. Toothbrush sets even come in cartoon themes and numerous designs to make brushing, not just interesting, but fun, as well.

The toothpaste has also been the focus of advancement and ingenuity. From old-fashioned sea salt on frayed twigs to abrasive powders like baking soda and regular mint-flavored fluoride pastes and gels, to anti-plaque buildup, fresh breath maintenance, cavity protection, tartar control, specially-formulated whitening and desensitizing toothpastes. Indeed, the science of tooth brushing has gone a long way.

Why is Proper Tooth Brushing Technique So Important?
Knowing and executing the proper brushing technique plays a big role in keeping the teeth and gums healthy. Improper brushing technique beats the purpose of tooth brushing. The common issues that are closely related to improper brushing technique are:

  • Tooth Decay – Plaque buildup and prolonged exposure to the acids in the mouth that come from the sugars and starches in the food that an individual eats, can damage the enamel of the tooth. The enamel is the outer coating of the tooth. Once it starts decaying, the carious lesion goes deeper into the dentin. Carious lesions are brownish to black tooth cavities. The dentin is the softer layer beneath the enamel. It is the deeper protective layer of the tooth pulp. Once the tooth is open, the dentin becomes vulnerable and exposed, and starts to decay, as well. If decay is undetected and untreated, the carious process goes deeper into the pulp. The pulp is the core that contains the nerves and the blood supply of the tooth. Once the pulp gets exposed, infection can set it. Tooth vitality can also be jeopardized once this core has been exposed, and saving the tooth may require some extensive procedures other than regular tooth restoration. Using the correct brushing technique, with the help of flossing, can prevent these kinds of issues.
  • Gingivitis – It is important to put emphasis on how to brush to avoid gingivitis. Gingivitis is the swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums brought by prolonged plaque and tartar buildup. Plaques are the sticky and soft clump that usually gathers along the gum line after a few meals without brushing. Tartars, or calcular deposits, are plaques that have hardened over years of neglect and improper tooth brushing technique. If the gums are continually exposed to plaque and tartar, it becomes inflamed due to the bacteria that proliferate in these deposits. This is when the gums would start swelling, and ultimately, bleeds. Regular and proper brushing can prevent this.
  • Bad Breath – Some individuals would often wonder why they have foul breath within an hour, or a few hours after brushing. Common bacteria release repulsive odors. It is nature’s way of warning humans that bacteria do more harm than good to the body. If hasty and reckless brushing leaves behind more of the bacteria in the mouth, the faster odor is going to be released. Bacteria stay and proliferate in hard-to-reach areas and crevices of the tooth. More food remnants also mean sustenance for the bacteria. Proper tooth brushing, with the help of flossing and the use of antiseptic mouth rinses, gets rid of the bacteria and food debris in the mouth. Although, it is impossible to eliminate 100% of the bacteria in the mouth, reducing the bacteria population significantly, could keep an individual’s breath staying fresh longer.

How Long Should Tooth Brushing Be?
Dentists recommend that tooth brushing should take at least 2 minutes. Effective tooth brushing may take longer than 2 minutes. Tooth brushing require multiple strokes to effectively reach all places in the mouth, like behind the teeth, crevices on top, the contours between the teeth, the tongue, the labial and buccal part of the teeth, as well as the lingual area. Labial, pertains to the surface of the teeth that touches the inner lips, or that part of the front teeth that shows when individuals smile. Buccal, pertains to the inner cheek area. The common error of improper tooth brushing is to brush just the labial and buccal part of the teeth, and ‘Voila! Tooth brushing is done!’ There is more to executing an effective tooth brushing technique.

The Steps in Proper and Effective Tooth Brushing:

  1. Brush the labial and buccal area of the teeth with circular stokes to remove the bulk of the plaque. Applying circular strokes across the labial and buccal part of the upper and lower teeth ensures that plaque is removed, not just across the majority of the tooth, but the gum lines, as well. The gum lines are semi-circular, or scallop in shape. The circular movements are ideal strokes that allow the bristles of the toothbrush to sweep through those gum lines, where plaques are commonly attached.
  2. Next, move the toothbrush downward along the buccal surface of the farthest molar of the upper teeth; working your way towards the center, through to the farthest molar on the opposite side. The downward, vertical movement of the bristles of the toothbrush should begin from the gum line to the tip of the teeth. This downward stroke cleans the contours of the mesial third of the teeth. The mesial third is one third of the tooth surface after creating an invisible vertical line dividing the tooth crown into three equal parts. Since carious lesions often start along the contacting parts of the teeth, it is important that the mesial thirds of all the teeth is cleaned by brushing downward, vertically, starting from one side to the other, like left to right, to eliminate having to brush the tooth one by one.
  3. The lower teeth, then, need to be brushed upward, vertically from the gum line for the same reasons, as stated above. This is also done starting from the farthest molar of one side to the farthest molar of the opposite side, so that every tooth has been brushed clean.
  4. After the labial and the buccal surface, the occlusal part is next on the list. The occlusal surface is the part of the teeth that chews the food. It is the part that comes in contact to grind the food. The teeth that have the occlusal surface are the posterior teeth; the teeth that do not show when people smile. Move the bristles of the toothbrush along the occlusal surface of the back teeth in a back and forth motion. Applying 6 to 8 back and forth strokes will allow the bristles to sweep through the fissures where bacteria can easily find refuge. The fissures are normal crevices on the occlusal surface of the posterior teeth. The upper and lower posterior teeth should all be given attention.
  5. The lingual surface of the teeth should be given deliberate focus, as well. The lingual surface is the part of the teeth that the tongue touches as it is at rest, when the mouth is closed. Lingual pertains to the tongue. Tartar often accumulates at the lingual surface of the molars, along the gum line, because the tongue often gets in the way of brushing. The tongue, also, usually covers that surface of the tooth that people would not remember that it is there at all. Lifting the tongue up should do the trick. Back and forth brushing should be able to remove the plaque buildup near the gum line of the lingual surface of the posterior teeth. At this point, all these terms have been explained. The lingual surface of the front teeth should be brushed with equal share of focus, as well, especially the lower teeth. Calcular deposits, or tartar, also commonly become thickened through time in these areas due to neglect, simply because people do not see this part as they smile at the mirror. Accordingly, the upper, lingual surface is likely to develop caries, as well, because of this. Applying upward and outward strokes on the lingual surface of lower front teeth, and a downward and outward stroke on the upper, should do the trick.
  6. Lastly, remember to brush the tongue. Most toothbrushes come with tongue massager, or rubber ridges on the back side of the bristles. Rub the tongue with the rubber massager on the back side of the toothbrush to remove the film of food remnants and bacteria on the surface. The tongue has a rough surface that could also be a good breeding ground for bacteria. Cleaning the tongue regularly is a good oral practice, because bacteria growing along the rough surface also contribute to bad breath.

Being aware of all the tooth surfaces enables an individual to conscientiously brush all areas of the mouth. Proper and careful tooth brushing, with the help of flossing and mouth rinsing, keeps teeth and gums healthy and strong, and it keeps breath fresh longer for an attractive and confident smile, all day long. Brush regularly and diligently.