Brushing and flossing

Practicing good oral hygiene with regular toothbrushing and flossing protects your teeth from decay and gum disease. This information explains the most effective way to brush and floss your teeth.


To remove dental plaque, brush your teeth at least twice a day, in the morning after breakfast and just before bed. Use a soft bristled toothbrush with a small head, and fluoride toothpaste. Remember to spit, not rinse your mouth after brushing as rinsing will wash away the protective benefits of fluoride.

You should replace your toothbrush, or brush head on an electric toothbrush, every 3 months and/or when the toothbrush bristles appear worn and shaggy.

Manual toothbrushing technique

  1. Place the head of the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gum margin.
  2. Gently move the toothbrush in a small circular, forward and backward, jiggling or vibrating motion over each tooth to remove plaque found both above and below the gum line.
  3. Repeat this process on both the inner and outer surfaces of each tooth.
  4. Clean the chewing surfaces by using a gentle backward and forward scrubbing action.

Electric toothbrushing technique

  1. Place the head of the brush against each tooth at the gum margin.
  2. Clean the outside and inside surfaces of all teeth by moving the brush in a gentle, rolling motion.
  3. Clean the chewing surfaces of all teeth by holding the head of the brush to each chewing surface.

Modified toothbrushes

If you have limited manual dexterity, using an electric toothbrush or modifying the handle of a manual toothbrush may provide an easier grip and improved control. Modifications can include bending or extending the handle, increasing the size or weight of the handle and/or attaching ergonomic handles to the brush.

For advice on modified toothbrushes, speak to your dental practitioner or consult an occupational therapist.


Floss your teeth once a day, prior to brushing. When flossing, take care not to damage your gums. Flossing may be difficult at first, but with practice it becomes easier. If you are unsure of what time of dental floss to use, speak to your dentist.

Flossing technique

  1. Take about 40cm of floss and wrap the ends around the second finger of each hand, leaving only a small piece between the 2 hands.
  2. With 1 finger in the mouth, draw the floss down into the gap between 2 teeth using a gentle sawing action until it slips just slightly under the gum level.
  3. Wrap the floss around 1 tooth and use a wiping action to remove plaque and food debris.
  4. Re-insert a clean section of floss between the same 2 teeth.
  5. Wrap the floss around the other tooth and wipe the side of that tooth.
  6. Repeat these steps around the mouth until the spaces between all teeth are clean.

Alternatives to dental floss

Dental floss can be replaced with floss aids and interdental/interproximal brushes. Interdental or interproximal brushes resemble small bottlebrushes that clean the spaces between teeth. These tiny brushes are also ideal for cleaning under bridge work, around crowns and between the roots of teeth where gum recession has occurred.

Interdental/interproximal brushing technique

Simply slide the brush into the space and move the brush back and forth until the area is clean. For advice on alternatives to dental floss and interdental/interproximal cleaning techniques, consult with your dental professional.


Mouthwashes should not be considered substitutes for regular toothbrushing and flossing, but they can be useful for different purposes depending on their ingredients.

A dental practitioner may recommend specific mouthwashes for certain oral conditions, or for those who can't brush effectively because of physical impairments or medical reasons.

Mouthwashes are classified as either cosmetic or therapeutic.

Cosmetic mouthwashes are commercial, over-the-counter products that:

  • help remove oral debris before or after brushing
  • temporarily suppress bad breath
  • diminish bacteria in the mouth
  • refresh the mouth with a pleasant taste.

They can be effective oral antiseptics that freshen the mouth and help improve bad breath in the short term, but should only be used for short periods of time.

Therapeutic mouthwashes have the same benefits as cosmetic mouthwashes, but they also contain an added active ingredient that helps protect against some oral diseases.

Using a mouth wash

  1. Measure the recommended amount of wash.
  2. Wash or swish the liquid around your mouth for the time recommended on the packaging (or as recommended by your dental professional).
  3. Spit liquid out of mouth thoroughly.

To maximise the effects of the mouth wash, do not wash, eat, or smoke for 30 minutes after using it.

Common mouth washes

Common mouthwashes include saltwater, chlorhexidine, essential oils, fluoride and antibacterial washes.

Some mouthwashes contain high concentrations of alcohol - people suffering from dry mouth, pregnant women, and children should not use mouthwashes containing alcohol.


Mild, warm saltwater washes may benefit patients who have ulcers, minor throat irritation and denture sores by alleviating discomfort and aiding healing. Consult a dental professional if the area continues to be irritated or sore for longer than 1 week.

Chlorhexidine is very effective in reducing bacteria found in the oral cavity. Long-term use of chlorhexidine washes may alter perception of taste, cause brown staining on teeth and increase the formation of calculus (tartar or scale). Chlorhexidine should only be used when recommended by a dental professional.

Dental professionals can recommend fluoride mouthwashes to control and prevent tooth decay. Fluoride mouthwash should not be used at the same time of day as toothpaste.

Fluoride mouth wash is not recommended for children under the age of 6.

Antibacterial mouth washes reduce the bacteria in the mouth and alter the bacterial activity in plaque. They are helpful in helping to control gingivitis and minor throat infections.

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