How to keep your teeth clean

Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day for at least two minutes to help keep your teeth and mouth healthy.

Plaque is a film of bacteria that coats your teeth if you don't brush them properly. It contributes to gum disease, tooth decay and cavities.

Toothbrushing stops plaque building up. It isn't just about moving some toothpaste around your mouth, though. You need to concentrate on the nooks and crannies to make sure you remove as much plaque and leftover bits of food as possible.

Toothbrush tips

  • Replace your brush or brush attachment every three months.
  • Never share your toothbrush as this can spread infections.
  • Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes.

When should I brush my teeth?

Brush your teeth for at least two minutes in the morning before breakfast and last thing at night before you go to bed.

Never brush your teeth straight after a meal as it can damage your teeth, especially if you've had fruit, fizzy drinks, wine or any other food that contains acid.

This is because tooth enamel is softened by the acid and can be worn away by brushing. Instead, wait an hour after a meal before brushing your teeth to give your saliva chance to neutralise the acid.

Should I use an electric or manual toothbrush?

It doesn't matter whether you use an electric or manual toothbrush. They're both equally good as long as you brush with them properly. However, some people find it easier to clean their teeth thoroughly with an electric toothbrush. 

What should I look for in a toothbrush?

For most adults, a toothbrush with a small head and a compact, angled arrangement of long and short, round-end bristles is fine. Medium or soft bristles are best for most people. Use an electric brush with an oscillating or rotating head. If in doubt, ask your dentist.

What type of toothpaste should I use?

The cleaning agents and particles in toothpaste help to remove plaque from your teeth, keeping them clean and healthy.

Most toothpastes also contain fluoride, which helps to prevent and control cavities. It’s important to use a toothpaste with the right concentration of fluoride. Check the packaging to find out how much fluoride each brand contains.

  • Children aged up to three: use a smear of toothpaste containing no less than 1,000ppm (parts per million) fluoride.
  • Children aged three to six: use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing 1,350-1,500ppm fluoride.
  • Adults: use a toothpaste that contains at least 1,450ppm fluoride.

It's fine for babies and children to use the family toothpaste rather than a special children's toothpaste, provided it contains the right concentration of fluoride.

How to brush your teeth

The British Dental Health Foundation gives the following advice on how to brush your teeth:

  • Place the head of your toothbrush against your teeth, then tilt the bristle tips to a 45 degree angle against the gum line. Move the brush in small circular movements, several times, on all the surfaces of every tooth.
  • Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower, keeping the bristles angled against the gum line.
  • Use the same method on the inside surfaces of all your teeth.
  • Brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
  • To clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several small circular strokes with the toe (the front part) of the brush.
  • Brushing your tongue will freshen your breath and clean your mouth by removing bacteria.

How to floss

Flossing isn't just for dislodging food wedged between your teeth. Regular flossing may also reduce gum disease and bad breath by removing plaque that forms along the gum line.

  • Take 12-18 inches (30-45cm) of floss and grasp it so that you have a couple of inches of floss taut between your hands.
  • Slip the floss between the teeth and into the area between your teeth and gums, as far as it will go.
  • Floss with 8 to 10 strokes, up and down between each tooth, to dislodge food and plaque.
  • Floss at least once a day. The most important time to floss is before going to bed. 
  • You can floss before or after brushing.

You can use interdental brushes instead of flossing, especially if your teeth are very close together and you find it difficult to manoeuvre dental floss through the gap.

Avoid using toothpicks to remove trapped food from between your teeth, as you could cause your gums to bleed, which can lead to an infection.

Read about why it's important to floss.

Should I use mouthwash?

Yes, using a mouthwash that contains fluoride can help prevent tooth decay and help get rid of any last bits of bacteria or leftover food that you might have missed with your toothbrush.

However, don't use mouthwash straight after brushing your teeth. Choose a separate time, such as after lunch. And don't eat or drink for 30 minutes after using a fluoride mouthwash.

Many mouthwashes contain alcohol, so they're not suitable for children, as they could swallow them accidentally. If you use a mouthwash with alcohol, you may get a very dry mouth and dry, cracked lips due to the drying effect of the alcohol. You can avoid this by using an alcohol-free version.

Are plaque-disclosing tablets helpful?

Plaque-disclosing tablets work by dyeing plaque either blue or red and can be very useful at showing you which areas of your teeth you're not cleaning properly.

