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Common Toothbrushing Mistakes


Why are my teeth still dirty eventhough I brush them everyday? Why do my gums bleed whenever I brush my teeth? Why do I still have tartar/calculus? These are the common questions asked by those who are concerned with their oral health.

Toothbrushing has become an ingrained habit among those who are concerned with cleanliness.

As with other habits, toothbrushing has become mechanical, sloppy and not much thought or focus is given to the activity anymore. Sometimes people brush their teeth even with their eyes closed or half-asleep! posing a risk to cavities and gum diseases. How and why can this happen? Below is a list of some common mistakes while brushing the teeth.

Mistakes during toothbrushing

  1. Using the wrong toothbrush
    • Brush size is bigger than the mouth
    • The handle is not comfortable enough
    • Square shaped tooth brush
    • Not choosing the right bristle type
  2. Ineffective brushing technique
    • Not brushing often enough
    • Not brushing long enough
    • Not brushing the inner tooth surfaces
  3. Improper care of the toothbrush
    • Not storing the toothbrush properly
    • Not cleaning the toothbrush after use
    • Not changing toothbrush at the right time

Effects from these mistakes


Common mistakes


Choice of toothbrush

  • Big toothbrush

  • Square shaped
  • Handle of brush not comfortable
  • Hard bristles

Brushing will not be effective and thorough. Plaque and food particles accumulate causing bad-breath and eventually result in caries or gum problems/gingivitis.

Toothbrushing technique

  • Quick and fast brushing/ strokes that last less than 2 minutes

  • Brushing less than 2 times per day
  • Brushing in one direction/ scrubbing technique
  • Not brushing the inner surface of teeth/back teeth
  • Focusing on the front teeth only
  • Starting at the same spot during each brushing


Bristles fail to reach all surfaces of the teeth, hence plaque and food particles are not cleansed from the surfaces and between teeth including the tongue.



Brushing in one direction will lead to abrasion of tooth surfaces resulting in tooth sensivity. Brushing vertically alone will not be able to remove plaque in-between teeth

Do not begin brushing teeth from the same spot always as by the time you get to the end, brushing tends to be sloppy/less energetic. Start in a different spot to ensure that each tooth gets ‘quality time’ with the toothbrush.

Proper care of the toothbrush

  • Toothbrush not washed after use

  • Placing several toothbrushes in a single container, in the bathroom.
  • Using toothbrushes for more than 3 months
  • Using toothbrushes with frayed bristles


Debris and food particles left in- between the bristles is unhygienic and may harbour bacteria

Keeping several toothbrushes together in a wet, unventilated condition is unhygienic. This encourages bacterial growth on the toothbrushes

Toothbrush bristles tend to harden over time. Using toothbrushes with frayed bristles is even worse because it will not be able to clean all the surfaces of the tooth well.

Tips for Effective Toothbrushing

  • Consider the size of mouth when choosing a toothbrush
  • The handle has to be comfortable (as comfortable as holding a fork when you eat)
  • Soft-bristled brushes are recommended. However should be sturdy enough to remove plaque
  • Brush effectively
  • Brushing should last at least 2-3 minutes
  • Brush at least twice daily (morning and before going to bed). Brush outer and inner tooth surfaces and the chewing surfaces too . Flossing helps to remove plaque and food particles between the teeth.
  • Brushing should include both the teeth and tongue. Using a tongue scraper is permissable as it improves cleanliness of the mouth.
  • Sharing of toothbrushes is not hygienic
  • Rinsing the mouth after eating is a good oral hygiene practice. It helps to remove food particles
  • Toothbrushes should be kept separately, in a dry, well ventilated area to avoid bacterial growth
  • Replace/change the toothbrush every 3-4 months or whenever the bristles have frayed.


  1. 10 toothbrushing mistakes: How to brush Teeth the Right way. WebMD Feature.
    By Kathleen Doherty, reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr, DMD (http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/healthy-teeth-10/brushing-teeth-mistakes) Retrieved 12/03/2013
  2. 10 Toothbrushing Mistakes You Are Making-Yahoo! Lifestyle India (http://in.lifestyle.yahoo.com/10-toothbrushing-mistakes-making-121630284.html) Retrieved 12/03/2013
  3. How To Avoid Teeth Brushing Mistakes Step By Step. WebMD Feature. “10 toothbrushing Mistakes”. American Dental Association. Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 09,2011 (http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/how-to-protect-your-family-teeth/brushing-mistakes) Retrieved 12/03/2013
  4. Avoid These Common Toothbrushing Mistakes (http://www.meditrenz.com/avoid-these-common-toothbrushing-mistakes.html) Retrieved 12/03/2013
  5. Brushing Teeth-Proper Techniques for Brushing Your Teeth. (http://colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Ora…) Retrieved 4/3/2013
  6. Penyakit Periodontium (gusi). (www.myhealth.gov.my)
  7. Amalan Kesihatan Pergigian Yang Baik. (www.myhealth.gov.my)
  8. Memberus gigi. (www.myhealth.gov.my)


Last Reviewed : 23 August 2019
Writer : Dr. Rohani bt. Che Awang
Accreditor : Dr. Savithri a/p Vengadasalam
Reviewer : Dr. Sharol Lail bin Sujak