Chapter 8: Oral hygiene – GOV.UK

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Updated 9 November 2021

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This guidance is issued jointly by the Department of Health and Social Care, the Welsh Government, the Department of Health Northern Ireland, Public Health England, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and with the support of the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry.
Delivering Better Oral Health has been developed with the support of the 4 UK Chief Dental Officers.
Whilst this guidance seeks to ensure a consistent UK-wide approach to prevention of oral diseases, some differences in operational delivery and organisational responsibilities may apply in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. In Scotland the guidance will be used to inform oral health improvement policy.
Oral hygiene practices include toothbrushing and the use of other aids for cleaning teeth. Toothbrushing is widely practiced across the UK. In a 2009 national survey of adults[footnote 1], more women reported cleaning their teeth at least twice a day than men (82% compared with 67%). Three quarters (76%) of dentate adults reported using toothpaste with 1,350 to 1,500 parts per million level of fluoride and a further 18 per cent used a brand with a medium (1,000 to 1,350 parts per million) fluoride level. Most dentate adults (58%) used additional products as well as a standard toothpaste and brush, the most common of which were mouthwash (31%), powered toothbrushes (26%) and dental floss (21%). Women and middle-aged adults were more likely to use additional products than men, younger and very old adults (85 years and over).
A 2013 national survey[footnote 2] found that only a quarter of children benefited from having their teeth brushed before they were 6 months of age, whereas about 50% had commenced between 6 months and one year of age. Overall about 90% of children (aged 5 to 8 years) are reported as having started toothbrushing by 2 years of age[footnote 2]. Overall, 77% of 12-year-olds and 81% of 15-year-olds reported that they brushed their teeth twice daily or more. Mouthwash was the most common aid other than a toothbrush (manual or powered) and toothpaste. As expected, the use of mouthwashes, dental floss (the only interdental cleaning method investigated) and sugar-free gum was generally higher in older children. Approximately 40% of the school children surveyed used a powered toothbrush.
Toothbrushing is important throughout life. The overall goal is to achieve and maintain good oral hygiene as follows:
The risk of dental caries (Chapter 4) and periodontal diseases (Chapter 5) can both be reduced by the practice of regular careful oral hygiene involving toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste. The particular benefit in preventing dental caries, relates to the fluoride in toothpaste (Chapter 9). Good oral hygiene reduces the risk of periodontal diseases; however, periodontal health also requires effective interproximal plaque removal. Oral hygiene advice for the population in general, and specific advice for those at higher risk, are presented below for each oral condition.
For caries prevention, it is the application of fluoride in toothpaste that is the most important aspect of brushing, as fluoride helps prevent, control, and arrest caries (Chapter 2: Table 1). Higher concentration of fluoride in toothpaste leads to better caries control. Family or standard fluoride toothpaste at 1,350 to 1,500 parts per million fluoride (ppmF) is recommended, although in very young children, where the ability to control swallowing is limited, a toothpaste containing a lower amount (at least 1,000 ppmF) can be used[footnote 3][footnote 4]. Frequency of brushing is important. Brushing should occur twice daily as a minimum, the guidance being to clean teeth last thing at night or before bed, and at least one other time each day. The term ‘before bed’ may be used as an alternative to ‘last thing at night’ for shift workers to sleep at another time of day.
Early introduction to the habit of toothbrushing is important. Parents should brush their children’s teeth as soon as they erupt. From 3 to 6 years of age, there is a transition with the child and adult both brushing. Adult involvement ensures the correct amount of toothpaste is used, enables them to prevent children eating or licking toothpaste from the tube and that all teeth are brushed thoroughly. From 7 years of age, many children can brush their own teeth but will still require prompting, supervision, and motivation. Parents may still need to provide help with toothbrushing for some children, depending on risk and capability.
Physical removal of plaque is the important element of toothbrushing for preventing or controlling periodontal (gum) diseases for the general population (Chapter 2: Table 2). Self-care is important to maintain healthy gums and manage any gingivitis; it reduces inflammation of the gingivae. It is important to advise and instruct patients on good plaque removal from, and just into, the gingival crevice, including interdental areas, which takes around 2 minutes. There is no high-quality evidence regarding the best times of the day to brush in order to maintain healthy gums; however, it is good practice to suggest last thing at night or before bedtime and one other time in line with caries prevention[footnote 3].
