Can You Over Brush Your Teeth?

Can You Over Brush Your Teeth?

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Medical Reviewed on Dec 1, 2022
byDr. Aierress Davis DDS
🔬 Evidence Based
Can You Over Brush Your Teeth?

You’re supposed to brush your teeth every day for two minutes. For most people, meeting those minimum requirements is still hard to do. But is it possible to be on the other end of the spectrum, overbrushing teeth so often that it’s bad for your mouth? On that note, is it possible to be overbrushing your teeth even if you’re not brushing as often or long as you’re supposed to?

Yes and yes.

Major Side Effects Of Over Brushing

There are several side effects you can expect if you’re overbrushing or scrub-brushing your teeth too hard, such as:

1. Damaged Tooth Enamel

Believe it or not, brushing too hard will eventually wear straight through your tooth enamel. If you’re scrubbing and overbrushing back and forth day after day, it’s simply a matter of time before the tooth enamel along your gumlines will start to thin out. If you don’t address the issue quickly, you’ll eventually wear visible cut-out-looking notches in your tooth structure. This will cause the inner layer of the tooth to be exposed, increasing your risk of cavities and tooth sensitivity.

2. Gum Recession

Your gingiva (gum tissues) is not nearly as strong as your teeth. When you scrub your teeth so hard that you damage your tooth enamel, you’ll take the gum tissues right along with it causing your gums to recede. Receding gums expose your tooth roots in those areas. 

3. Swollen, Tender, Red, or Bleeding Gums

While it’s true that healthy gums shouldn’t bleed when you’re brushing or flossing, that’s assuming you’re doing so correctly. Scrubbing too hard on your thin oral mucosa (gum tissue) can break right through the skin, causing bleeding gums. You might even notice that your hand slips, causing you to accidentally cut yourself with your toothbrush.

4. Is Brushing Your Teeth Three Times A Day Too Much?

No. Brushing your teeth three—or even four—times a day isn’t bad for you. But it can be if you’re brushing too hard or using a stiff-bristled toothbrush.

As long as you’re using the proper brushing technique, you can clean your teeth four or five times a day if you really want to.

Related: When to Brush, Before or After Breakfast 

While we’re on the brushing technique topic, it’s generally a good idea not to brush your teeth right after eating something acidic, drinking something sweet (like soda or juice), or if you’ve had a bout of nausea. In those circumstances, rinse with water and wait about 30 minutes before you brush your teeth. Brushing immediately after any of those scenarios can rub the acids across your teeth, increasing your risk of enamel damage.

Make sure you’re using non-abrasive fluoride toothpaste. Anything that’s coarse—such as baking soda—isn’t safe to use on your teeth on a regular basis.

Does Brushing Whiten Teeth?

Brushing your teeth with proper technique every day helps prevent dark tartar buildup and excess stains. You’ll probably see some toothbrushes on the market that advertise “whitening” properties. What that means is they’re basically made to help be effective at removing microscopic particles that could lead to stains if they settle into your teeth.

Brushing on its own won’t change the color of your teeth. But with the correct brushing technique, removing dark residue after meals will help promote a brighter smile long-term.

Is Brushing Harder Better?

One of the biggest misconceptions people make when it comes to over-brushing teeth is that scrubbing harder=better cleaning. In reality, scrub brushing physically wears away your enamel as the months and years go by. Not to mention damaging your gum tissues, causing exposed root surfaces.

When you brush too hard, it also causes the bristles on your toothbrush to bend over so far that they don’t sweep away the plaque on the curved surfaces of your teeth. Instead, they glide right over those surfaces without the ends of the bristles coming into contact with the various contours across each tooth. Proper brushing technique with a soft-bristled toothbrush is critical. 

Why Do We Brush In The First Place?

Brushing your teeth lifts away soft plaque biofilm and food debris, helping prevent cavities, gingivitis, and bad breath.

If plaque isn’t brushed off of your teeth regularly, it will calcify in place. It only takes about 24 hours for plaque to calcify into tartar (calculus), and at that point, it cannot be brushed off of your tooth. Flossing won’t remove it either.

The reason brushing is so important is that it prevents tartar from accumulating along your gumlines. If you get heavy areas of deposits, this buildup will cause your gums to detach and trigger “pocketing” along with bone shrinkage. In time, tooth loss is inevitable.

When we don’t brush our teeth, bad breath and tooth loss aren’t our only concerns. The excess bacteria and gum infection can allow these microbes to spread into our bloodstreams, impairing our immune system and raising our chances of heart attack or stroke.

The Proper Way To Brush Your Teeth 

The best way to prevent overbrushing teeth and gums is to know the correct way to brush. Yes, there are right and wrong ways to brush your teeth!

  • Pick a soft or extra-soft bristled toothbrush
  • Angle the toothbrush bristles 45-degrees toward the gums.
  • Only apply a slight amount of pressure (just barely enough to cause your tissues to blanche).
  • Make short back-and-forth strokes, only cleaning one or two teeth at a time, as opposed to broad strokes across several teeth.
  • Move the brush from one tooth to the next, cleaning the inside and outside of your bite, as well as the chewing surfaces.
  • Take your time. This isn’t a race! Brush your teeth for a total of two minutes.

When you scrub hard and run the risk of bleeding gums and even causing the gums to recede over time. The key to preventing overbrushing is to brush lightly on smaller areas.

Talk With a Dentist or Hygienist

Overbrushing teeth is more common than most people realize. And chances are, your dentist and hygienist can tell if you’re doing it simply by looking at your teeth and gums during your checkup. But even if visible symptoms aren’t apparent yet, you can tell if you’re overbrushing just by looking at your toothbrush. Are the bristles splayed out after a month or so of use? If they are, be sure to let your dental provider know you think overbrushing may be a problem.

Your dentist or hygienist might have you show them how you’re brushing your teeth, just so they can check your brushing technique. From there, they can suggest modifications or changes in the style of toothbrush that you’re using. For example, they might recommend only holding your toothbrush with four fingers or using a high-quality electric brush that you simply hold in place.

Over Brushing Teeth

Brushing your teeth more often than the recommended two minutes twice a day is perfectly fine. But only as long as you’re not being overzealous and overbrushing. Teeth are hard but not indestructible. If you scrub too aggressively or use stiff toothbrush bristles, it’s only a matter of time before you do permanent damage to your teeth and gums.

If you’re having a hard time breaking an aggressive scrub-brushing habit, work with your dentist or hygienist to find a solution. It could be as simple as changing your toothbrush or the way you hold it. By brushing correctly (and not overbrushing teeth), you can prevent unnecessary tooth pain, aesthetic damage, or the need for restorative treatments later on down the road.

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Dr. Aierress Davis DDS
Medical Reviewed byDr. Aierress Davis DDSDr. Aierress Davis is a licensed general dentist training for an Advanced Certificate in Periodontics.
Last updated onJune 24, 2023Here is our process

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