Toothbrushing – brush up to level up

Ben Atkins on the importance of toothbrushing

Ben Atkins discusses the importance of effective toothbrushing and teaching patients to prioritise it.

National Smile Month 2023 is all about raising awareness of the importance of effective tooth cleaning. The theme for this year’s campaign is: ‘Brush for better health’. 

As dental professionals, we know just how important it is to have a good oral hygiene routine. Plus, the right toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.

Brushing for two minutes twice daily is the cornerstone of good oral health. Yet, despite the benefits, some of our patients do not consider it a priority.

In the UK, around one in three people do not brush their teeth twice a day. Also, one in four regularly skip toothbrushing. These worrying statistics translates to a greater burden of oral disease, often exacerbating oral health inequalities. 

Change is possible. When we help our patients and local communities form healthier habits, their quality of life improves. This makes it easier to maintain a smile to be proud of. By encouraging more people to commit to an effective oral health routine, we can improve the standard of living for millions of people around the country. 

It really is a case of brushing up to level up.

Oral health in schools

Our first call to action needs to be making good oral health messages accessible in classrooms. Here, there are a few touch points for educating teachers, children and parents.  

How teeth are cared for during a child’s early years has a strong impact on the health of their mouth in adulthood. The health of baby teeth sets a precedent for the future health of adult teeth. This includes the likelihood of developing tooth decay in the permanent teeth.

During National Smile Month, hundreds of dental teams will be visiting schools to teach Dental Buddy – our free oral health programme for children. Download the materials by visiting Then, get in touch with a nearby school and help to educate the next generation about the importance of good oral health.

Toothbrushing advice

Whether within the dental practice, or out in the community, giving out basic toothbrushing advice is essential. It is important to brush:

  • For two minutes at a time
  • Twice per day, including last thing at night 
  • Using a fluoride toothpaste.

These points are so important, not only for your patients’ dental health, but for the overall health of their bodies. Recent large-scale studies have shown that medical implications can be significantly reduced if gum disease is either prevented or treated thoroughly in patients with diabetes, cardiovascular disease or strokes, and pregnant women. 

Poor toothbrushing habits are a leading contributor towards the fact that two in three people have visible plaque and almost one in three have signs of tooth decay.

Either manual or electric toothbrushes are effective at removing plaque from the teeth and gums when used correctly, but people often neglect to change their toothbrushes as regularly as they should do. The sad fact is that while we recommend that patients change their toothbrush every three months, as a nation, we only buy 1.3 toothbrushes per year on average! 

How about having a toothbrush amnesty as part of National Smile Month? Patients could bring their old, worn-out toothbrushes or brush heads into the practice to get a discount on buying a new one. This would be a wonderful way to introduce the campaign into your community and help improve your patients’ finances.

Fluoride education

Fluoride toothpaste is the most effective way to protect a patient’s teeth against dental caries. However, awareness around fluoride remains poor.

Around one in six people (16%) are not aware that fluoride can be found in toothpaste, and almost half (43%) don’t know that it can be in tap water. Nearly three in four (73%) do not know that fluoride can help prevent dental caries. 

In fact, when asked about the benefits of fluoride, patients listed everything from gum disease and bad breath prevention to helping with dry mouth and mouth ulcers. In most cases, it was a complete stab in the dark.

Worryingly, one in 10 (10%) use a toothpaste without fluoride, a trend often being encouraged by social media influencers, while nearly one in four (23%) have no idea whether their toothpaste contains fluoride or not. 

The evidence speaks for itself. Fluoride is the fundamental ingredient for the prevention of caries. Encouraging patients to use a fluoride toothpaste, while explaining the benefits of fluoride, is essential to increase education and improve uptake of compliance around fluoride toothpaste.

The other way of toothbrushing

Toothbrushing may be the cornerstone of good oral health, but we also need to promote another type of brushing. Cleaning in between the teeth with interdental brushes is also important, reaching the areas of the tooth where a typical toothbrush cannot reach.

Unfortunately, rates of interdental cleaning are poor. Our nationwide survey shows that as few as one in four (27%) UK adults regularly clean in-between teeth. This is extremely poor and a habit we must improve. 

Many patients do not clean interdentally because they believe it takes a long time, while some are simply unsure about how to do it. Others do not understand its true value for good oral health. 

By sitting down with a patient and demonstrating how to clean interdentally, you will teach them an effective technique while demonstrating that it can be done relatively quickly. You can also take this time to explain why interdental cleaning is so important.

We are in a great position as part of the dental team to create positive oral health routines for our patients. It all starts with education and understanding the true value of good oral health. 

By actively taking part in this year’s National Smile Month campaign, I hope that we can all help to spread important oral health messages in practices and among patients. 

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