How to brush your teeth with braces

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 83940)

How to brush your teeth with braces

Introduction

When you wear braces you often need to take extra care and pay additional attention to your teeth when you clean them, particularly if you have fixed or lingual braces.

The fittings, which are necessary as part of your orthodontic treatment, create an environment that is ideal for plaque and bacteria to build upon.  There are more gaps and crevices to which it can stick and food particles can get stuck within.

In some cases, if cleaning isn’t completed properly, you can be left with white marks on your teeth when your braces are removed. You are also at an increased risk of decay and gum disease.

Initially, you need to begin cleaning your teeth with a manual or electric toothbrush.  Either is fine, but an electric toothbrush can be a great help in the outset.

Man holding toothbrush with toothpaste in front of teeth fitted with braces

An electric brush offers extra movements and consistent power, allowing you to focus on the right technique and getting a brilliant clean.

If you don’t have one, check out our list of the best electric toothbrushes for braces.

With your brush selected, the way in which you brush your teeth initially is pretty much the same as if you were not wearing braces.  However, there are a few extra steps to consider, particularly post brushing.

Assuming you are using an electric toothbrush begin by following the steps laid out below.

Optional: Rinsing your mouth with water before brushing is one potential way to help improve your brushing routine.  The force of the water being swished around the mouth can help dislodge trapped food and particles.

How to brush your teeth with braces (step-by-step guide)

1.Place a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste onto a soft bristled brush.

Do not turn on the brush until it is against the teeth.

Visualize splitting your mouth into 4 sections or quadrants, focusing for 30 seconds on each. Upper right and left, lower right and left.

2.  Starting with one of the upper quadrants, begin on with the outer surface, followed by the inner and chewing surfaces of the teeth. Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the teeth.  Simply run the brush from tooth to tooth, there is no real need to move the brush head up and down or side to side, as the motion of the head produces the cleaning effect.

3.  Focus on 1-2 teeth at a time and ensure you reach your back teeth. You need to spend 1-2 seconds on each tooth. Make sure the brush covers the whole tooth and includes the gum line.

4.  Move to the other upper quadrant and continue to use the same technique and then move to the lower quadrant.

5.  To clean behind the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically.

6.  Brush your tongue to remove food particles and help remove food particles and odor-causing bacteria to freshen your breath.

Also brushing the inside of the cheeks is advised to help with freshness.  You may prefer to turn off the brush at this point and use the stationary brush head like you would a manual brush. 

7.  Spit out excess remaining toothpaste.

Some electric toothbrushes and specialist heads require a different approach. Consult your electric toothbrush manual or your dentist for further instruction.

8. Do not rinse your mouth! The fluoride in the toothpaste will provide the best protection if it is left on after brushing. For this reason, you should not rinse with water after brushing. Also, do not rinse with mouthwash as the fluoride content in this is lower than in toothpaste.

Here is a video that we’ve created to show you how to clean your teeth with an electric toothbrush:

How To Use An Electric Toothbrush

Interdental cleaning

As a brace wearer, you need to really take your cleaning to the next level, spending at least an extra minute cleaning.

Everyone should clean interdentally once a day, but few actually do. This cleaning can be with floss or with interdental brushes.

For yourself, with braces, there is even more importance that you do this at least once, if not twice a day.

Giving this extra attention and being thorough is your best chance of ensuring your teeth are not stained nor that you have any white spots on your teeth when the appliance is removed.

Woman cleaning inbetween braces with interdental brushes

Once you have brushed, interdental brushes are extremely helpful in allowing you to get into all those tight spaces that bacteria and plaque may lurk.

If you use traditional string floss, tools known as floss threaders can be very helpful in getting the floss into gaps between teeth and wires.

Without a threader, the process can be tedious and stressful and discourage you from paying attention to this part of the cleaning process.  A threader is designed to make this so much easier.

The stiff, yet flexible nature to the treader makes it a fantastic tool and one that any brace wearer should seriously consider investing in.

Take a look at the following video to see how it works.

Floss Threaders By DenTek

Waxed flosses tend to glide more easily along the tooth and gums.  When used in combination with a floss threader, this becomes a powerful combination. Oral-B Superfloss (view on Amazon) is well worth consideration, it essentially combines the two, in pre-cut lengths.

