In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn how to brush brilliantly, how to choose the ideal toothbrush (for every stage of life) and easy fixes for brushing when you have complications – like orthodontic braces, implants, bridges, crowns, veneers, sensitive gums or dentures.

USEFUL TERMS

Biofilm – a sticky layer of bacteria and other microbes that sticks to a surface
Plaque – a type of biofilm that forms on your teeth
Tartar – hardened, calcified plaque (also called calculus)
Interdental – between two teeth, also called interproximal areas

WHY DO YOU NEED TO BRUSH YOUR TEETH?

According to dental professionals, brushing the teeth is the most important part of your home oral hygiene routine. Brushing removes plaque and there is overwhelming evidence* of the benefits. If you don’t brush correctly, you are at higher risk of cavities, gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis), sensitivity, bad breath and worse.

What is plaque? Plaque is a biofilm – a sticky layer of bacteria and other microbes – that naturally forms on the teeth. Brushing disrupts this sticky film. If not removed, plaque builds up and hardens, calcifying into tartar (also called calculus) a hard, yellow substance that you won’t be able to brush off.

Furry teeth? When your teeth feel furry or slimy it’s usually a sign of plaque build-up.

A LITTLE TOOTHBRUSH HISTORY

Before the invention of the first commercial bristle brush in 1780, our ancient ancestors used twigs, bones, feathers and even porcupine quills to clean their teeth! Today there are hundreds of different kinds of toothbrushes – including manual and electric. How do you know which to choose?

CHOOSING THE RIGHT TOOTHBRUSH

Your ideal toothbrush depends on your mouth, your budget and personal preferences. Whether you choose a manual or electric toothbrush, consider these important features.

1) Bristles

Bristles are tiny, but they make a big difference. In fact, it’s the bristles that have the most impact on how well a brush cleans your teeth. Look at firmness, shape, height and hygiene.

a) Firmness

Toothbrushes range from soft, to medium or hard. Soft bristles are less likely to damage your teeth or gums. These days there are even ultra-soft bristles, like the ones in the GUM Sonic Sensitive battery toothbrush and the GUM Pro Sensitive.

Surprisingly, softer bristles also clean more effectively because their flexibility allows them to reach below the gumline and between the teeth, two places where plaque loves to hide the most!

Think about the bristles on a broom. When the bristles are hard, they glide over uneven surfaces and can’t reach into corners. Your toothbrush is the same. Soft bristles stroke the full surface, bend into corners and clean better. 

~ Dirna Grobbelaar, Ivohealth oral hygiene advisor.

b) Shape

Look for a thin, tapered bristle tip, like the ones in GUM Technique Pro, and the GUM Sonic Daily, which are proven to reach further between the teeth and under the gum line. Another excellent bristle shape is in the GUM ActiVital brush. It has conical bristles, with three micro-bristles at each tip, creating a ‘feather duster’ type effect that provides a superb clean.

c) Height and Angle

A little variety can help remove more plaque. Look for bristles of varied heights or angles. If the bristles point in different directions they stroke around the shape of the tooth, helping reach between the teeth, under the gums and cleaning more thoroughly.

Varied bristle height, like those in the GUM Dome Trim and GUM Technique Pro brushes work similarly. When all the bristles are the same height the brushing surface is flat. When they vary, the shorter, firmer bristles clean the main surface of the tooth and the longer, softer bristles clean between and in uneven surfaces.

d) Hygiene

It’s important to allow your toothbrush to dry between uses to prevent bacterial growth. Look for a brush with bristles that have enough space between them to ‘breathe’ making it easier to rinse and dry.

When you’re on the go, a cap or cover helps keep your brush clean. The GUM Protect Toothbrush Covers have an antibacterial coating, offering greater protection.

2) Head shape and size

You may think a larger toothbrush head can clean your teeth more quickly. The problem is it can make it more difficult to reach every tooth, especially the back of the mouth. Dental professionals recommend a small, compact head, like the GUM ActiVital, as it is easier to manoeuvre. A rubber coated head, like on the GUM Kids brushes for children, is gentler on the teeth and gums.

3) Handle

Look for a handle that is comfortable to hold, ideally at the 45-degree angle recommended by dental professionals. This angle allows you to gently clean just under the gum line, where plaque loves to hide. Some GUM brushes, like the GUM Technique Plus and GUM Pro Sensitive, have a special ‘quad grip’ which naturally encourages this position.

ARE MANUAL OR ELECTRIC BRUSHES BETTER?

