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  • Home Knowledge Center How to Brush Your Teeth Step by Step

    How to Brush Your Teeth Step by Step

    Keep a clean mouth and a healthy smile by learning how to brush teeth properly.

    Why should you brush your teeth?

    Brushing your teeth removes bits of food and plaque. Plaque is a sticky, colorless mix of bacteria and sugars. It sticks to our teeth in a thin layer.

    Plaque left on the teeth hardens into tartar, also called calculus, in as little as 48 hours. Tartar can lead to gum disease and sometimes even tooth loss. Soon after plaque turns into tartar, you won't be able to remove it with your toothbrush or floss—only your hygienist or dentist can remove it.

    How often should you brush your teeth?

    You should brush your teeth twice a day with a soft bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Each time you brush, you should have enough time to reach all your teeth. This usually takes about two minutes from start to finish.

    Need dental coverage?

    Cigna Healthcare offers a variety of affordable dental plans, from basic plans that cover preventive care to plans that help cover major dental care.
    Explore our dental plans

    Should you brush your teeth after you eat?

    A diet that’s high in sugar is associated with an increased risk for tooth decay and cavities. But the acid that is made by mouth bacteria from sugary foods and drinks can soften your enamel, which means that you could damage your teeth by brushing immediately after a meal or snack. It’s best to wait for 30-60 minutes after you eat or drink something to avoid any damage.

    What kind of toothbrush should you use?

    Keeping your smile healthy starts with your toothbrush. Choose a brush with soft bristles that's comfortable to hold. Soft bristles are gentler on your teeth and gums. Look for a toothbrush with a shape that can reach all parts of your mouth. A toothbrush with worn bristles won’t clean your teeth well.

    Should I use a manual or electric toothbrush?

    You can use a manual or powered electric toothbrush to clean your teeth effectively.

    Manual toothbrushes tend to be less expensive and more accessible than electric toothbrushes. When choosing a manual toothbrush, soft bristles that are multi-level or angled work better than the flat-trimmed bristles to remove plaque.

    Electric toothbrushes come in multiple designs and are either oscillating-rotating (with round heads that move back and forth or spin around) or sonic (which emit high-frequency vibrations). While they are more expensive than manual toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes are a great choice for people with dental or orthodontic work (like braces) and people with dexterity issues (including seniors).

    How often should I change my toothbrush or brush head?

    You should replace your toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every 3-6 months, or even sooner if the bristles are frayed.

    What kind of toothpaste should you use?

    You should brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is a natural mineral that strengthens your teeth’s enamel and prevents cavities. The American Dental Association (ADA) has a helpful list of toothpastes that have been given the ADA Seal of Acceptance for safety and effectiveness.

    How to Brush Your Teeth in 7 Steps

    Learning how to brush your teeth for a clean mouth is easy. A few simple changes to your tooth brushing technique can make all the difference.

    As you get started, remember to let the bristles do the work instead of squashing the brush against your teeth. Move the brush slowly and gently across the surface of every tooth.

    1. Position the bristles at a 45-degree angle toward the gum line along the outer surface of your teeth.
    2. Gently move the brush in short circular strokes.
    3. Gently scrub all the outer surfaces of the upper and lower teeth, making sure to reach the back teeth. Be careful not to brush too hard, which can increase your risk of having receding gums.
    4. Using the same circular motion, brush the inside surfaces of all your teeth.
    5. Scrub the chewing surfaces of your teeth, especially the grooves that may collect food particles in your back teeth.
    6. Use the tip of the toothbrush in a circular motion to clean the front teeth.
    7. Finally, gently brush the roof of your mouth, the insides of your cheeks, and your tongue. This makes your entire mouth feel clean and may also freshen your breath.

    When you’re finished brushing, spit out the remaining toothpaste and rinse your mouth out with cold water.

    How do you brush your teeth with braces?

    If you have braces on your teeth, there are extra steps to follow.

    1. Make sure to remove any rubber bands before you start brushing your teeth and rinse them. (You can reattach them once you’ve finished brushing and rinsing your mouth.)
    2. Brush the under the wires of the braces and around pins.
    3. Brush the wires of the braces to remove any food particles.
    4. Rinse, then check to make sure you have removed all food particles and plaque, especially at the gum line and around the brackets.

    What are other ways to clean your teeth and keep your mouth healthy?

    Floss between your teeth

    Floss once a day to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gum line, where your toothbrush may not reach. That’s where gum disease often begins. If you have an increased risk of gum disease, an antimicrobial mouth rinse will also help keep your mouth clean.

    Many people find that classic string floss works well. Dental picks and tiny brushes can be good for reaching between the back teeth. There are pre-threaded flossers that come fitted with picks or brushes at one end, giving you a couple of different ways to get between teeth.

    A water flosser, which uses a gentle stream of water to rinse away food and plaque, can be useful if you find other flossing tools too hard to use. 

    Make healthy lifestyle choices

    Tobacco products can also affect the health of your teeth, including erosion and discoloration of your enamel. If you would like to assess your tobacco use, or stop using tobacco products, ask your doctor about ways they can help.

    Go to routine dental appointments

    Make sure you’re up to date with your dental cleanings and exams to remove any plaque or tartar. Dental cleanings are recommended every six months to keep your entire mouth healthy. Your dentist may recommend more frequent cleanings depending on your oral health condition. Call your dentist today to make an appointment.


  • Gum Health
  • Insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company


    Brushing your teeth: How often and when?, Mayo Clinic, July 27, 2023,

    Water Fluoridation Basics, CDC, June 13, 2023,

    Home Oral Care, ADA, December 30, 2022,

    This information is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult with your dentist for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations.

    Product availability may vary by location and plan type and is subject to change. All dental insurance policies contain exclusions and limitations. For costs and details of coverage, review your plan documents or contact a Cigna HealthcareSM representative. All Cigna Healthcare products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of The Cigna GroupSM, including Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company and Cigna Dental Health, Inc. In Texas, the Dental plan is known as Cigna Dental Choice, and this plan uses the national Cigna DPPO Advantage network. In Utah, all products and services are provided by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT).

    This page is not intended for use in GA, NM, NV, and WV.

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