Over Brushing Teeth: Too Much of a Good Thing

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If you are conscientious about your oral hygiene, you probably brush your teeth at least twice a day. You might even brush them after every meal and at bedtime. But if frequent brushing is a good thing, then how can over brushing teeth be a problem? Most dentists would caution against overly vigorous brushing, and if you're an enthusiastic brusher, your teeth may eventually show (undesirable) signs of your spirited technique.

Toothbrush Abrasion

Abrasion, according to the Dental Health Foundation in Ireland, is the loss of tooth enamel and cementum (the covering on tooth roots) due to mechanical forces. Notching around the area where the tooth meets the root is an indication that you may be using an incorrect and possibly heavy-handed brushing technique. And if you combine forceful brushing with a hard-bristled brush and excessively abrasive toothpaste, you have the recipe for tooth abrasion over time. Other causes are opening bottles with your teeth, holding nails or pins in your mouth or biting your nails. Enamel abrasion can be caused by lip or tongue piercings.

Certain foods may exacerbate the effects of over brushing. Waiting at least half an hour before brushing after eating acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, can prevent you from scrubbing that acid across your teeth.

Gum Recession

Besides abrading tooth enamel, continued overzealous and improper brushing may cause your gums to recede. When this happens, the softer cementum on the root is exposed and is more vulnerable to decay than the enamel of your teeth. Because of its softer nature, the exposed cementum is easily worn away and notched, leading to sensitivity and pain for some people. It's also important to note that once your gums recede, they never come back to where they were originally, and certain situations may require periodontal surgery.

Tooth Sensitivity

When the enamel layer of your tooth gets worn, either through abrasion or erosion, nerve endings in the dentin layer are either exposed or close enough to the surface that eating hot or cold foods or drinks can cause sensitivity. Even cold air or touching the tooth when brushing can be uncomfortable. Evaluate your brushing technique and avoid using a hard-bristled brush. In addition, stay away from certain toothpastes like whitening pastes that may be too abrasive or have ingredients that can increase sensitivity.

Proper Brushing Technique

Many people don't realize that you don't have to be heavy handed to clean your teeth thoroughly. If you aren't sure whether you are brushing too hard, check your brush. Do the bristles on your new toothbrush become flattened and frayed within a couple of weeks? That can be a sign that you are using too much pressure, and a new technique is in order.

But first, you need the right equipment. You should use an extra soft toothbrush, which helps to protect enamel surfaces and gums while gently removing surface stains. Brushing your teeth should take about two minutes. Here's how to brush so that your teeth are squeaky clean, but you avoid abrasion:

  • Place the bristles of your toothbrush on the gumline at a 45 degree angle. The bristles should slide slightly under the gums.
  • Using light pressure and short back-and-forth or circular strokes, brush the surface of each tooth.
  • Move around your mouth in a pattern, brushing the outside, insides and chewing surfaces.
  • And don't forget to brush your tongue to remove bacteria and to keep your breath fresh.

Keep in mind, over brushing teeth won't give you the end result you want. When you use the appropriate tools and implement a gentle but thorough brushing technique, you'll win the race for clean teeth and a healthy mouth every time.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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How to FLOSS

  1. Pull 18 to 24 inches of dental floss from the floss dispenser.

  2. Wrap the ends of the floss around your index and middle fingers.

  3. Hold the floss tightly around each tooth in a C shape; move the floss back and forth in a push-pull motion and up and down against the side of each tooth.

How to BRUSH

  1. Place the toothbrush at a 45°angle along the gum line. Move the toothbrush in a back and forth motion, and repeat for each tooth.

  2. Brush the inside surface of each tooth, using the same back and forth technique.

  3. Brush the chewing surface (top) of each tooth.

  4. Use tip of brush to brush behind each tooth — front and back, top and bottom and up and down strokes.

  5. Be sure to brush your tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria.