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Dental Care: Brushing and Flossing Your Teeth

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Your teeth can last a lifetime if you practice basic dental care, which involves brushing and flossing regularly, eating a mouth-healthy diet, and visiting your dentist and/or dental hygienist for regular checkups and cleanings. Developing good dental health habits is the best way to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

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Good brushing and flossing are important parts of your dental care. To do these actions well, make them part of your daily routine and:

  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day, in the morning and at night. When you brush, use a fluoride toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association. Some fluoride toothpastes also offer tartar control, which may help slow the formation of hard mineral buildup (tartar) on the teeth.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • Use disclosing tablets periodically to see whether any plaque is left on the teeth. Disclosing tablets are chewable and will color any plaque left on the teeth after you brush. You can buy them at most drugstores.

Test Your Knowledge

You should brush your teeth once a day, before bed.


Regular brushing and flossing can help you:

  • Prevent tooth decay and cavities. Tooth decay can lead to more serious problems, such as infection.
  • Prevent gum (periodontal) diseaseClick here to see an illustration., which can damage gum tissue and the bonesClick here to see an illustration. that support the teethClick here to see an illustration., and can ultimately cause you to lose teeth.
  • Make it possible that your teeth will last a lifetime.
  • Shorten the time you spend with the dentist and hygienist and make the trip more pleasant.
  • Save money. By preventing tooth decay and gum disease, you can reduce the need for fillings and other costly procedures.
  • Prevent bad breath. Brushing and flossing rid your mouth of the bacteria that cause bad breath.
  • Keep your teeth white by preventing staining from food, drinks, and tobacco.
  • Improve your overall health.

Test Your Knowledge

You need to brush and floss to prevent tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.


When you brush your teeth:

  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day, in the morning and at night.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft, rounded-end bristles and a head that is small enough to reach all parts of your teeth and mouth. Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.
  • You may also use an electric toothbrush that has the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. Studies show that powered toothbrushes with a rotating and oscillating (back-and-forth) action are more effective than other toothbrushes, including other powered toothbrushes.1
  • Place the brush at a 45-degree angleClick here to see an illustration. where the teeth meet the gums. Press firmly, and gently rock the brush back and forth using small circular movements. Do not scrub. Vigorous brushing can make the gums pull away from the teeth and can scratch your tooth enamel.
  • Brush all surfaces of the teeth, tongue-side and cheek-side. Pay special attention to the front teeth and all surfaces of the back teeth.
  • Brush chewing surfaces vigorously with short back-and-forth strokes.
  • Brush your tongueClick here to see an illustration. from back to front. Some people put some toothpaste or mouthwash on their toothbrush when they do this. Brushing your tongue helps remove plaque, which can cause bad breath and help bacteria grow. Some toothbrushes now have a specific brush to use for your tongue.

Floss at least once a day. The type of floss you use is not important. Choose the type and flavor you like best. When you floss your teeth, use any of the following methods:

  • The finger-wrap methodClick here to see an illustration.: Cut off a piece of floss 18 in. (45 cm) to 20 in. (50 cm) long. Wrap one end around your left middle finger and the other end around your right middle finger, until your hands are about 2 in. (5 cm) to 3 in. (8 cm) apart.
  • The circle methodClick here to see an illustration.: Use a piece of floss about 12 in. (30 cm) long. Tie the ends together, forming a loop. If the loop is too large, wrap the floss around your fingers to make it smaller.

Gently work the floss between the teeth toward the gums. Curve the flossClick here to see an illustration. around each tooth into a U-shape and gently slide it under the gum line. Move the floss firmly up and down several times to scrape off the plaque. Popping the floss in and out between the teeth without scraping will not remove much plaque and can hurt your gums.

A plastic flossing tool makes flossing easier. Child-size flossing toolsClick here to see an illustration. are available for parents to use to floss their children's teeth. They are available at most drugstores.

If your gums bleed when you floss, the bleeding should stop as your gums become healthier and tighter next to your teeth.

Test Your Knowledge

It is better to brush my teeth with gentle, circular motions than to scrub vigorously.


If my gums bleed when I floss, it means that I probably should not floss.


For more information about brushing, flossing, and the care of your teeth, talk to your dentist and dental hygienist.

If you would like to learn more about oral health care and prevention of oral disease, the following organization can provide information:


American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611-2678
Phone: (312) 440-2500
Web Address:

The American Dental Association (ADA), the professional membership organization of practicing dentists, provides information about oral health care for children and adults. The ADA can also help you find a dentist in your area.


  1. Robinson PG, et al. (2005). Manual versus powered toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). Oxford: Update Software.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerArden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
Last RevisedJanuary 7, 2013

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