Be completely honest, how long do you take to brush your teeth? The national average is for an individual to spend only 50 seconds cleaning their pearly whites. Believe it or not, dental professionals recommend at least two and a half minutes. In the USA this is even longer, American dental care workers recommend anything up to five minutes!
So does it really matter? Is there any great benefit of spending longer than a minute?
Well from a dental hygienist’s perspective, the answer is yes.
I have been a dental hygienist for 27 years and have seen an estimated average of 15 mouths a day over this time, so forgive me for playing the ‘expert card’ but I think I now have a reasonable perspective of how well we are doing in terms of oral hygiene as a nation.
There is more to tooth brushing than distributing minty flavour into all corners of the mouth, despite what TV adverts lead us to believe. The presence of antibacterial agents and minty freshness really don’t cut the mustard. It’s the physical action of the toothbrush that makes all the difference.
There is more to tooth brushing than distributing minty flavour into all corners of the mouth, despite what TV adverts lead us to believe.
Plaque bacteria are phenomenally sticky and settle in all the little niches of the mouth, particularly under the gum line. Increased speed and vigour or scrubbing doesn’t improve the efficiency of plaque removal at all, but can cause tooth wear and gum recession that can give rise to sensitivity.
There is a definite knack to getting the right technique for tooth brushing. For example electric toothbrushes should not be used with the same technique as a regular toothbrush, if used correctly. It is no coincidence that most electric toothbrushes bleep after two minutes of use, as numerous studies show this is how long it takes to remove all the plaque, even with an electric brush. I encourage patients to bring their toothbrush to their appointments so I can help the individual to get the best out of their particular brush, as each one is technique sensitive.
There is a definite knack to getting the right technique for tooth brushing.
Some years ago, I was invited into a large comprehensive school to talk to students about oral health. I really enjoyed the visit because the students were really keen to engage in conversations about personal hygiene and what they found ‘disgusting.’ There is nothing more brutally honest than a teenager with an audience of his or her peers. I would use this openness to discuss frankly how ‘dirty’ the human mouth is and why we would all benefit from brushing for a bit longer.
They enjoyed me recalling tales from A&E doctors who were more concerned about the infections caused by human bites than dog or cat bites. They laughed at my own recollections of me as a child being told off for having dirty fingernails but my mum thinking nothing of licking a handkerchief and then wiping my face with it! They were shocked and moved to hear that patients on respirators sometimes die as a result of oral bacteria breeding in the tubes, and started to understand why my colleagues and I are so passionate about clean teeth.
Let’s get this in perspective. We ladies (and some men) can spend hours getting ready to go out and generally just keeping ourselves looking good. We devote time to skincare regimes, nail filing, buffering and polishing, and fake tan application, not to mention the ritualistic make-up application and hair preening. And yet, only 50 seconds to brush our teeth; the very basic cleansing of some of the most pathogenic bacteria found on any part of our bodies.
Last month, I listened to a friend regale how she applies a fake tan. I have never done this, so was mildly curious about the process. Total time of her life wasted: one and a half hours! That included, showering, shaving, exfoliating, moisturising and then finally applying the tanning mousse. I seriously thought you could just rub it all over like sun tan lotion and wait. I think I will just stay a pasty English white; one and a half hours at my age is too valuable to sacrifice. I struggle to understand why we prioritise things like fake tans, eyebrow plucking and not tooth brushing or flossing.
As a nation, I think the Americans are being excessive with their five minutes of tooth brushing; a good two to three minutes is perfectly adequate. For me, during National Smile Month and beyond, I will be encouraging people to devote just a little more time to tooth brushing.