You spend time on dental hygiene because you expect your brushing and flossing to fight off cavities. If you want to have fresh breath, healthy teeth, and a beautiful smile, you have to brush twice a day, floss once a day, and see your dentist twice every year.

However, what if your dental hygiene habits actually harmed your oral health rather than helping it? Thousands of people around the country brush or floss incorrectly, and their incorrect habits lead to cavities and other dental problems.

Below, we’ve listed common mistakes that people make when brushing or flossing. If you do any of the following, adjust your habits so your smile can look and feel healthier than ever before.

1. Brushing from Side to Side

Many people brush from side to side because this technique allows them to clean every tooth more quickly. They can brush a section of teeth at the same time. However, this technique also has a disadvantage. It can scrape your gums and gum line, which makes your gums more susceptible to infections, gum disease, and recession.

Instead, hold your brush at a 45-degree angle, and use short, up and down strokes. This technique not only protects your gums, but keeps your teeth cleaner as well.

2. Brushing Too Little

People also believe that as long as their teeth feel clean, it doesn’t matter how long they brush. They brush for 30 seconds to a minute, and their teeth feel smooth and taste minty, so they think they can stop.

However, dentists recommend that you brush for 2-3 minutes. You need to brush at least this long to kill the bacteria and remove the plaque. But if you can’t seem to brush for this long, bring a timer into your bathroom. Set it for two minutes, and brush until it goes off. You can spit and get new toothpaste a few times if necessary.

3. Brushing Too Much

You can also brush for too long. If you brush for more than three minutes or brush more than three times a day, you actually harm your teeth instead of helping them. If you brush for this long, your toothbrush wears down your enamel and damages your gums, encouraging cavities and infections. Use a timer to make sure you don’t brush for too long.

4. Brushing Too Hard

If you brush too hard, your toothbrush will scrape away bacteria and plaque. However, it will also scrape away enamel. Your teeth need that enamel coating to fight cavities. So ease off the pressure and use rapid, soft strokes. Repetition has all the same advantages as pressure—it’ll still remove plaque and bacteria. But it’ll leave your enamel intact.

5. Using a Hard Toothbrush

Even if you use normal pressure when you brush, your toothbrush could still wear down your enamel if it has stiff bristles. You need to use a soft toothbrush if you want to keep your enamel and gums healthy.

6. Using Your Toothbrush for Too Long

How long do you keep your toothbrushes? Many people tend to replace them once every six months—they know they’ll get a new one at their next dental visit. However, dentists recommend that you replace your toothbrush once every three months. After that time, the toothbrush’s bristles become hard.

7. Starting on the Same Tooth

If you start on the same tooth every time you brush, that tooth probably gets more attention than your other teeth. Many people get bored or less enthusiastic as they progress around their mouth, so other teeth don’t get the cleaning they need. Start on a different part of your mouth every day to make sure all your teeth get an even clean.

8. Cleaning Only Your Teeth

The bacteria on your teeth also cluster on your tongue, cheeks, and gums. If you don’t clean these other areas, that bacteria will quickly spread back to your teeth. Make sure you clean your whole mouth, not just your teeth.

9. Using the Wrong Toothpaste

You already know that some toothpastes work better than others. You’ve experimented, and you’ve found one that gives you the clean, minty fresh feeling you prefer. However, you might still have the wrong toothpaste.

Toothpastes that contain baking soda keep your teeth dazzlingly white, but they also wear down your enamel. Baking soda has a rough, abrasive quality that makes it adept at removing sticky contaminants—but that quality also makes it detrimental for enamel and gums.

Instead, buy a whitening toothpaste that doesn’t contain baking soda. Toothpaste manufacturers have found other materials that work just as well without damaging your teeth.

10. Snapping Floss

When you floss, you should work the thread between your teeth in a zigzagging motion. You shouldn’t tug, yank, or snap it through—this sudden motion could damage your gums.

If your dental hygiene regimen includes any of the above, adjust your habits so you can have a brighter, healthier smile. And if you have any further questions about your dental habits, ask your dentist. He or she will help you tweak your habits for optimal oral health.