Great brushing starts with being gentle

While it's good to make a habit of brushing, making it too routine may lead to carelessness.

A WebMD article, "10 Toothbrushing Mistakes," says that for most people, toothbrushing has become a regular habit. The bad news is, as with any habit, it's easy to forget how to do it correctly. This can lead to cavities and gum disease.

So here are 10 ways we can go wrong when brushing our teeth, and ways to fix them.

  1. The wrong toothbrush

    Make sure you choose a toothbrush that fits your mouth. Richard H. Price, DMD, the consumer advisor for the American Dental Association, says. "If you are straining to open wide enough to let the brush in, the brush is probably too big."

    Also, the hand should be comfortable. A good guide is to pick a brush with a handle that feels as comfortable as holding a fork when you eat.

    The better a toothbrush fits your mouth and your hand, the better the chance you'll use it correctly.

    People often wonder whether an electric toothbrush is better than a manual one. Dentists say it's really a personal choice. The most important thing is that you brush well.

  2. Too-stiff bristles

    A trip to the dental care shelves of your local store can be confusing. Straight bristles, angled bristles, stiff bristles, soft bristles – what's best? Again, dentists say it's really about how you brush, not what you brush with.

    However, bristles that are too stiff can hurt your gums. Because of this, the American Dental Association recommends a soft-bristled brush. When bristles are too hard, they can damage the enamel – the hard "finish" that protects the teeth. There's an easy way to shop for a toothbrush, though. Just look for a brush with the letters "ADA" (American Dental Association) on its box. This means the bristles are firm enough to remove plaque buildup, but soft enough protect enamel.

  3. Not brushing often or long enough

    Gently brushing your teeth two to three times a day is ideal. Waiting too long between brushing sessions lets bacteria, basically germs, build up on your teeth. This can raise the risk of swollen gums and other problems.

    How long to brush? Dentists agree that at least two minutes at a time is good and three minutes is even better.

    An easy way to make sure you spend enough time brushing? Picture your mouth in four sections: top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right. Then spend 30 seconds brushing in each section. Don't forget to include your tongue!

    Some toothbrushes come with timers that will do the counting for you.

  4. Brushing too often, or too hard

    Dentists say that brushing three times a day is perfect. But you can do too much of a good thing.

    Brushing more than four times a day, or brushing too hard, is probably that "too much."

    Too much brushing can irritate gums by exposing a tooth's roots. And brushing too hard can wear away the enamel. This can make teeth sensitive to cold, and even lead to cavities.

  5. Not brushing correctly

    Now let's talk about how to brush. Softly brush up and down your teeth, not across your teeth. Long strokes straight along your gumline can scrape the gums. Instead, dentists say, hold the brush bristles at a 45-degree angle to your gumline. Then, move the brush gently up and down with short strokes or vibrations.

    Make sure to brush your teeth's inside and outside surfaces as well as your chewing surfaces. And don't forget your tongue – bacteria grow there, too.

  6. "Boredom brushing"

    Dentists have found that many people start brushing in the same parts of their mouth every time. From there they follow the same pattern. Unfortunately, this can mean that by the time you get to the last part of your pattern, you're not doing as good a job as when you started. This means one part of your mouth might get better cleanings than other parts. So shake up your routine. Start in a different place each time.

  7. Skipping over inner tooth surfaces

    Most people forget to brush the inner surfaces of teeth (the parts the tongue presses against). But plaque and bacteria grow there, too. The inside of the front teeth is the place that's missed most often, dentists say.

  8. Not rinsing your toothbrush

    A toothbrush that isn't rinsed can harbor harmful germs and bacteria, including the bacteria you brushed off last time. So make sure to rinse your brush after each use. This will help remove any leftover toothpaste, too.

  9. Not letting the toothbrush dry

    A toothbrush that's always damp can also grow bacteria. After you rinse the brush, shake it out and store it in a brush holder. Or, if you use a toothbrush cover, make sure it's a kind that lets air in.

  10. Using a tired, old toothbrush

    The American Dental Association says you should get a new toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles look worn. Look at your brush regularly and make sure the bristles are flexible and not frayed. Replace a brush that doesn't pass your inspection.