Manual and electric brushes both give excellent results, when used correctly. A 2014 analysis found power brushes have a slight edge when it comes to plaque removal.

However, the time spent brushing and your technique usually matter more than the brush.

The choice – of electric or manual – often comes down to your budget and preferences. There are certain cases when dental professionals would recommend an electric brush. For example:

  • If you need a little extra help to clean brush thoroughly e.g., when you’re unwell, if you have arthritis or other mobility issues, or struggle to brush for the full 2 minutes recommended by dental professionals.
  • If you tend to brush too hard. A quality power brush cleans well without applying You simply hold the brush on the teeth and gums and move it gently around the mouth.
  • Similarly, if you have sensitive teeth or gums, a power brush, especially one like the GUM Sonic Sensitive, is gentler.
  • You want a built-in timer. Some power brushes have a quad pace timer tells you when to move to the next section of your mouth.

Rechargeable or battery-operated?
Rechargeable toothbrushes, tend to have more features. Battery-powered toothbrushes, like GUM Sonic, are a brilliant option for travel as they are smaller and don’t require a charger.

Environment tip: If you use a battery-operated toothbrush, use rechargeable batteries.

WHAT TOOTHBRUSHES DO DENTAL PROFESSIONALS RECOMMEND?

There are many quality toothbrush brands recommended by South African dentists. These include:

  • GUM manual brushes: Superior cleaning with ergonomic design
  • GUM Sonic Daily and Sensitive: Power and precision for an effective clean
  • Kindbrush: An eco-friendly option for sustainable oral hygiene.
  • Oclean for next level oral care: Sonic brushes with innovative features and cutting-edge technology.

MASTER YOUR BRUSHING TECHNIQUE

The correct brushing technique is your key to optimal oral care. Pay special attention to the areas where plaque most loves to hide – close to the gums and in-between the teeth.

How to brush like a dental professional:

  1. Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, directing the bristles towards the gum line.
  2. Apply gentle pressure. Make small circular or back-and-forth motions with a manual brush. With an electric brush simply gently hold it and the brush will do the work.
  3. Brush the entire surface of each tooth, using a sweeping motion to brush from top to bottom.
  4. Pay attention to the whole tooth – the back, front, top and – as far as you can – between the teeth. You can’t remove all the plaque between your teeth by brushing, you still need to use floss or an interdental brush or pick, but you can remove a significant amount brushing, especially if you have tapered bristles.
  5. Finally, gently brush or scrape your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath. Use a specially designed tongue brush if you prefer, like the GUM Hali-Control Tongue Cleaner which features a brush and a scraper for extra fresh breath.

How long to brush for?

Dental professionals recommend you brush for at least 2 minutes, twice a day. See how to angle your brush correctly in this GUM video on how to perfect your toothbrushing technique.

Brush or clean in-between first?

Brushing correctly does not remove all the plaque in your mouth. Good oral hygiene involves both toothbrushing and interdental cleaning. But whether you brush or clean in-between first makes no difference, the result is the same.

Some people prefer to floss before brushing, to loosen and remove debris and plaque. Others like to brush then floss. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus amongst dental professionals, but there is agreement that you should do both, every single day. Find a routine that works for you.

BRUSHES FOR ORAL ISSUES

If you have orthodontic braces, rapid plaque build-up or sensitive teeth, a toothbrush specifically adapted for your needs will enhance your brushing experience and can improve your oral hygiene. Your dental professional can advise what to use. There are excellent options:

Sensitive or bleeding gums

Sensitive or bleeding gums are often a sign of gum disease, usually caused by plaque build-up. Look for a brush that gives a superb clean, efficiently removes plaque and has soft, tapered bristles.

Recommended:
GUM Pro Sensitive – ultra-soft bristles, compact head, and gentle cleaning for sensitive gums.
GUM Sonic Sensitive – a battery-powered brush with ultra soft bristles and sonic cleaning power.
Oclean X Ultra – ensures ultimate gum protection with its pressure sensor light, AI voice guidance, super-soft bristles and FlexFit™ flexible head, preventing excessive pressure and safeguarding your gums from potential damage.

Plaque build-up

Some people build-up plaque more quickly than others. This can be due to the balance of the bacteria in your mouth (your oral microbiome), a high sugar diet, or a condition like diabetes or dry mouth (also known as xerostomia).

If you struggle with plaque, find a brush proven to remove more plaque, especially below the gum and between the teeth.