Self-care is vitally important to prevent and manage plaque-induced periodontitis[footnote 5] (Chapter 2: Table 2). For people with periodontal diseases this becomes vitally important throughout the rest of life and good oral hygiene may take longer than the recommended 2 minutes. The patient’s existing method of brushing may need to be modified to clean all tooth surfaces systematically, maximise plaque removal and to brush the gum line carefully[footnote 6]. No particular technique has been shown to be better than another[footnote 7]. Disclosing tablets can help to indicate areas that are being missed. For people with extensive inflammation, it is good practice to start with toothbrushing advice, followed by interdental plaque control[footnote 8].
Cleaning between teeth, ideally with interdental brushes, is recommended prior to toothbrushing as a habit-forming approach, which is considered to be good practice[footnote 9] through adult life.
Based on current evidence, no strong conclusions can be drawn concerning any specific oral hygiene devices as adjuncts to toothbrushing for patient self-care in periodontal maintenance[footnote 5][^10], or method of providing oral hygiene advice[footnote 11].
For the general population, advice on toothbrushing follows the generic advice on oral health for prevention of dental caries and periodontal diseases (Chapter 2: Table 4). Although concerns have been raised, there is no strong evidence to suggest that the timing of toothbrushing is of great importance in preventing tooth wear or that all patients should delay brushing until after meals involving erosive food and drinks[footnote 12].
For those at higher risk, changing to a low abrasive toothpaste or specially reformulated toothpaste for tooth wear alone may be considered, but will not be sufficient to fully address tooth wear (Chapter 7). There have been debates over whether to recommend manual or powered toothbrushes. Many brushes now have sensors to indicate when the user is brushing too hard. However, when it comes to tooth wear, there is no evidence to suggest that powered toothbrushes are any better, or worse, than manual toothbrushes[footnote 13]. Patient preference is therefore the most important factor over whether a powered or manual toothbrush is used.
Effective toothbrushing with a fluoride toothpaste is important to support oral health. The physical action of brushing removes plaque, which prevents gingivitis and periodontitis, and the fluoride in toothpaste is effective against tooth decay. The following key messages for the population include when and how to brush, specific habits associated with brushing, and, where necessary, assistance with brushing. There may be adaptations of toothbrushes, such as special grip handles, that are helpful to people who have limited manual dexterity.
Advice to prevent oral disease in general should, therefore, focus on the following points[footnote 3][footnote 4]:
Advice should include the following:
Advice should include the following:
Vulnerable children and adults, particularly those lacking manual dexterity and mental capacity, may require assistance and support with toothbrushing as part of their daily self-care. Oral hygiene care and advice for people who have learning disabilities should be based on professional expertise and the needs and preferences of the individual and their carers[footnote 24]. They may benefit from using a powered brush[footnote 24], and some will require modifications such as a grip handle to assist with toothbrushing. The latter may also be useful for people with physical disabilities. There is low/very low certainty evidence for the effectiveness of triple-headed manual toothbrushes for reducing plaque compared to single-headed brushes[footnote 25]. Carers of people lacking the ability to undertake their personal oral hygiene may consider some of these products helpful and they are likely to require training and support from the dental team. It is worth noting that some studies reported participant difficulties with, or fears of, using the powered or the 3-headed manual toothbrushes[footnote 24]; thus, they won’t be helpful for some patients.
NICE guidance on oral health for adults in care homes stresses the importance of ensuring care staff provide residents with daily support to meet their mouth care needs and preferences, as set out in their personal care plan after their oral health assessment[footnote 26].
