There are various claims about how long a tooth brushing session should last for proper dental hygiene. I have heard that 3 minutes is the time and that my tooth brushing sessions should be consecrated to that.

Colgate says:

Proper brushing takes at least two minutes — that's right, 120 seconds! Most adults do not come close to brushing that long. To get a feel for the time involved, try using a stopwatch.

Arm and Hammer says:

For best results, we recommend brushing your teeth for 2 minutes. Using a battery-powered toothbrush doesn't mean you can brush for less time, but it can make those 2 minutes more effective.

These products designed to time tooth brushing contain a two minute timer but this one contains a three minute timer.

University of Maryland recommends a longer session:

Generally, brushing is recommended twice a day for at least three to four minutes each time. Patients generally think they are brushing long enough, when, in fact, most people spend less than one minute brushing. In addition, it is generally better to brush 3 to 4 minutes twice a day instead of brushing quickly five or more times throughout the day.

Where do these numbers come from and why are they recommended? Can I brush more intensely for less time than is recommended or more softly for more time than is recommended? I always do it in less than 2 minutes and hard enough (of course not to the point of damaging my gums!!) so I feel a thorough hygiene.

Is it possible to get as much benefit from a brushing session lasting less than 2 minutes that I need for acceptable dental health? Does exceeding the recommended time significantly cause problems?

  • 3
    Not worth an answer, but my dentist strongly recommends against brushing harder - all that does is damage your gums and enamel. The recommendation is brushing for longer but more gently.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 7, 2011 at 12:51
  • 1
    @Chad, back into the dim dark ages when I was a child in Australia, there was a public health campaign that claimed exactly this: that research had shown that you needed to brush (with good technique) for three minutes to get them sufficiently clean. I am looking forward to seeing the justification for this.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 7, 2011 at 13:48
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    @Oddthinking - I am not questioning the validity of the topic but the rules really need to be enforced equally among the questions we like and the ones we don't. If it is a specific claim that 180seconds is the magic number then cite the claim. If it is about 3 minutes then the conditions of 2-4 min sugggested in the OP would fall into my my general about 3 minutes timeframe.
    – Chad
    Oct 7, 2011 at 13:53
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    @Chad: "If you have a question about the accuracy of public claims made in the media or elsewhere, if you're interested in the evidence behind what you hear or read, then you are in the right place." Read the FAQ chad.
    – Jose Luis
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:56
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    @Chad, I fully support your call for notability here. I was trying to add anecdotal support to Joze, that yes, there is a 180 second magical number claim that is both in the public mind (My mother made me time myself with a watch!) and has been publicly stated. I only wish I could link you to the TV commercials of the time.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:58

1 Answer 1


According to Michael Sesemann (president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry 2009-2010):

Brushing should last at least two minutes. Three minutes is even better.

It's an arbitrary number, but it's just so people take the time to clean all the surfaces.

The American Dental Association recommends:

Brush your teeth twice a day...

but does not specify a time.

The Canadian Dental Association however does say:

Don't rush your brush. A thorough brushing should take at least two to three minutes.

The Australian Dental Association also recommends:

Brushing should take at least two minutes!!

The same from the british NHS:

Brush your teeth for at least two minutes in the morning before breakfast and last thing at night before you go to bed.

and the Harvard Medical School:

A good, thorough brushing takes at least two minutes whether you are using a manual or powered toothbrush


One- and 3-minute plaque removal by a battery-powered versus a manual toothbrush

  • Both toothbrushes showed statistically significantly greater plaque removal following 3 minutes of brushing than following 1 minute of brushing.

The effect of brushing time and dentifrice on dental plaque removal in vivo

  • Oral health care professionals should reinforce efforts to persuade patients to brush for longer periods of time, as increasing brushing time to the consensus minimum of 2 minutes from a more typical 45 seconds increases plaque removal to an extent likely to provide clinically significant oral health benefits.

The latter study also says:

Given these considerations, the results show brushing time is likely to be an important determinant of plaque removal in the general population.

The degree of plaque reduction was related to brushing time across the examined 30-second to 3-minute time period. Plaque removal was dependent on brushing time at shorter times, but tended towards a maximum at extended times.

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