Taking care of our teeth feels like something we should all be pretty good at by now, but the truth is, most of us kind of suck at it. We know the basics—brush twice a day, floss regularly, replace your toothbrush every once in a while—but how good are we at actually doing them?
If we’re honest with ourselves, we skip flossing way more than we should (we’re tired, okay??), wait way too long to replace our toothbrushes and genuinely have no idea what we’re doing in the tooth care aisle. Seriously, there are so many types of toothpaste out there! Are they actually different? How are we to know?
Dentists. That’s how.
We asked real dentist and Canadian Dental Association Director of Clinical and Scientific Affairs, Dr. Benoit Soucy, all those stupid, trivial and downright embarrassing questions we still have about oral care, and he was kind enough to school us in a skill we should have perfected when we first got teeth. So if you’ve spent your whole life wondering if you should be brushing before or after breakfast, we’ve finally got your answer.
Brush BEFORE breakfast
Finally! An answer to the question that ends 57 per cent of marriages* and has befuddled the population since the dawn of time.* Soucy explains that we should be brushing twice a day—once before eating in the morning and once before going to bed. In fact, you might actually be doing damage to the enamel of your teeth if you’re a post-breaky brusher.
“Acid softens the surface of teeth, so brushing immediately after eating or drinking high-acid foods or drinks can cause damage and make them more susceptible to toothbrush wear,” he says. He adds that we should also be rinsing with water or diluted mouthwash after every meal to remove leftover food particles.
*Totally made-up stat.
Floss AT LEAST once a day
The fact teeth touch each other means that when you’re brushing, you’re really only cleaning one-third of each tooth. So when you go a couple days without flossing, you’re really leaving one-third of your mouth unwashed for several days. Gross. Regular cleaning is the only way to minimize your teeth’s arch-nemesis—tartar, that tough white stuff only your dentist can get off.
“Plaque is the main cause of gum disease,” Soucy explains. “Within 24 to 36 hours, plaque hardens into tartar. Floss at least once a day, and plaque never gets the chance to harden into tartar.”
Welp, looks like our days of skipping out on our bedtime floss are over.
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Buy products with the CDA seal
Have you ever stared down that endless aisle of toothpaste and wondered how you’re supposed to choose the right product out of MILLIONS? Having choice is nice, but this is just ridiculous. Thankfully, the CDA narrows it down for us with a list of validated products. They’re easily identifiable by the special CDA seal.
That seal means the CDA has independently validated the products actually do what they say they do. So if a product says “enamel repair” or “sensitive relief,” the CDA has made sure that it effectively delivers on that.
Yes, sensitive toothpaste is doing something
Anyone else rolling their eyes every time a model-dentist on TV looks dead in the camera and says their toothpaste will help with your sensitive teeth? Apparently they’re not as full of it as you might think. Soucy explains that since sensitivity reduction is a claim monitored by Health Canada, all the sensitive toothpastes on the CDA list have been deemed effective by both Health Canada and the CDA.
He does warn that sensitivity can be a sign of tooth wear so you should also talk to your dentist about the root cause.
Fluoride = Good
There have been some concerns floating around the online alternative medicine community that fluoride is an unnecessary chemical being added to our toothpastes, sparking some people to opt for fluoride-free paste. This is NOT RECOMMENDED by the CDA.
“Fluoride-free toothpastes are of no value for the prevention of dental caries (cavities) and generally cannot make any therapeutic [health] claims” Soucy says. “As a result, most of these fluoride-free toothpastes are classified as cosmetics by Health Canada.”
Dentists don’t care if your toothbrush is electric
Turns out dentists are totally over the “manual vs. electric toothbrush debate” and all they really want is for us to brush regularly and thoroughly. Since most of us have been brushing our teeth since before we can remember, you might want to treat yourself to a bit of a refresher. The CDA recommends brushing at a 45 degree angle with the brush directed toward your gums for “two to three minutes” (that’s right, sometimes brushing takes THREE minutes). Whatever kind of toothbrush you use, you should replace it every three months.
Take your gums seriously
According to Soucy, the biggest threats to your gums are inflammation from bacteria and mechanical damage from objects like toothpicks, oral jewellery or stiff-bristled toothbrushes. The best way to keep your gums healthy is to brush and floss regularly (duh), use a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid poking and prodding them unnecessarily. Respect the gums, people!
If you have a mouth, clean it
Just because babies don’t have teeth doesn’t mean their mouths don’t get dirty. Before your kid even has teeth, you should be wiping their little gums with a washcloth or baby brush to keep ‘em squeaky clean. Once they get their first tooth, you should start brushing and then head to the dentist so they can determine if there are any early concerns to be aware of.
Once a kid is old enough to write their name, they’re old enough to learn how to brush properly—just be sure you’re checking up on them.
Don’t abuse mouthwash
What’s the deal with mouthwash anyway? Soucy says that CDA Certified mouthwashes have been proven to do the things they claim they will—fight gingivitis, etc.—but you shouldn’t use them excessively. Using mouthwash more than once or twice a day can dry out and irritate your mouth unnecessarily. Plus, if your wash hasn’t been proven to have the effects it claims, it might just be a minty mouth refresh and nothing more.
Talk to a dentist before whitening
Do you remember a time before Crest was desperately trying to make “The Tissue Test” a thing? Neither do we. As much as we all want the pearliest of whites, dentists want you to TALK TO THEM before doing any whitening treatment yourself—especially when it involves bleach.
“When used inappropriately, these products can injure your gums and penetrate all the way to the pulp inside your tooth to cause pain and may, in extreme cases, require root canal treatments,” Soucy says. Ouch.
He adds that any of those trendy DIY whitening treatments are a bad idea. While whitening toothpastes are mostly fine since they work to remove surface stains (watch that enamel though!), treatments that use acid on your teeth are a big no-no. That means any of those DIY lemon or apple cider vinegar-based solutions floating around the internet get a solid thumbs-down from dentists.
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Stop it with the charcoal already
Sorry, Instagram influencers, but according to dentists, the worst trend to hit teeth in recent years is the charcoal toothpaste craze. Soucy says that not only can charcoal be abrasive to enamel, it can render fluoride ineffective (you know, the stuff your teeth actually really need).
“When added to fluoridated toothpaste, charcoal can bind with the fluoride, rendering it unavailable for the prevention of decay,” he explained.
Cool. Charcoal toothpaste looks gross anyway.