This should include:
There is moderate-certainty evidence to suggest that powered toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushing in the short and long term, and supporting their safety[footnote 28]. Findings are consistent across reviews, favouring powered brushes but the clinical relevance of the results is unclear[footnote 14][footnote 29][footnote 30][footnote 31]. This is particularly important to note as many people will not be able to afford a powered toothbrush and it should be stressed that teeth can be cleaned effectively with either type of toothbrush[footnote 32]. Additionally, the evidence is insufficient to conclude that any particular mode of action of powered brush is superior (for example, sonic, rotatory)[footnote 33]. There is no evidence regarding the role of powered versus manual toothbrushes in preventing caries.
There is low to very low-certainty evidence that using some dental cleaning aids in addition to tooth cleaning (for example, interdental brushes and floss) reduce gingivitis and plaque, but the clinical importance of the effect sizes is uncertain[footnote 8]. The findings suggest that interdental brushes may be more effective than floss and the evidence for tooth cleaning sticks and oral irrigators is limited and inconsistent[footnote 8]. Daily cleaning is recommended between the teeth to below the gum line[footnote 8]. Ideally this should take place throughout adult life and start earlier if there are signs of gingivitis. Since toothbrushing is a daily routine for the majority of people, carrying out interdental oral hygiene first may help to link these activities and develop regularity[footnote 9].
Recommendations relating to interdental brushing and flossing are based on trials at unclear or high risk of bias that focus on the reporting of plaque and/or gingivitis, rather than caries. Thus, there is no evidence to determine whether interdental cleaning aids reduce caries, or not, when compared with toothbrushing alone[footnote 8].
The sustainability agenda, which is an important aspect of public health action, has implications for the prevention or oral diseases. It is increasingly influencing the nature of new products arriving on the market, some of which have relatively little underpinning research.
For example, switching from traditional plastic toothbrushes to replaceable-head plastic or bamboo has been suggested as being environmentally more sustainable. However, all choices have trade-offs which should be considered carefully. Bamboo toothbrushes are manufactured in different parts of the world, and although they have been shown to have a reduced carbon footprint[footnote 34], they have also been shown to have high planetary harm, due to the need for land, and volume of water required to grow the product. Furthermore, there is currently little evidence on their effectiveness. On the other hand, plastic has been considered the most hygienic option for decades. Additionally, all toothbrushes, whether normal plastic, bamboo, and biodegradable plastic (PLA or polylactic acid), have brush heads containing metal and/or nylon, so it is currently not possible to recycle the heads.
Further innovative new products will emerge, and it will be important for health professionals to be aware of these changes and consider the clinical effectiveness of sustainable products. Integrating oral health and sustainability is attractive, and continually recycled plastic, rather than bioplastic or bamboo, will be the most environmentally sustainable toothbrush model[footnote 35]. Practices may wish to encourage patients to recycle toothbrushes as best as possible. As a compromise, it may be possible for people to remove or chop off the brush head and recycle the handle. Some dental practices already have an arrangement with companies to recycle any type of toothbrush and toothpaste tubes.
Oral Hygiene TIPPS video. Oral Hygiene TIPPS is a behaviour change strategy which aims to make patients feel more confident in their ability to perform effective plaque removal and help them plan how and when they will look after their teeth and gums.
HABIT resources to support oral health conversations between health visitors and parents.
eBUG toothbrushing demonstration video for 7(+) years.
Dental Check By One.
Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme. Prevention and Management of Dental Caries in Children: SDCEP; 2018 (Second Edition).
How To Clean a Denture Animation:
Mouth Care Matters.
Wales Designed to Smile.
Scotland Childsmile.
Northern Ireland Happy Smiles.
NHS apps library. Includes Brush DJ which plays two minutes of your music so you brush your teeth for the right amount of time. The app has short videos on how to brush your teeth and how to clean in between them using an interdental brush or floss.
Public Health England: Oral health toolkit for adults in care homes.
NHS Digital. Adult Dental Health Survey 2009 – Summary report and thematic series [NS] London: The Health and Social Care Information Centre; 2011. 
