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Health Center Today, February 25, 2011

Brushing Up on Dental Do’s and Don’ts

By Carolyn Pennington

The number of dental products on display in your typical grocery story or pharmacy can be daunting. Manual or electric toothbrushes, soft or hard bristles, whitening trays or strips - the choices are seemingly endless.


When it comes to brushes – bristles are key. Dr. Jonathan Meier with the UConn School of Dental Medicine says most dentists recommend soft bristles, especially for those with sensitive teeth or gums. Toothbrushes with harder bristles are not more effective at removing plaque or stains. Toothbrushes should be replaced about every three months or earlier if the bristles begin to look worn or frayed.

Manual vs. Powered Toothbrushes

“The key to good oral hygiene is correct and effective use of a toothbrush rather than simply an issue of powered vs. manual,” says Meier. “However, one of the main advantages of powered toothbrushes is they make it easier to brush correctly.” Brushing with electric may also be easier for those with arthritis or people with braces.


Since tooth decay is still a common problem, dentists continue to recommend fluoridated toothpastes. But for most pastes, personal preference comes into play. Choose the toothpaste that tastes and feels best. Gel or paste, wintergreen or spearmint, all work alike. If you find that certain ingredients are irritating to your teeth, cheeks or lips, try changing toothpastes.


Most dentists don’t care what floss you use – just use it. Meier says people would improve their oral health if they would just floss more – or at all. If your teeth are very close together, use thin, Teflon-coated tape. Lightly waxed or unwaxed floss is better for most people.

Mouthwashes and Rinses

Dentists tend to disagree about the relevance of rinses. No mouthwash or rinse kills all the bacteria that cause gum disease but in combination with brushing and flossing, the American Dental Association (ADA) says that bacteria-fighting mouth rinses can reduce bacteria in dental plaque and thus help prevent gum disease. In order to be effective, you must rinse the amount of time stated on the label.

Teeth Whitening

“Whitening is ideal for people who have healthy, unrestored teeth (no fillings) and gums,” says Meier. “People have differing results but those with yellow tones to their teeth tend to respond best.”

Whitening Toothpastes and Rinses

Whitening toothpastes can help remove surface stains only and can lighten your tooth's color by about one shade. In contrast, light-activated whitening conducted in your dentist's office can make your teeth three to eight shades lighter.

Over-the-Counter Whitening Strips, Gels, and Trays

Whitening strips are very thin, virtually invisible strips that are coated with a peroxide-based whitening gel. Whitening gels are clear, peroxide-based gels applied with a small brush directly to the surface of your teeth. Tray-based tooth whitening systems, purchased either over-the-counter or from your dentist, involve filling a mouth guard-like tray with a gel whitening solution. Length of usage is typically two weeks, initial results are seen in a few days and final results are sustained for about four months.

In-Office Whitening

Meier says in-office bleaching provides the quickest way to whiten teeth. The whitening product is applied directly to the teeth in combination with heat, a special light, and/or a laser. Results are seen in only one, 30- to 60-minute treatment. This type of whitening is the most expensive technique.