As the staining can last for some hours, it’s best to use these tablets at bedtime or when you're not expecting visitors.

Common Q&As

Read answers to the most common questions that people have about dental health, including:


Page last reviewed: 02/12/2013

Next review due: 02/12/2015


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The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MrsForbes said on 03 August 2013

I think this page could do with a lot more information. You need to keep an appointment with your dentist every 6 months for a scale & polish. I brush morning & night & I floss after every meal as I can't stand the thought of having any food stuck in my teeth. I also use 2 different toothpastes. One with little bits in it that grit against your teeth giving them a really good clean & then I use a whitening tooth paste. I also use a tongue brush to get rid of any germs & then I use an antibacterial mouthwash. My dentist always compliments me on my oral health. I also only drink water so I don't really get the staining that others do.

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blablubbb said on 03 August 2013

Wrong technique!
I learned to brush my teeth "red to white", meaning to put the brush on the gum and brush in direction of the teeth. The webpage of a famous brand for brushes describes it as:
"Tilt the brush at a 45 degree angle against the gumline and roll the bristles away from the gumline."
This is also in accordance with an article of "Die Welt". They write thet 56% of the adult Germans use the wrong technique of circular movements. This technique would push bacteria and other stuff under the gum or rather between gum and teeth. The technique is appropriate for small children, since it is easier to learn, but otherwise the technique is outdated.
Interestingly the article also claims that teeth should be brushed in the morning after the breakfast, while you claiming they should be brushed before..

In general I tend to believe the information I grew up with, since a "British smile" is infamous for missing teeth in my country. That might have its origin in the popularity of Rugby, but nowadays probably in the eagerness of British dentists to rip out teeth, as I read before in another comment. I grew up in Germany and lived there for more than 30 years and they just ripped out my wisdom teeth. Being in England since 3 years now and I already lost one normal teeth to a dentist.

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Leofric said on 16 April 2012

I have been trying to report incorrect information on this dental health page but none of the links work.

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Parisa Safaei said on 24 September 2011

I agree with the American Dental Association that dental hygiene calls for two practices in addition to the above:

- regular dental cleanings by a professional
- a proper diet and limited snacking

I think that the former addresses the tartar that merely brushing teeth cannot always prevent or remove; and that the latter can mitigate frequent or serious acid erosion of teeth (tooth decay).

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User465407 said on 18 June 2010

Why Dentists have become privatised I will never understand... Oh yeah the money.

However, I at least thought dentists were decent enough people. For my last appointment I had two minor cavities that needed to be filled. Willing to pay the costs, I asked him to to fill both of them up. Instead he only filled one and left the other one 'to check at the next check-up'. I pressed on, pleading him to at least look at the other one or even to suggest dental tools to clean the cavity.

Just Floss

He said. Fine, I'll floss. But that only cleans in between teeth- not the actual cavity. Now I'm looking at the increasingly large hole that used to be that small cavity. Meaning more treatment needed and more money involved. Thanks a lot- for nothing.

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DanDoherty said on 18 January 2010

I have to agree, same thing My dentist told me I had to have a front bottom tooth removed because it wasnt straight!!!

I asked him was it a healthy tooth, he said well yes but, I stopped him there simple as that its a healthy tooth why remove it. money,money,money

I dont think that dentists even know the complexity of our teeth. I bet 50 years from now we will laugh at techniques used by modern dentists, just like we laugh about victorian mediacl practices today.

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Fern58 said on 04 January 2010

Despite attending an NHS dentist regularly since childhood and brushing my teeth twice/three times daily, I have lost teeth due to gum disease. I repeatedly asked my NHS dentist if there was any treatment I could have in addition to sacle and polish he carried out, but was told there wasn't and eventually I would lose all my teeth!! I may add that I was never offered antibiotic treatment as mentioned on this website. I trusted my dentist and never sought a second opinion - big mistake! Since having internet access, I have read of quite a few treatments available privately which could have saved my teeth. Now I look forward to the expense of alternatives, bad fitting NHS partial dentures or costly implants!!!!!

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Kiumars said on 20 September 2008

My dentist has been insisting on extracting my teeth for years because he makes more money (in short term) in extracting them than repairing them! I have managed to keep the teeth that were condemned to death by my dentist for over 10 years now! Don’t trust the doctors; they are businessmen in white overalls (like butchers!).

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