NHS Digital. Child Dental Health Survey: England, Wales and Northern Ireland. London: The Health and Social Care Information Centre; 2015.  2
SIGN. Sign 138. Dental interventions to prevent caries in children. Health Improvement Scotland; 2014.  2 3 4 5 6 7
Walsh T, Worthington HV, Glenny AM, Marinho VCC, Jeroncic A. Fluoride toothpastes of different concentrations for preventing dental caries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2019(3).  2 3 4
Sanz M, Herrera D, Kebschull M, Chapple I, Jepsen S, Beglundh T, and others. Treatment of stage I-III periodontitis-The EFP S3 level clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 2020;47 Supplement 22:4-60.  2 3 4
Zimmermann H, Zimmermann N, Hagenfeld D, Veile A, Kim TS, Becher H. Is frequency of toothbrushing a risk factor for periodontitis? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology. 2015;43(2):116-27. 
Janakiram C, Taha F, Joe J. The Efficacy of Plaque Control by Various Toothbrushing Techniques-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 2018;12. 
Worthington HV, MacDonald L, Poklepovic Pericic T, Sambunjak D, Johnson TM, Imai P, and others. Home use of interdental cleaning devices, in addition to toothbrushing, for preventing and controlling periodontal diseases and dental caries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2019;4(4):Cd012018.  2 3 4 5 6
Mazhari F, Boskabady M, Moeintaghavi A, Habibi A. The effect of toothbrushing and flossing sequence on interdental plaque reduction and fluoride retention: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of Periodontology. 2018;89(7):824-32.  2 3
Soldani FA, Lamont T, Jones K, Young L, Walsh T, Lala R, and others. One-to-one oral hygiene advice provided in a dental setting for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2018;10(10):Cd007447. 
O’Toole S, Bernabé E, Moazzez R, Bartlett D. Timing of dietary acid intake and erosive tooth wear: A case-control study. Journal of Dentistry. 2017;56:99-104. 
Van der Weijden FA, Campbell SL, Dorfer CE, Gonzalez-Cabezas C, Slot DE. Safety of oscillating-rotating powered brushes compared to manual toothbrushes: a systematic review. Journal of Periodontology. 2011;82(1):5-24. 
Grender J, Adam R, Zou Y. The effects of oscillating-rotating powered toothbrushes on plaque and gingival health: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Dentistry. 2020;33(1):3-11.  2
Ranzan N, Muniz FWMG, Rösing CK. Are bristle stiffness and bristle end-shape related to adverse effects on soft tissues during toothbrushing? A systematic review. International Dental Journal. 2019;69(3):171-82.  2
Hoogteijling F, Hennequin-Hoenderdos NL, Van der Weijden GA, Slot DE. The effect of tapered toothbrush filaments compared to end-rounded filaments on dental plaque, gingivitis and gingival abrasion: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Internationa Journal of Dental Hygiene. 2018;16(1):3-12. 
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Dos Santos APP, de Oliveira BH, Nadanovsky P. A systematic review of the effects of supervised toothbrushing on caries incidence in children and adolescents. International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry. 2018;28(1):3-11. 
Slot DE, Valkenburg C, Van der Weijden GA. Mechanical plaque removal of periodontal maintenance patients: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 2020;47(S22):107-24. 
Tonetti MS, Eickholz P, Loos BG, Papapanou P, van der Velden U, Armitage G, and others. Principles in prevention of periodontal diseases. Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 2015;42(S16):S5-S11. 
Wong FMF, Ng YTY, Leung WK. Oral Health and Its Associated Factors Among Older Institutionalized Residents—A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2019;16(21):4132. 
Waldron C, Nunn J, Mac Giolla Phadraig C, Comiskey C, Guerin S, van Harten MT, and others. Oral hygiene interventions for people with intellectual disabilities. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2019(5).  2 3
Kalf-Scholte SM, Van der Weijden GA, Bakker E, Slot DE. Plaque removal with triple-headed vs single-headed manual toothbrushes-a systematic review. International Journal of Dental Hygiene. 2018;16(1):13-23. 
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Elkerbout TA, Slot DE, Rosema NAM, Van der Weijden GA. How effective is a powered toothbrush as compared to a manual toothbrush? A systematic review and meta-analysis of single brushing exercises. International Journal of Dental Hygiene. 2020;18(1):17-26. 
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