How to Clean Teeth

A mother and son brushing their teeth.

I remember with disturbing clarity the moment I realized how important it is to know how to keep teeth clean. I was about eight years old at the time, and my oldest brother wasn’t terribly diligent when it came to dental care. After my father threatened him countless times with “if you don’t brush your teeth, I’m gonna do it for you,” he followed through. Dad grabbed a dishcloth, some dish soap, and then my brother. He then proceeded to pin a kicking and yelling Leif to the kitchen floor and set to work. It was disturbing . . . and hilarious. Leif screamed and swore up and down that he promised to do it himself. It was all to no avail. Dad is not one for idle threats. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an accident that my other brother Dane and I were allowed to watch. His plan worked well. He knew we would learn from Leif’s mistakes.

Back then I was good about teeth cleaning because of the threat of a mouthful of Dawn. These days, however, I know that there’s actually good reason to know how to clean my teeth properly. Turns out, a dirty mouth can lead to all sorts of unpleasant things, such as plaque, bad breath, gingivitis, cavities, root canals, tooth pullings, and even teeth falling out on their own. Poor oral hygiene can lead to some seriously nasty business. In this article, I’m gonna go over the most basic and important steps for how to clean your teeth. And while I’m sure you’re already aware of this, I feel I should mention it: stay away from the sweets, especially things like soda, hard candy, cough drops, and breath mints. These things dissolve slowly and/or stay in your mouth for a long time. The sugars in these products are what the bacteria in your mouth thrive on. They eat the sugar and break it down into an acid that is very corrosive to tooth enamel. Dentists are not happy with those bacteria. So how can we clean ’em?

How To Properly Clean Teeth

  1. toothbrush with paste on itStart with brushing. When brushing your teeth, it is important to start with a new, clean toothbrush. If your toothbrush is more than three months old, get a new one with soft bristles. Be certain to get all of your teeth, not just the front. Brush every tooth surface possible. This means the tops, both sides, fronts and backs of teeth. For the front surfaces, brush in small circular motions at a 45° angle. For the tops of molars, brush back and forth in a sweeping motion. For the insides of your molars (sides facing the tongue), brush back and forth with that same sweeping motion. For the backs of your front teeth, hold the toothbrush straight out, tilt it slightly, and brush back and forth. It will cause a little toothpaste splatter. Deal with it. Your teeth should be brushed at least twice a day for at least two minutes each time. Set an egg timer. Don’t brush too hard or you’ll damage your gums and cause them to recede. Finally, brush your tongue, spit, and rinse out your mouth.
  2. person smiling while flossing teethFlossing teeth. Cavities have a nasty habit of forming between your teeth. For this reason, it is very important to floss. It is generally recommended to floss at least once a day before going to bed. If you have time, feel free to do it more than once. Using whatever type of floss you desire (it’s all basically the same), pull out about two feet of it and get to work. Being very careful not to hit your gums, slowly and gently work the floss between your teeth. Once it’s there, form a “C” around the edges of the targeted teeth and work the floss up and down. Do this for all your teeth with a clean length of floss. Use a floss pick for between molars and hard-to-reach teeth.
  3. teeth colored with disclosing tabletsUse disclosing tablets. These are quite possibly the most useful tool you can get for producing clean teeth. Disclosing tablets, available online or at any drugstore, are little colored pills (usually red or blue) that you chew. Once you’re done brushing and flossing, pop one of these into your mouth and chew your heart out. The dyes in the disclosing tablets will adhere to the plaque on your teeth. This makes it far easier for you to see the spots on your teeth that you’ve missed. Brush your teeth one final time and concentrate on those spots. Do this about every three days so that you become and stay aware of the areas on your teeth that you are likely to miss while brushing.
  4. oral irrigatorGet yourself an oral irrigator. I know . . . sounds hot. These things work friggin’ great though. An oral irrigator, like the Waterpik, is a fancy little machine that shoots little jets of water at your teeth. These little jets of water work wonders for removing plaque and cleaning those harder-to-reach areas on your teeth. They are especially good at getting the gunk out of braces. These are available online and will only set you back around 25 to 50 bucks. While I would recommend using both, many people choose to use a Waterpik instead of flossing.
  5. people dancing in brush and mouthwash costumesPurchase a quality mouthwash. When picking out a mouthwash, it is important to find one that has the American Dental Association seal. You want one that is antimicrobial, like Listerine, or that is a fluoride rinse, like Act. There are dozens of others that are ADA approved. Just check the bottle. When using mouthwash, don’t swallow it and follow the directions carefully. Use mouthwash after brushing and flossing. There is even a Listerine mouthwash that works similarly to the disclosing tablets that I mentioned earlier.
  6. dentist tooth signVisit a dentist. No matter how good you are about cleaning your teeth, some plaque is going to build up. You should have your teeth cleaned by a dentist or an oral hygienist at least twice a year. They’ve got all the goodies required to scrape the plaque from your teeth that is building up below the gum line. This will help you avoid the pleasures of gingivitis and periodontal disease. If you are just beginning a proper dental care regimen, I would strongly suggest that you first go to a dentist for a check-up. They will get you started right, give you some good tips, and probably even give you a nice new toothbrush.

Teeth Whitening

It’s a damn good thing that teeth whitening is a multi-billion dollar market. For those of us out there who drink coffee and tea, smoke cigars, smoke cigarettes, drink wine, and/or partake in any other of a number of tooth-staining vices, yeah, we could use whiter teeth.

For those of us on a budget, the best thing we can do to achieve white teeth is to pick up some over-the-counter teeth whiteners. These can be toothpastes, whitening gels, whitening strips, etc. Luckily, these will all help whiten teeth. You may not get exactly the results you were hoping for, but it will most definitely help. As far as brand names go, take your pick. Just make sure you find something that is ADA approved.

If you’ve got the cash to do it, go see a dentist for a little cosmetic dentistry. There are take-home kits you can get from the dentist that work wonders. These are generally comprised of a low concentration peroxide gel that is applied to your teeth through the use of a bleaching tray and left on overnight.

If you’re one of those folks who demand immediate results, there is also the option of in-office tooth bleaching. This is by far the most expensive way to get whiter teeth, but it’s also the fastest. It is done by applying a highly concentrated peroxide gel to your teeth after your gums have been protected by a paint-on rubber dam. There may be several sessions involved, and they may even hit the gel on your teeth with a laser to enhance the bleaching. I’m of the opinion that if it involves a laser, you damn well better do it.

Organically Healthy Teeth

Tom's Natural ToothpasteTom’s of Maine Toothpaste.Tom’s is a giant in organic personal care and for good reason. I’ve been most pleased with every product of theirs that I’ve used. Their organic toothpaste is no exception. They’ve got a huge selection. There are some with fluoride, some that whiten teeth, some for sensitive teeth, and even one especially for children.

Bottle of Jason PowerSmile MouthwashJason PowerSmile Mouthwash. This organic mouthwash is also a tooth whitener and contains three different natural whiteners. It also contains perilla seed extract to help control tartar. Finally, a dash of peppermint is thrown in to leave your mouth feeling purdy. You can get that purdy feeling by ordering Jason Powersmile from Amazon.

Tom's of Maine flossTom’s of Maine Floss. I’m pleased to brag about Tom’s some more. They have a couple of different types of floss: a round one for teeth that are close together (like mine), and a flat one for people with a little more space between their teeth. They are coated with a combination of natural waxes and are accepted by the ADA.