Recommended:
GUM Sonic Daily or Sonic Sensitive battery toothbrushes – with soft, tapered bristles and sonic power.
GUM Technique Plus – with specially tapered, soft bristles.
Oclean X Ultra – your personal brushing coach with AI voice guidance and instant brushing feedback on the colour touch screen.

Orthodontic braces

Orthodontic appliances make cleaning your mouth more complicated which is why we’ve put together a guide to Orthodontic Care to make it as easy as possible. The right brush will help.

Recommended:
GUM Ortho toothbrush – specially designed with V-trim cut bristles, which are shorter in the middle, making it easier to clean around orthodontic brackets, wires and ligatures.
GUM Sonic Daily toothbrush – an affordable power brush that offers superior cleaning with tapered bristles.
GUM Ortho Travel Brush – great to keep on hand for cleaning your braces when eating out.
GUM End-Tuft brush – a tiny brush designed to clean hard to reach places, including orthodontic bands, implants and the back molars.

TOOTHBRUSHES FOR DIFFERENT LIFE STAGES

Babies

Start ‘brushing’ before your baby’s teeth emerge, to help develop a good daily habit of cleaning the mouth. Simply use gauze or a clean facecloth wrapped around your index finger to gently wipe the gums. This helps the child become used to the sensation of having the mouth cleaned. Do this until the first teeth come through and choosing your child’s first toothbrush.

Your child’s first toothbrush will ideally have soft bristles, a small head and soft rubber around the edges, so it’s extra gentle on the gums and palate. A soft grip handle will make it easier for you to hold the brush comfortably.

Recommended:
GUM Monster 0 – 2 years with an extra small head, soft, gentle bristles and a longer handle to help you keep a firm hold.

Children

This is the time to establish healthy oral care habits. Look for a brush with child-friendly features that make brushing fun and comfortable. Initially, let your child watch you brush their teeth in the mirror, so they see what you are doing.

Start at the back of the mouth, on the outside of the upper teeth and work your way all around to the other side, this should take around 30 seconds. Repeat on the inside of the upper teeth, starting at the far back and moving across. Repeat on the lower jaw spending 30 seconds each on the front and back of the teeth. This gives a total brushing time of two minutes. Brush in a small circular motion, touching the gums.

Recommended:
GUM Kids Toothbrush (2 to 6 years) – with a cushioned head and easy grip
GUM Light-Up Toothbrush – has a flashing 1 minute timer

KIDS: MAKING BRUSHING FUN

  • Let your child choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste (as long as it’s age-appropriate).
  • Look for appealing features like built-in timers, lights or tunes.
  • Download a toothbrushing app to make it more fun.
  • Team up and brush your teeth at the same time.
  • Use chewy GUM Red-Cote Plaque Disclosing Tablets to show what a great job they have done, or any areas that were missed.
  • Use a star chart to reward them after every brushing session.
  • Explain why it’s good to brush. Tell them about how ‘plaque bugs’ turn food and drinks into acid that makes holes in the teeth.

DENTURES

Dentures also need daily cleaning – it helps them last longer and prevents potential problems. Brush your dentures gently, at least twice a day to remove plaque, food debris and fixative. Use water, Sunlight dishwashing liquid or specially made denture cleaner like Protefix Active Cleanser. Don’t use abrasive cleaners or toothpaste.

Use a normal toothbrush or a specially-designed denture brush. which is larger and firmer. Brushing helps prevent staining; if there are stains or tartar build-up, get your dentures professionally cleaned.

Recommended:
GUM Denture Brush with firm bristles and a sturdy grip.

TOOTHBRUSH CARE: LOOKING AFTER YOUR BRUSH

Taking care of your toothbrush helps it remain hygienic and last longer. Here’s how to keep your brush clean:

  1. Rinse your toothbrush with water after every use.
  2. Never share your toothbrush as this will spread germs.
  3. Keep it dry between uses. Let it stand in an open area where it can air dry.
  4. Clean the toothbrush holder regularly to eliminate bacteria and mould.

Toothbrush storage

  • Ideally keep your toothbrush upright to air dry.
  • Store your brush away from the toilet, to prevent contamination.
  • Don’t use toothbrush covers unless you’re on the move. Covers may seem hygienic, but a closed, moist environment is conducive to bacterial growth. When on the go use GUM Protect Toothbrush Covers which have breath holes and an antibacterial coating.

