How Long Should I Be Brushing My Teeth For?

As with pre-COVID hand-washing, you’re probably not doing it long enough

For the last few months, you’ve hopefully become accustomed to counting to 20 or singing the chorus of “…Baby One More Time” every time you approach a sink. That’s the minimum amount of time needed to adequately soap and scrub up your hands in order to remove germs when you wash. But you proooobably should have been tracking your time in front of the sink before all this — not just when washing your hands, but when brushing your teeth, too. 

Per the American Dental Association, you should be following a 2/2 method when brushing your teeth: twice a day, for two minutes at a time, using fluoride toothpaste. “Brushing for two minutes has been shown to achieve clinically significant plaque removal and use of a toothpaste containing fluoride enhances fluoride concentration levels in biofilm fluid and saliva, and is associated with decreased risk of caries [another word for cavities] and remineralization of teeth,” the ADA website reads. Not brushing your teeth long enough can lead to gum disease, tooth decay and general nastiness. (Also: This?)

Of course, it’s more about adequately cleaning your entire mouth than hitting the time limit. If you spend two minutes just brushing your two front teeth, you’ve wasted your time. In addition to the two-minute recommendation, the ADA also stresses the importance of covering all areas of the teeth: inner, outer, the area with which you chew and along the gums. Exactly how you brush is less important than you simply doing it, so long as you use a soft-bristle brush and apply gentle pressure. Brush too hard, and you could damage your gums. If your toothbrush is all splayed and flattened (as kids’ toothbrushes often become), it’s not only time for a new brush, but you’re also going waaaay too hard. You look unhinged, honestly. 

Brushes become less effective at that point of wear, as well. You should change out your toothbrush every three to four months, ideally, or at least every six months if we’re being honest with ourselves. The ADA doesn’t care if you use a Dollar Store manual toothbrush or some $200 electric one — whichever brush is easiest for you to use and actually gets you to brush is just fine. 

One benefit of certain electric models is that they offer a timer. You can get one intended for adults, but the kids’ versions work just as well and are often cheaper: This Minions model is only $7, and has both a two-minute timer and a quadrant timer that tells you when to move to a new section of your mouth. I freaking love those little yellow guys! 

You could just set a timer on your phone and brush all your teeth well, like an adult, but that’s not as fun. Either way, brushing your teeth is a lot like washing your hands: If you don’t do it long enough, you will suffer the consequences.