You probably know how important it is to brush your teeth. After all, this vital oral hygiene habit is your first line of defense against cavities, gum disease, and other dental issues. If you want to keep your teeth healthy, beautiful, and sparkling clean, you may assume that you need to scrub your teeth as vigorously as possible. Unfortunately, your efforts might be counterproductive, since brushing can actually be harmful if done improperly. At Dr. Cindy Flanagan’s Houston dental office, we frequently teach our patients appropriate dental hygiene techniques, so they can brush appropriately. In the following blog, we explain how to tell if you’re brushing too hard.
Why Brushing Too Hard is a Problem
Of course, it’s important to brush your teeth every day. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) advises that you brush your teeth for two minutes twice per day. However, not all brushing is created equal. Brushing your teeth too hard or forcefully is known as overbrushing. This often occurs with patients who have the best intentions to keep their mouths clean, but simply do so too strenuously or with the wrong type of toothbrush.
You may think of your teeth as relatively sturdy, not unlike a kitchen sink you’d vigorously polish in an effort to make sure it was clean. However, your enamel, or the top layer of your teeth, is thin, and may already be somewhat damaged, depending on your dental circumstances, so it’s important to be appropriately gentle with it. Furthermore, when you brush your teeth, this also affects your gum tissue, which is fairly tender and vulnerable. Thus, when you brush your teeth too hard, this can abrade both your teeth and gums, causing or increasing your risk for other oral health conditions.
In addition, researchers have found that, for all the dangers of overbrushing, vigorously scrubbing your teeth does little to no good for your teeth. According to the BBC’s reporting on “a study by researchers at Newcastle University…there is little evidence to show that longer and harder brushing makes teeth cleaner.” The expert scientists who conducted the study had subjects brush their teeth for varying lengths of time with varying degrees of pressure. Ultimately, “their results showed that when people brushed for longer than two minutes, at a pressure higher than 150 grams, they were not removing any additional plaque.” So, not only does overbrushing harm your teeth, but it doesn’t even offer the benefits you might assume when it comes to cleaning them up.
Signs of Overbrushing
Most people who overbrush don’t realize it, and typically have excellent dental hygiene habits aside from this. So, how can you tell if you’re overbrushing? Dr. Flanagan and our team can assess your mouth for symptoms of overbrushing at your next preventive care appointment. In the meantime, you may be overbrushing if:
Your gums are receding. According to a study published in the Journal of the Philippine Dental Association, “presence of gingival recessions in patients with a high standard of oral hygiene can…be attributed to…too much strength exerted in brushing, overbrushing, and usage of hard toothbrush bristles.” Essentially, if you brush too hard and damage your gingival tissue, your gums may begin to recede. This means that the tissue is wearing away, revealing more of your tooth structure as the tissue shrinks back into the gum line. Gum recession can also cause swelling, bleeding, and sensitivity.
Your enamel is wearing thin. Overly abrasive brushing can gradually erode your enamel. Weakened enamel can cause discoloration and raise your risk for chips or cracks. Enamel erosion may also make your teeth more sensitive to hot, cold, and sweet foods and beverages.
You experience tooth sensitivity. Even if your enamel doesn’t appear to be eroding and your gums don’t seem to be receding, overbrushing can heighten tooth sensitivity, simply by virtue of its vigorous motions.
You have cavities on the roots of your teeth. If you suffer from decay on the roots of your teeth, or the parts of your teeth closest to the gum line, this may be a sign of overbrushing. As noted above, vigorous scrubbing can lead to gum recession, which exposes more of the root and makes it more vulnerable to cavities.
You bleed after brushing. Overbrushing can cause small cuts and scrapes in your gums, leading them to bleed. Your gums should not regularly bleed during or after brushing.
Your toothbrush looks worn out, bent, or frayed. Overzealous brushing typically takes its toll on both your teeth and your toothbrush. If you’ve been brushing too hard, it might be clearly visible on the implement itself. A worn-out toothbrush’s bristles may be even more abrasive, and the frayed edges might encourage you to brush even harder to compensate, continuing the vicious cycle.
These are just a few indicators that you may be overbrushing. For a comprehensive examination and diagnosis, make an appointment to see Dr. Flanagan.
