Brushing your teeth is just one of those rote mechanisms we go through twice a day, without much thought on the process itself. I know I brushed my teeth this morning, but I can’t remember an actual moment of it. Did I put my toothpaste on the brush, wet the brush and begin brushing? Or did I wet the brush, put toothpaste on it and then begin brushing? Does it even matter?
Actually, a little bit!
According to Louis R. Marion, a professor of pediatrics and periodontics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, you should wet your toothbrush first. “I like wetting the toothbrush first before putting the toothpaste on,” he says. “Dry bristles, even if they’re ultra-soft, can be more abrasive. Toothbrush abrasion is a huge problem. In dentistry, we’re seeing a lot of gum recession in young people because they brush too hard.”
If you wet your toothbrush after you’ve already placed toothpaste on it, the water probably won’t reach the bristles as well. This isn’t of huge consequence if you’re already careful about brushing gently, but a lot of us aren’t.
In considering our dental hygiene order of operations, Marion also had another recommendation that might go against your usual habits. “I recommend flossing first, as it loosens the debris,” he says.
“Some people do floss afterward, but I like to do it beforehand because you get the debris out. If you do it afterward, your teeth feel nice and minty and then you floss and you pull out a big piece of gunk and it kind of ruins the whole cleanliness feeling,” he says. He also advises to finish your whole process by brushing your tongue and rinsing with water or mouthwash.
Further, if you do have a tendency to brush too hard, Marion suggests getting an electric toothbrush. Many models contain pressure sensors that force you to brush gently. Some also utilize sonic technology that pulses water between teeth to clean them, rather than relying exclusively on the bristles.
It’s mostly, though, a matter of preference. It’s more important to brush twice a day and floss once, regardless of the order. So long as you brush carefully, you have some freedom of choice here. You even have the freedom to not brush your teeth at all. For the sake of your health and the comfort of those around you, I hope that’s not the route you decide to go. But still, the freedom is there.