Scrubbing Harder is Not Better for Your Teeth

Scrubbing Harder is Not Better for Your Teeth

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Medical Reviewed on Oct 15, 2023
byDr. Matthew Hannan DDS
🔬 Evidence Based
Scrubbing Harder is Not Better for Your Teeth

Whenever we really want to clean something as best as possible, we often put a little “elbow grease” into the process. Or, in other words, you scrub it to death. Like the tile in your shower surround, the stain in your favorite shirt, or that stuck-on lasagna in the baking dish that’s already run through the dishwasher once already. But when it comes to your teeth, that type of scrubbing mentality can really tear up your smile. 

Yes, tooth enamel is the hardest thing you’ll find in the entire human body. But no, it isn’t invincible, even against repeated and overzealous scrub brushing. 

What Happens When You Scrub Brush Your Teeth?

Scrubbing too hard with a soft brush will still lead to permanent damage like enamel abrasion and gum recession. Both of these scenarios will leave you with an exposed root surface, which can raise your risk of cavities, tooth sensitivity, and not to mention major cosmetic issues (exposed tooth structure.) In fact, some people have visible notches that look like they’re cut into the teeth where they’ve scrubbed too hard with a toothbrush. Not to mention exposed tooth roots are very sensitive. 

Because treating gum recession and enamel abrasion can be lengthy, costly, and sometimes even painful, the best solution is to prevent toothbrush abrasion in the first place. That means recognizing “scrub brushing” habits and putting them to a stop as quickly as possible. 

Scrub brushing can happen one of two ways:

1. You’re using a firm or extra-hard bristled toothbrush

Even though they sell hard-bristled toothbrushes in the store, they are not recommended by dental hygienists, dentists, or other dental experts. Stores simply sell them because of supply and demand. People keep buying them, so companies keep making and selling them.

Using a firm toothbrush naturally encourages you to scrub brush because if you don't, the bristles won’t flex or bend around your smile. Always use a soft bristled toothbrush!

2. You’re pressing too hard into your teeth

It’s easy to push into your teeth too hard with a stiff brush, but it’s also possible to brush too hard with soft or medium-bristled toothbrushes.

What’s the ideal amount of pressure? Just barely enough to cause your gum tissues to blanch slightly. In other words, the pink gingiva will turn ever-so-slightly white along the gumlines. Don’t press any harder than that. If you’re scrubbing with the same force as you do to clean your grout or countertop, you’re pressing too hard. 

How NOT to Scrub Your Teeth Too Hard

It can be extremely difficult to break a scrub-brushing habit. Most of us tend to brush our teeth mindlessly and not give it much thought. Even if we’re consciously trying to brush lighter, our muscle memory may slip right back into scrub brushing. 

Here are three fast and easy ways to immediately take the scrubbing out of your toothbrush routine:

1. Only hold your toothbrush with four fingers. 

If you’re scrub-brushing, chances are you probably have a death grip on your toothbrush handle. Release your grip and move the handle to where you’re just holding it with your thumb and three of your other four fingers. That means either lifting up your pointer finger or your pinky finger if you want to look extra “proper” while you’re doing it. This modified toothbrush grip will work wonders when it comes to lightening the load on your teeth and gums. Since you won’t be holding your brush in your palm with all of your fingers wrapped around it, the amount of force you apply will be significantly reduced. 

2. Switch to an electric toothbrush. 

Although electric toothbrushes are equally damaging if you use them to scrub your teeth too hard, they can also be used to break this bad habit. The key is to simply hold the toothbrush where you need to and rest it there for a few seconds, letting it do all of the work for you. You’re simply aiming and positioning the bristles rather than moving them around. And isn’t that the purpose of an electric toothbrush, anyway?!

Some newer and more high-end electric toothbrushes actually have built-in pressure sensors that will cause the brush to cut off if you’re pushing in on your teeth too hard. 

Related: 7 Best Electric Toothbrushes

3. Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth. 

Did you know that tooth abrasion and gum recession caused by aggressive tooth brushing tends to be worse on one side of your mouth than the other? It has to do with your dominant hand and the force you’re exerting on your mouth during the process. Switching to your non-dominant hand will naturally “weaken” the grip on your toothbrush and how much you’re pushing it into your teeth or gum tissues. Chances are you’ll be brushing with just the perfect amount of pressure, even though you’ll probably feel like you’re not scrubbing hard enough. 

Remember: Plaque is Soft

Plaque buildup (aka “biofilm”) is soft and sticky. When you brush your teeth, all you’re trying to do is clean away the soft plaque before it has a chance to calcify into hard tartar or calculus. Once it’s calcified, you can’t brush it off, no matter how hard you’re scrubbing. Leave that to your hygienist. Soft brushing is all you need to remove plaque on your teeth and along your gumlines. 

Proper Brushing Technique

Keeping your teeth healthy required proper brushing techniques and good oral hygiene habits. When you’re brushing slower and more purposely, you’ll be less likely to skip over areas or not brush your teeth long enough. Remember, everyone should brush with a soft toothbrush for a minimum of two minutes with not too much pressure. If you’re scrubbing vigorously back and forth, you’re probably over-brushing. On top of that, your bristles are likely skimming over all of the curved tooth surfaces because they’re bent over each time you swipe back and forth. 

Prevent Brushing Too Hard Risks

If you notice frayed bristles, tooth sensitivity, or receding gums, these are indications that you're brushing your teeth with excessive pressure. Unfortunately, gum tissue doesn't regenerate, and severe gum recession near the gum line may require a gum graft. Additionally, over-brushing your teeth can lead to tooth enamel wear, tooth decay, and increased tooth sensitivity. To maintain the health of your teeth, consider using a toothbrush with soft or extra-soft bristles.

Related: Receding Gums Explained 

Brushing Teeth Too Hard

It can be expensive and time-consuming to repair areas of enamel abrasion and gum recession. If your dentist or hygienist suspects you’re brushing your teeth too hard, now is the right time to break the habit. Softer brushing will preserve your healthy tooth and gum tissues, not to mention improve your oral health. Simple changes like swapping hands, switching to an electric toothbrush, or lifting one finger can make a world of difference if you tend to scrub your teeth too hard.

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Dr. Matthew  Hannan DDS
Medical Reviewed byDr. Matthew Hannan DDSDr. Matthew Hannan is a board-certified dentist and graduate of UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.
Last updated onOctober 18, 2023Here is our process

Related Articles

Recommended reads