Young couple in the mirror brushing their teeth

Is Over-Brushing Your Teeth Bad?

If you are conscientious about your oral hygiene, you probably brush your teeth at least twice a day. You may even feel the need to brush after every meal, because you know that regular teeth brushing is a good habit for removing plaque and helping to prevent tooth cavities. So you're probably wondering, "Can you brush your teeth too much?" As it turns out, when it comes to teeth brushing, too much of a good thing is not recommended!

Risks of Over-Brushing Your Teeth

Over-brushing your teeth is not simply a question of how often you brush them, but also how you go about brushing them. Compulsive or over-vigorous brushing can lead to oral health problems and put your mouth at risk for dental abrasion, tooth sensitivity, and gum recession.

Toothbrush Abrasion

Dental abrasion refers to the loss of tooth structure by mechanical forces from a foreign object, according to the US-based Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. In this case, the enthusiastic use of your toothbrush wears away at the tooth enamel and, eventually, the softer dentin and cementum structures. You can identify abrasion as worn, shiny, and often yellow or brown spots on the tooth near the gumline. Notching — a wedge or V-shaped indentation of the tooth along the gumline — is also a sign of abrasion.

Tooth Sensitivity

When toothbrush abrasion wears away the tooth enamel, the dentin layer's nerve endings either become exposed or close enough to the surface to lead to tooth sensitivity. This sensitivity may cause you to feel discomfort or pain when your teeth are exposed to hot, cold, sweet, or sour stimuli, or when you brush your teeth.

Gum Recession

Continued over-zealous and improper brushing may also cause your gums to recede. When this happens, the softer cementum of the root is exposed and vulnerable. Not only is exposed cementum easily worn away and notched, leading to sensitivity and pain, but it's also more at risk for cavities.

Treatments to Protect Teeth After Over-Brushing

If left untreated, dental abrasion and gum recession may lead to cavities and even tooth loss. To address toothbrush abrasion and tooth sensitivity, your dentist may recommend treatments to protect the tooth and cover up the exposed dentin. These treatments might include using a fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth's surface, bonding a tooth-coloured filling over the abraded area, or covering the exposed surface with a veneer. If over-brushing has caused your gums to recede, they may never come back to the point where they were. You might require gum grafting surgery to replace the missing gum tissue and protect the exposed cementum in some cases.

Prevention Through Proper Brushing Technique and Tools

The good news is that preventing over-brushing is as simple as adopting the proper teeth brushing technique and tools. Start here:

  1. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. You may think stiff bristles will do a better job of cleaning your teeth. However, they increase your chances of dental abrasion and gum recession.
  2. Check your toothpaste. Toothpaste with high abrasive agents can also accelerate the process of tooth loss. Instead, look for a toothpaste that's rich in calcium and fluoride to help strengthen your tooth enamel.
  3. Use the proper technique. Want to know if you're brushing too hard? Check your toothbrush. If the bristles become flattened and frayed within a couple of weeks, you might be using too much pressure. Try using this brushing technique instead.
  4. Don't brush right after eating. Wait at least 60 minutes after eating or drinking to brush your teeth, especially if you have consumed something acidic like lemons or a fizzy drink. Instead, drink water or chew sugarless gum to freshen your breath while you're waiting.
  5. Check your other habits. Over-brushing isn't the only cause of abrasion. Suppose you have the habit of opening bottles with your teeth, holding nails or pins in your mouth, or biting your fingernails. Those activities could also cause dental abrasion or even a broken tooth. Lip or tongue piercings can also wear away at your enamel.

Just remember: if you're looking for a spotless smile, over-brushing is not the answer. 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.

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