When to replace your toothbrush

  • Usually, replace your toothbrush, or the brush head, at least every three months. If bristles become worn or splayed before then, get a replacement.
  • If you have orthodontic braces your brush will wear out more quickly.
  • If you have been unwell, consider replacing your brush to avoid reintroducing germs.

A word on recycling

Because most toothbrushes have plastic handles and nylon bristles they can be challenging to recycle. These days there are environmentally friendly toothbrushes available in South Africa, like Kindbrush, made of bamboo.

WHAT ABOUT TOOTHPASTE?

You mouth will usually feel cleaner and fresher when you brush with toothpaste or salts, but it isn’t essential for removing plaque from the teeth. Some people prefer ‘dry brushing.’

A quality toothpaste can enhance your brushing experience and bring added benefits e.g.

  • Added fluoride, to strengthen teeth and prevent decay.
  • Stain removal e.g., GUM Original White toothpaste contains a StainClear ingredient to help remove extrinsic stains from the surface of the teeth.
  • Antibacterial ingredients for added support e.g., GUM Paroex Gel with chlorhexidine and CPC
  • Probiotics for a healthy oral microbiome. Olgani Probiom are the first toothpaste and salts in South Africa with added pre- and probiotics.
  • Environmentally-friendly – Olgani Naturals brushing salts packaging is completely recyclable.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Effective toothbrushing plays a vital role in maintaining good oral health and looking after your body. Remember to choose the right toothbrush for your specific needs and budget, whether it’s manual or electric, and follow the correct brushing techniques outlined in this guide.

In addition, schedule regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings, ideally every 6 months or more often. Don’t forget the importance of interdental cleaning to reach areas between teeth.

For a monthly dose of expert oral care advice, plus exclusive offers and the chance to win exciting prizes, subscribe to Ivohealth News here.

The information provided on this website is intended for general informational purposes only. It should not be construed as medical advice or used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, oral hygienist or another healthcare provider regarding your oral health or other medical conditions. Reliance on information provided on this website is solely at your own risk.

RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS

GUM Pro Sensitive Ultra Soft Toothbrush

R114,00
The GUM Pro Sensitive Toothbrush is recommended for sensitive gums as it features bi-level angled bristles to expertly make their way around your teeth. Their ultra-thin tips gently and effectively clean areas where food and plaque tend to accumulate. 

Balene Toothbrush Soft

R360,00
You brush the outside, Balene brushes the inside. • Innovative double-sided head that moves separately from the brush handle cleans the interior and exterior of the teeth at the same time. • Gentle Tyflex (thermoplastic polyurethane) bristles don't retain moisture and has an antibacterial compound in the material. • Bristles last twice as long as conventional toothbrushes. • Bristles automatically angled at 45 degrees to facilitate Bass brushing technique.

Oclean X Ultra Digital Sonic Toothbrush Set Black

R3199,00
• Brushing Health Clover – time, duration and score for brushing shown on interactive colour screen. • Up to 84 000 movements per minute with TurboClean Algorithm for superb cleaning power • Powered by the revolutionary Maglev 3.0 motor – more stability and power than ever before • AI-powered Voice Guidance using the Bass brushing technique • 5 modes • Pressure sensor with white and red light for easy identification • Customise your brushing experience with the Oclean Care app. • Syncs with Apple Health • Celebrate milestones and earn good brushing reward badges • Rechargeable. Up to 40 days battery life from a 4.5-hour quick charge • Patented FlexFit brush heads that are flexible for better control and cleaning •  IPX7 waterproof • 2-year warranty

GUM Sonic Daily Toothbrush Soft Compact

R404,00
Add power to your daily oral care routine with the new Sunstar GUM Sonic Daily Battery Toothbrush – the sleekest sonic brush on the market. The advanced ergonomic handle and slender neck absorbs any excess pressure, for a gentle, but thorough brushing experience.
  • Superior cleaning for the entire family for optimal care of teeth and gums.
  • Scientifically proven superior efficacy. Its soft tapered bristles remove up to 50% more plaque between the teeth than a manual brush and it reaches deeper below the gumline.
  • Gentle sonic vibration that stimulate the gums.
  • Use it as you would use a manual brush while enjoying the extra vibrating power for a deep, yet gentle clean.
  • Design & functionality. Sleek and stylish, with a replaceable head and batteries – great for travel and use at home.
  • Battery included. (Battery lasts 3 months). 
  • Replaceable heads (recommended every 3 months).​
  • Recommended by dental professionals