The fresh taste of mint is a pleasant way to start the evening routine. It gives a sense of dental cleanliness and protection from nocturnal plaque. However, that minty fresh feeling may just be a false sense of security disguised as oral hygiene. For a really thorough clean, before you lather on the toothpaste, first do a bit of dry brushing.
What Is Dry Brushing?
Dry Brushing is the act of brushing one’s teeth without toothpaste. This may seem counterintuitive, but emerging research suggests that dry brushing used alongside traditional brushing is 50–67% more effective than brushing only with toothpaste. In addition to limiting plaque buildup, the data also indicates the reduced risk of bleeding at the gums and gingivitis.
How can this be? How can brushing without toothpaste make such a marked difference? We certainly wouldn’t expect such positive results if we started washing our hands without soap. The truth is that the success of dry brushing can be broken down into several factors.
Dry brushing allows the bristles of a toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies between teeth more effectively than they can when the mouth is full of toothpaste. This is especially true of really tricky-to-reach places like the inside surface of the lower teeth. Bristles free of toothpaste are stiffer, so they attack plaque with more grit even if the same amount of brushing force is used.
Dry brushing is an effective way to make sure your teeth are truly clean before you stop brushing. Places that are occasionally missed during a traditional teeth-brushing session can be accessed when a lather of toothpaste doesn’t get in the way and when proper time can be given to brushing them.
When you brush your teeth with toothpaste, the amount of time you spend brushing is determined by the spice tolerance you can manage as the cinnamon- or spearmint-flavored lather grows in your mouth. Without that flavorful test of endurance, you can spend the proper time needed to dislodge harmful buildup.
While the jury is out on exactly how much time you should spend dry brushing your teeth, low estimates suggest four-times the ADA’s recommended two minutes, and higher values—all in the name of clean teeth—suggest closer to 20. This is a lot more manageable if you don’t have to spend that time hovering over the sink.
On the Go
Perhaps the messiest part of brushing one’s teeth—especially if you are between the ages of two and five—is spitting out the toothpaste and rinsing the brush. Going back to the spicy toothpaste problem, we find ourselves hovering over the bathroom vanity as we brush our teeth, not sure just how much longer before we have to spit it out.
With dry brushing, the whole messy process is completely eliminated. Certainly you’ll want to rinse your toothbrush afterwards, but because you don’t have to linger over the sink, you can dry brush just about anywhere: snuggling into the couch for Netflix and Chill, walking around while you vacuum the living room, or sitting down during a particularly boring meeting at work.
Okay, that last one and maybe the others are sure to raise a few eyebrows, but the fact is that dry brushing is more convenient and makes brushing one’s teeth more accessible. Those who are disabled or otherwise find standing for long periods of time difficult don’t have to worry—you can dry brush your teeth just about anywhere.
The Heart of the Matter
Remember what we said about a false sense of security? This doesn’t just apply to the zesty taste of toothpaste. The truth is that most commercial toothpastes contain oils like glycerin, which leave a coating on the teeth and tongue. This leaves teeth feeling smooth, which we interpret as being clean. Certainly our teeth are cleaner than before we brushed them, but a smooth coat of glycerin does not magically remove plaque buildup hiding just under the oil’s surface. If that deceptive feeling of cleanliness causes you to brush your teeth for a shorter time than is needed to really clean your teeth, brushing with toothpaste may be doing more harm than good.
The Key to Really Clean Teeth
Now, don’t get us wrong, we are not against toothpaste. In fact, we love the stuff. It provides teeth with a healthy dose of fluoride to keep them strong. However, if you want truly clean teeth, use dry brushing in conjunction with traditional teeth brushing and regular dental visits. These three together will make sure all the grime and gunk is cleared away and give you fresh breath and a gleaming smile.