Interdental brushes are fantastic too.  They have a bristled brush at one end and a small handle at the other.

Manufactured in a variety of sizes and designs, you can find the one most suitable for you.

The formation of the bristles means you can often effectively clean more surface area at once and with more ease than floss, but a combination of interdental brushes and floss are ideal in the fight against plaque build-up.

Be sure to check out our guide to interdental brushes, it tells you all you need to know about them.

If your budget allows, a water flosser can also be useful. See our best water flosser for braces article for more info on this.

Cleaning on the go

As a previous wearer of braces myself, I am all too aware of the issues with braces and the potential concern you may have when eating out.

I recall always thinking with every bite of a sandwich: ‘is there a large chunk of bread caught in the brace? Has that salad leaf tangled around the wire?’ and so on.

This was for me more of an issue at lunchtime, where normally it is not essential to brush your teeth and I was more likely to be away from the comfort and convenience of my brushing tools at home.

Inevitably, I ended up always finding a mirror to give my teeth and brace the once over, to try to save myself the embarrassment of having food stuck in the brace for the rest of the day and a constant reminder of what I had for lunch.

Your lifestyle and routine will influence the steps you can take to overcome some such an issue, but today these very same tools I have mentioned make it easier for brace wearers to manage oral health on the go.

Here are some of my tips and suggestions.

  • Keep a toothbrush and flossing tools in your desk drawer

If you work in an office or tend to be in one location regularly, you might want to consider having a toothbrush and a number of flossing tools to hand.

This need not be an electric toothbrush and an array of interdental brushes and floss, but a manual brush and a couple of interdental brushes might be handy to store in a drawer or on your desk if you can.

This way, you have some useful tools at hand should you need to use them.  Just pop to the loos, take a minute or two and you’re good to go.

A quick brush and floss can make you feel more confident and be assured that your brace is food debris free.

  • Carry your cleaning toothbrush with you

Similar to my point above, but you might be in a position where you can carry all your equipment with you.

This might be in a backpack, work bag, lunchbox — whatever you desire.

Whether you are in one location all the time or not, if you have the flexibility to carry everything with you then this gives you the best ability to keep things clean and plaque free.

Electric toothbrushes often come with travel cases to protect them and make transportation easier and it is not hard to find options for transporting interdental brushes and floss too.  In fact, many now come in convenient portable packages. See our best travel toothbrush roundup for more detail.

When it is with you, you can make use as and when you like.

  • Pocket friendly interdental brushes

Few will or do carry a toothbrush with them.  Let’s be honest, they are not the smallest, nor the first thing you think about popping in a pocket or bag.   That is normally, keys, phone, wallet.

When space is at a premium you might consider something like the TePe Easy Picks (view on Amazon).

These small interdental flossers come with a small compact travel case that you can store a small number of picks within.

Roughly the size of a business card wallet, these are more suitable to be carried in a trouser, jacket or coat pocket.  Small and lightweight, they pose little inconvenience but allow you to carry a handy tool to address any brace vs food debacles you may have.

Check yourself in a mirror and use the easy picks to poke out or dislodge that bit of food, trapped in the brace.

  • Fingers and rinsing

A simple, cheap and simple way, to dislodge food, although not always the most successful.

If you are not in a position to carry oral hygiene tools on you, but need to freshen the mouth or try and remove food stuck within your brace, then your fingers and mouth rinsing are a powerful combination.

Post eating, take a mouthful of a drink (only ever use water for this) and swish it around the mouth as forcefully as you can.  The pressure and flow of water should dislodge stuck food particles.

If this is not successful those fingers and thumbs can also be useful, although awkward as they are not great for the tightest of gaps and spaces.

Hopefully those are a few useful pointers and will help you to maintain your oral hygiene on the go.

Here are a few extra reminders/points you might want to consider.

  • Do not try whitening your teeth when wearing braces.
  • Use a soft bristled toothbrush.
  • Whilst important to brush, avoid brushing too frequently or with too much pressure.
  • Make sure you have regular checkups.

Finally, if you have a question feel free to ask below or do consult your dentist or orthodontist.

They are trained professionals.  Listen and take on board their advice, they provide it with you in mind, particularly their suggestions on what foods to avoid.

Jon Love

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise.

Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them.

Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s.

After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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