As far back as you can remember, you have been brushing and flossing your teeth. You must have gotten pretty good at it, right? Actually, the reverse may sometimes be true. In fact, it may be precisely those ingrained habits that we perform routinely on a subconscious level that we take most for granted. In other words, we are sometimes guilty of performing an act so regularly, without giving it any thought that we fail to do it properly. I’m afraid that for many people, brushing and flossing falls into that category.

Let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes that many people make when brushing or flossing:

The wrong toothbrush: Selecting the right toothbrush involves more than picking what is most convenient or “on sale”. The right tooth brush should have these attributes: Feels comfortable in your hands; bristles are firm enough to remove plaque but soft enough so that it doesn’t damage your teeth; and the right size for your mouth (you don’t have to strain your jaws when brushing). When deciding between electric or manual toothbrushes, it boils down to individual needs and preferences. For example, an electric toothbrush works better for those with hand arthritis.

Wrong brushing technique: One very common mistake is brushing with broad and hard horizontal strokes. The more efficient method is to hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and gently brush with small and thorough strokes. You may divide your teeth into sections to ensure consistent coverage and speed.

Use new section of floss: Sure you are still loosening the plaque and food debris, but when you use the same section of the floss for all of the teeth in your mouth, you are effectively spreading bacteria around. Always use a new section of the floss as you work your way through the different areas of your teeth.

Aimless flossing: You can easily get confused if you floss without a plan. It is a good idea to divide your teeth into quadrants and work from upper to lower, then left to right. This can become your flossing order so that you consistently floss every tooth gap in every session.

Using the same toothbrush the whole year: As soon as the bristles are worn out or start to irritate your teeth or gums, it’s time to replace a new toothbrush. Otherwise, the standard replacement time frame is every 3-4 months. Using an old brush is defeating the purpose because its cleaning ability would be significantly compromised.

Stop flossing as soon as your gum bleeds: As long as you are not forcing the floss too hard on your gums, you are not hurting your gums simply because they bleed. The most common reason for bleeding during flossing is because you haven’t flossed in a while such that the gum tissue has become red and inflamed. Since flossing helps to remove plaque, you may in the process of doing so thus causing the blood from the inflamed tissue to leak out. Just continue flossing in a gentle manner. After a few sessions, your gums should return to normal and you will not experience any more bleeding when flossing.