Do You Brush All Sides of Your Teeth?

Do You Brush All Sides of Your Teeth?

Brush All Sides of Your Teeth
©Dean Bertoncelj/

Not long ago, I did a cleaning on one of my patients and found something very similar to what I find in most of my patients — that this particular patient takes a lot better care of the side of the teeth that he can see in the mirror than the back (tongue) side of the teeth.

Brushing TeethMaybe you do the same thing.  Many years ago, some researchers spied on 85 adolescents brushing their teeth.  They found that people spent the most time brushing the sides of the teeth that you can see, a moderate amount of time brushing the biting surfaces, and the least amount of time brushing the tongue-side of the teeth!  Interestingly, the kids also spent more time brushing the lower teeth than the upper teeth.

Another study videotaped tooth brushing behavior in people aged 5 to 22 and found that less than 10% of the time was spent brushing the tongue-side of the teeth.

Why Do We Not Brush the Tongue Sides of Our Teeth?

I think we spend less time brushing the tongue-side of our teeth for a couple of reasons:

1 – We tend to focus more on cleaning the sides of the teeth that we actually see.
2 – It’s easier to brush the front side of the teeth without the obstruction of a tongue.

It seems that the more difficult something is to do, the less likely people are to do it. I think this goes along with the two reasons most people don’t floss: It’s too hard and they can’t see in between their teeth.

Speaking of flossing, are you making one of these 10 common flossing mistakes?

Do You Really Need to Brush the Tongue Side of Your Teeth?

Brushing the tongue-side of the teeth is very important.  If you don’t brush this surface of your teeth, you let the bacteria in your mouth grow on your teeth.  This can eventually cause cavities or destroy the bone that holds your teeth in your mouth.

If you’re not brushing away the plaque daily, then it can harden.  Once the plaque has hardened into tartar or calculus (click to see a picture of tartar), it can only be removed by a dental professional.  More often than not, we have to spend a lot more time removing tartar from the tongue side of the teeth when patients come in for their dental cleanings.


If you’re not sure if you brush the tongue side of your teeth, you can ask your dentist how you’re doing.  It might also be helpful to get some plaque disclosing tablets (be careful, some plaque disclosing solutions don’t actually highlight plaque!) and a dental mirror at a pharmacy and check for yourself.

Another helpful hint is to time how long you spend brushing the front side of your teeth and then make sure you spend just as much time brushing the tongue-side of your teeth.

Do you have any questions about brushing your teeth or dental hygiene in general?  I’d love to hear your questions, comments, and concerns in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Hi,

    Got aquestion regarding brushing in the morning. Should this be done before or after breakfast. I hear you shouldn’t brush until 30 minutes following eating. So in the morning I now brush before eating, although I brushed after for years. I eat cerial and if you brush before I still have food stuck in my teeth. Slooshing water in the mouth doesn’t really get rid of it all. So is this still better doing it before than brushing straight after leaving food in your mouth?


    • Hi Nick – We generally recommend brushing after meals. I have heard that if you eat/drink a lot of acids, you may want to wait 30 minutes before brushing so that your saliva has a chance to remineralize your teeth. The theory is that since toothpastes are abrasive, they may slightly damage the demineralized enamel if you brush any sooner than that. Brushing will remove the stuck on food or if you can’t brush then chewing gum with xylitol can help remove the food particles and help your teeth.

      I hope that helps – Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment, Nick!

      • Hi Tom, thanks for the reply. So because cereal isn’t acid, I guess I should brush straight after my breakfast, being the better option.

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