Dossier: Healthy teeth

Five tips for clean teeth

Do you really need to floss? Manual or electric? And what has the number 45 got to do with cleaning your teeth? An expert explains.

Text: Isabelle Fretz; photo: iStock

Can you remember when the dental hygienist came to school to demonstrate how to clean your teeth on a huge pair of plastic dentures and an oversized toothbrush? You’ve probably forgotten a lot of what you learned then – and maybe the information is even outdated. Claudia Altorfer, dental hygienist and head of the Prophylaxe Zentrum Zürich dental school, explains how to look after your teeth. 

“Much more important than the question of ‘how often?’ is the question of ‘when and how’

Teeth cleaning: once, twice or three times?

Generally speaking, you should brush your teeth two or three times a day, unless recommended otherwise by your dentist or dental hygienist. “Much more important than the question of ‘how often?’ is the question of ‘when and how’”, says Claudia Altorfer. You should definitely clean your teeth in the evening before you go to bed, because you produce significantly less saliva during the night. This means bacteria have a greater chance of successfully attacking your teeth. But how do we clean our teeth properly? Altorfer has a simple tip:  “Brush the front and back of your teeth with short up-and-down and side-to-side movements instead of circular ones. But you can simply scrub the chewing surfaces.”

Holding the toothbrush: the critical 45-degree angle

To prevent inflammation of the gums, place the toothbrush on the teeth at about a 45-degree angle. This is the only way to make sure the bristles reach the gumline. “Initial signs of inflammation of the gums are redness, swelling and bleeding while cleaning your teeth”, explains Altorfer.

“Don’t apply pressure, place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and take five seconds for each tooth.”

Manual vs. sonic toothbrush

Claudia Altorfer recommends using a sonic toothbrush: “Don’t apply pressure, place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and take five seconds for each tooth. And that’s it. No additional cleaning is necessary.” However, she advises caution when buying a sonic toothbrush, because even though a toothbrush may claim to use sonic technology, this is not necessarily the case. Get advice from your dentist or dental hygienist before buying a toothbrush. You can also use a manual toothbrush with soft bristles instead of a sonic one. You have to be careful with oscillating toothbrushes with a round head, because these can damage the gums if used incorrectly. That’s why Claudia Altorfer advises against using these toothbrushes. 

Do you really need to floss?

Yes and no. It’s important to clean between your teeth. However, dental floss only offers limited benefits. It makes us feel good, because it removes bits of food from between our teeth. “However, it’s more effective to use an interdental brush in the evening to clean the spaces between the teeth – and before you actually clean your teeth. This is the only way to properly remove the plaque that causes inflammation.” However, interdental brushes are not recommended for people whose teeth are very close together.  

Toothpaste with or without fluoride?

Although fluoride doesn’t always have a good reputation, Claudia Altorfer knows which dental care product she prefers: “I always recommend that my patients use a fluoride toothpaste, because it makes the enamel more resistant and prevents the formation of caries.”