People learn how to brush their teeth properly in early childhood – more or less. But even as adults, they’re often unsure about some of the finer points of dental hygiene.

Is chewing gum good for your teeth? Does a manual or an electric toothbrush clean more effectively? What kind of toothpaste is best?

These and other questions are answered here by dental experts:

Find the duration that’s right for you

You should brush your teeth twice daily, says Dr Dietmar Oesterreich, vice president of Germany’s Federal Chamber of Dentists.

However, experts have no specific recommendation on how long to brush them. The optimal duration depends on a number of factors: how many teeth you have, your level of dexterity, your brushing technique and the type of toothbrush you use. Between two and five minutes is generally thought to be appropriate.

Clean hard-to-reach spaces too

A toothbrush removes about 70 per cent of the dental plaque on your teeth. The rest is on the surfaces in between, so you should clean the spaces between your teeth once a day, Oesterreich says.

Flossing is the best way to do this, according to pharmacist Ursula Sellerberg. “You’ve got to be careful not to injure your gums though,” she warns.

Alternatives to dental floss are toothpicks, dental sticks and interdental brushes.

To check how well you’re cleaning your teeth, you should occasionally use chewable disclosing tablets, which make dental plaque visible.

Manual or electric? It depends

Is it better to use a manual or an electric toothbrush? “Electric toothbrushes have better results,” Oesterreich says. The main reason for this is that they facilitate certain brushing movements.

They could therefore be helpful to people with diminished dexterity, for example in old age, says Dirk Kropp, managing director of proDente, an information programme funded by five large German dental-sector associations. Children should learn proper tooth-brushing technique with a manual toothbrush.

Don’t apply too much pressure

If you press too hard while brushing, you’ll wear out not only your toothbrush. “Scrubbing damages the gums, and particularly the tooth necks” – the part of the tooth at the junction of the crown and root or roots, Oesterreich says. “It abrades the enamel.”

You should apply about 150g of pressure while brushing.

You can see just how little this is by pressing your toothbrush on a kitchen scale.

If the bristles of your toothbrush are bent after just four weeks, you’re pressing too hard.

Develop a routine

It’s a good idea to always brush your teeth in the same order.

That way you’ll develop a routine and won’t neglect any areas.

Kropp suggests starting with the chewing surfaces, followed by the outer surfaces and then the inner ones.

And brush “from red to white” – that is, from the gum to the tooth. Oesterreich recommends using a sweeping motion.

Chewing gum helps

While chewing gum after eating doesn’t remove dental plaque, it does stimulate the production of saliva.

Your tooth enamel loses minerals when you eat, and saliva helps to remineralise them.

“You should chew gum for five to 10 minutes after eating,” Sellerberg says. This can complement your normal dental hygiene, and the gum should be sugarless.

Good oral hygiene takes work and know-how.

Select the right toothpaste

Your toothpaste should contain fluoride, which protects against tooth decay, Kropp points out.

Toothpaste for children should have a maximum fluoride content of 500 parts per million (ppm), and toothpaste for adults 1,450 ppm. You should also make sure that the components of your toothpaste aren’t too abrasive, which could damage tooth enamel as well as the dentin beneath it.

A standard toothpaste has a relative dentin abrasivity (RDA) between 40 and 70.

The RDA of a whitening toothpaste is more than 100, Kropp notes, adding: “It definitely shouldn’t be used long term.” – dpa