Repairing the Damage of Overbrushing
Overbrushing can be harmful for your oral health in a variety of ways. Fortunately, our Houston dental office is here to help you recuperate. If overbrushing has led to root cavities or another form of decay, Dr. Flanagan can place tooth-colored fillings to repair your teeth. If you suffer from cracked or chipped teeth, we can place beautiful, sturdy dental crowns or even glamorous porcelain veneers to improve the appearance and health of your smile. If you suffer from periodontal disease or receding gums, we can deep clean your gums or recommend a periodontal specialist, who can help you determine an appropriate, customized treatment plan to help heal your gums.
Of course, as the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine. In the next section, we’ll provide our suggestions for avoiding overbrushing (and its consequences) altogether.
Our Tips for Effective Brushing
Overbrushing can be a serious problem, but it can also be remedied relatively easily. You can minimize your risk of uncomfortable symptoms and oral health issues by modifying your dental hygiene routine. Even if you don’t think you’re overbrushing, it’s a good idea to make sure your brushing technique is on point. Dr. Flanagan and our team recommend taking the following steps to keep your mouth healthy and avoid this harmful habit:
Regularly replace your toothbrush. If your toothbrush shows signs of wear, it’s time to replace it. Typically, you should get a new toothbrush approximately every three months. If the bristles are fraying or don’t look new anymore, you’ve probably worn away their softened edges. This leaves you with jagged ends that aren’t meant to touch your teeth. In addition, you should keep track of how long it takes for your toothbrush to show signs of wear. If your brush looks frayed after just a month, this is a sign that you’re generally overbrushing. A quality toothbrush will typically last at least two months.
Go easy on your enamel. As we’ve discussed above, you don’t have to scrub your teeth as hard as you might think to remove the plaque and particulate matter that collect on them. As one dental professional put it, “plaque is so soft that you could remove it with a rag if you could reach all the surfaces where it hides. Thoroughness is what is required for plaque removal, not aggressive brushing.” As long as you gently but comprehensively reach every part of your mouth, you’ll be getting your teeth clean without damage. You shouldn’t forcefully push the bristles against your teeth until they bend, nor use a back-and-forth, saw-like motion. Instead, use small, circular strokes to cover each tooth on all sides.
Choose the right toothbrush. Selecting the proper tool is key to avoiding overbrushing. There’s no need to buy medium- or hard-bristle toothbrushes. Soft- or even extra soft-bristle toothbrushes can do just as effective a job at cleaning your teeth, and are less likely to damage your enamel. Especially if you have tooth sensitivity, a soft-bristle toothbrush is a must. Also, make sure you choose an ADA-approved brush, since these implements will typically have appropriate bristle angles and good handles.
Don’t forget to floss! Some people overbrush because they believe brushing vigorously means they don’t need to floss. This is far from true! While brushing can remove plaque and bacteria from your tooth surfaces, only floss can clean the areas between the teeth and under the gums. Even the best brushing can’t reach these areas. If you’re overbrushing to compensate for not flossing, you’re only further damaging your oral health.
Try an electric toothbrush. Since an electric toothbrush does the work of brushing for you, it can help you avoid scrubbing too forcefully. In fact, some models even have sensors to tell you if you’re pressing too hard. As with a traditional toothbrush, make sure to go with a soft-bristle version and brush with the correct technique.
Come see our Houston dental team for assistance. There’s nothing like a live demonstration of proper brushing technique from a dental professional to help you get your brushing back on track. If you haven’t seen us in six months, you’re due for your biannual cleaning and examination. At this appointment, Dr. Flanagan and our team will assess your oral health, professionally remove plaque from your teeth, answer any questions you may have, and show you how to properly brush your teeth.
If you follow the above suggestions, you should be able to avoid the pitfalls of overbrushing.
Do You Brush Too Hard? Our Houston Dental Team Can Help
Overbrushing can cause significant dental damage, so it’s important to take it seriously. If you’re exhibiting signs of brushing too hard, or simply want to ensure that you’re taking proper care of your teeth, our Houston dental team would be happy to help. Contact us today to discuss your oral health needs and schedule your next appointment!