Proper gum-brushing technique?
January 20, 2007 9:10 PM   Subscribe

ToothFilter: What's the proper importance of brushing your gums? Surprinsingly, there's -

Customers say the darndest things and a couple of days ago, I had a customer who was going on and on about how he had just learned (in some class, I think) the "real" method of tooth brushing and elaborated that the most important aspect is not brushing the teeth themselves, but brushing the gums. He said that the brushing motion brings oxygen to the gums and that the motion involved is much more important than the toothpaste.

Thus far, no one I've asked has any actual information to tell me whether this is true or if this is totally bunk. Or where you take classes to learn about toothbrushing other than dentist school. (I don't think there are any dentistry programs around here, but I really have no idea.) Help me out, MeFites! The teeths, they totally depend on you!
posted by grapefruitmoon to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing I've heard about gum brushing from my dentist is that if you brush your teeth too hard it'll wear away the gums. That is what I had been starting to do and was urged to stop. She said that down the line it would give me problems. And "bringing oxygen to the gums" sounds like irritating the skin to me.

Have you seen adverts for this new toothbrush that has a cheek and tongue rough strip on the opposite side of the brush? Claims that brushing the tongue and cheek reduces the amount of bacteria in your mouth. And truthfully brushing your tongue does reduce the effects of bad breath BUT to me that sounds like they're adding a widget that costs less than a penny to charge you an extra quarter.

I'll wind it down ... part of your question was cut off so I'm not quite sure it is what you do, or who this customer was - but it sounds like they're trying to sell you something.

Were people's mouths that nasty before this new method came around?
posted by apfel at 9:23 PM on January 20, 2007

I've had dentists tell me to brush the gums lightly, without or without toothpaste, and to brush in small circles with the bristles pointing up towards the gumline at a 45 degree angle for the top, and down at the same angle for the bottom.

Whether this is more important than brushing your teeth I think depends greatly on what type of teeth you have. Some people have great gums, but their teeth tend to decay. These people should concentrate on brushing their teeth more. Other people have crap for gums, but their teeth never rot. These people should concentrate on brushing their gums.
posted by milarepa at 9:26 PM on January 20, 2007

Response by poster: What I do is pretty irrelevant, I'm a barista. And the customer was just spouting off about this theory, he wasn't trying to sell anything. Or at least, he wasn't trying to sell anything to ME. Maybe he is in the selling toothy items business, I mean, for all I know, this guy could have been the Tooth Fairy.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:35 PM on January 20, 2007

I have great teeth and eroding gums. My dental hygienist specifically told me not to brush my gums, that doing so might contribute to the problem.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I would trust her particularly. My dentist rocks, but her hygienists have been a little hit or miss.
posted by occhiblu at 10:05 PM on January 20, 2007

It's important to keep the exposed surface of the teeth clean, but plaque also accumulates below the gumline. Manual brushing is pretty good at getting plaque off below the gumline, if you angle down there a bit; the new sonic-frequency vibrating toothbrushes like Sonicare are so good at it, though, that I've considered writing an FPP about it. (Eventually decided holding myself up to the ridicule of the unwashed MeFi masses wasn't worth the effort.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:51 PM on January 20, 2007

ikkuyu2, I wish you would. I've been looking for about a year now and wondering if it was all hype.

As for brushing, my dentist told me that brushing (gums included) but with a medium bristle brush and not too agressively would do the trick.
I'd love to hear more from Sonic users though. (anyone have an image of a hedghog saying that?)
posted by Wilder at 3:44 AM on January 21, 2007

I've never heard the "oxygen to the gums" theory before but my dentist and his hygienists oft discussed how plaque under the gumline contributes to receding gums--a topic they especially liked to apply to my plaque-prone mouth. I did eventually buy a Sonicare (and yes, it did everything it promised, my bi-annual cleaning appointments are no longer marathon scaling sessions).

Anecdotally, my father is a tooth-hygiene fiend, spending about an hour total/day vigorously (manual) brushing, water pik-ing, and flossing. His dentist told him to back off a little on his technique as his overly-enthusiastic ministrations were causing damage to his gums.
posted by jamaro at 4:41 AM on January 21, 2007

Google answers this question very quickly. Just about all websites about good oral hygiene recommend brushing both teeth and gums.

Regarding the "oxygen to the gums" theory. most (maybe all, IANAD, IANAC, IANAB) of the bacteria that cause bad breath and gum disease are anaerobic - can't live in oxygen - so the theory is good. Some people brush their gums, or rinse with, hydrogen peroxide for this reason.

And yes, while you want to brush your gums, doing it too hard will cause receding gums and increase tooth sensitivity. No one should ever use a toothbrush with anything other than soft bristles for this reason. Check with your dentist.
posted by lockedroomguy at 5:00 AM on January 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think "bringing oxygen to the gums" was supposed to mean increasing blood circulation in the gums, not increasing the air exposure on the outside. I feel like I, too, have been told that gently stimulating the gums with a toothbrush was supposed to strengthen them by increasing blood circulation (like stretching an under-used muscle), but I have no idea where I heard that. It sounds plausible, but I can't confirm the SCIENCE!
posted by twoporedomain at 6:45 AM on January 21, 2007

Just to source the whole plaque thing. Here's a link to an NIH site about tooth care (here's a link to an NIH gingivitis site. It mentions that buildup of plaque which eventually mineralizes into tartar on the gums as one of the causes of gingivitis (interestingly, along with too-vigorous brushing).
posted by jourman2 at 8:28 AM on January 21, 2007

According to this kids' health site, you should gently brush both gums and teeth. The American Dental Association agrees. They even have a handy animation to show you how.

Not quite on topic, but a little lightbulb went off over my head when I read this at the kids' site:

About one person in 10 has a tendency to accumulate tartar quickly. Tartar is plaque in a hardened form that is more damaging and difficult to remove. Using antitartar toothpastes and mouthwashes, as well as spending extra time brushing the teeth near the salivary glands (the inside of the lower front teeth and the outside of the upper back teeth), may slow the development of new tartar.

I always wondered why those two areas seemed to get the most tartar (back before I got religion about brushing and flossing -- my dental cleaning sessions are now ridiculously short). If you ever find yourself rushing through your brushing, try to give these areas, at least, some time and attention.
posted by maudlin at 8:53 AM on January 21, 2007

I have to weigh in on the Sonicare business -- I was sure I was getting ripped off ($125 for a toothbrush?) but each subsequent dentist visit (cleaning) has been easier and quicker. You basically just move the rotating head with bristles along the gumline slowly, and it's timed so you can just do it until the beep then do the next area. And that's it. Highly recommend...
posted by kitmandu at 9:11 AM on January 21, 2007

Having gone to the dentist and getting the third degree for years, I can say that you need to brush the teeth as well as the gums. Except for the gums you brush more gently. Brushing the gums alone to increase oxygen sounds strange to me.
posted by slc228 at 3:00 PM on January 21, 2007

My periodontist (yes, I was obviously doing it really, really wrong) had me get a good electric toothbrush (preferably with the timer), then wanted me to use it at a 45 degree angle to the gum line. This means that you get some of the gum brushed, too. My gums bleed less, which makes them really happy.

But, I suggest you ask your dental hygenist the next time you go in. I bet he or she will be thrilled to show you.
posted by QIbHom at 3:08 PM on January 22, 2007

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