You don’t brush for long enough.
Most people don’t spend nearly enough time brushing their teeth, notes prosthodontist Michael Lenchner. Most dentists recommend brushing for two or three minutes, but few people ever make it to that. Next time, check your watch see how long your routine takes. Chances are, whether you’re rushing to get to work or ready to collapse into bed, you’re only brushing for a minute or so. To go the distance, bring an egg timer into the bathroom and set it for two or three minutes before you get started, or use an electric toothbrush (like Sonicare) with a two-minute timer.
Your technique needs a major makeover.
Enamel is made of tightly packed, glass-like rods that extend out toward the surface of the tooth. When you brush side-to-side, these brittle rods can break, leading to cracks and weakening teeth. Dr. Lenchner likens it to sawing down a tree. Remember: Teeth are not trees. Hold the brush so the bristles are at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the teeth and brush in small circles. Focus on a few teeth at once, then move on to the next set, continuing around from one side to the other, top and bottom, front and back. It’s okay to brush in straight lines on the chewing surfaces. After completing your circles, brush away from the gum line to clear off loosened plaque and bacteria.
You’re brushing too hard.
The chances of enamel breakage are greater when you brush too hard. And if you have a tendency to clench or grind, the stakes get even higher. Those habits combined with hard sideways brushing can cause notches near the gum line called abfraction lesions. With continued pressure, they can deepen into the tooth’s inner dentin and cementum layers. What’s more, aggressive brushing can be traumatic for sensitive gums, causing irritation and recession.
You have the wrong toothpaste.
Baking soda toothpastes are good at getting stains out because they are abrasive—but that also means they’re hard on enamel. It’s a trade-off that might not be worth it. As for whitening toothpastes, Lenchner says that to his knowledge they don’t hurt your teeth.
You’re failing at flossing.
Flossing gets between your teeth where toothbrushes can’t reach. Cavities form most often on the surfaces where two teeth touch. Bacteria get stuck there, feed off the sugars from food particles, colonize and produce chemicals that eat away at enamel and can work into the soft layer of dentin underneath. This can eventually lead to tooth decay. In other words, as odious as it may be, flossing isn’t optional—and it’s the best way to keep these cavity-creating colonies at bay.