Can you brush your teeth too much?

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Gemma Wheeler

(GDC Number: 83940)

Can you brush your teeth too much?

There are many questions people have about brushing their teeth and taking care of their oral health.

A common question is:

Can you over-brush or brush your teeth too often?

The answer is:

Yes.

It is perfectly possible to brush our teeth too often and too frequently and essentially be over-brushing.

As outlined in my article how long & how often should you brush your teeth? the general recommendation, based on many clinical studies, is to brush twice a day for 2 minutes.

However, in different parts of the world, the recommendations are different.

For example, in Korea the recommendation is brush 3 times a day for 3 minutes within 3 minutes of eating!  Few dental professionals would ever recommend exceeding this.

Fredrick’s Dentists suggest that ‘brushing more than three times a day, and for longer than 2 minutes, can sometimes lead to your tooth enamel wearing down as well as cause damage to your gums’.

The problem with brushing too frequently is that it can thin the enamel according to Austex Dental. This is known as abrasion and can lead to sensitivity issues.

Many of us brush to freshen up our mouths, and whilst that is not wrong it is not always necessary.

If you have a tendency to clean your teeth more frequently than twice a day, you might have try reducing the number of times you brush by rinsing the mouth instead.

Rinsing with water or mouthwash will achieve the freshness you are looking for without wearing down the teeth.

Sugar-free gum is a good alternative to.

Brushing straight after eating acidic foods or drinks should also be avoided as the acids soften the teeth and further increase the risk of abrasion.

There is no strict advice to stop brushing more frequently, but the benefits of brushing more frequently are not known.

A bigger issue than how often you brush, is actually how you brush.

Brushing teeth too hard – get your brushing technique right

A common issue seen by dentists is that those brushing frequently also do so wrongly, brushing too hard and vigorously.

When brushing, you need very little pressure.  Harder and faster is not the answer.

The bristles of the toothbrush need really only lightly skim the surface of the teeth and gums.

Brushing too hard can lead to your gums receding or your teeth are becoming more sensitive. 

The main reason we clean our teeth is to actually remove the plaque that builds up on the teeth and gums. Over time the plaque can cause oral health issues such as decay or gum disease.  

Plaque is actually relatively easy to remove and does not require force.

Excess force, just like brushing too often, will also cause abrasion (thinning of the enamel).

If you do continue to brush, there are a number of different techniques to brushing, but the widely accepted approach is that demonstrated and recommended by the American Dental Association as shown in the video below.

If you have a different approach, consult your dentist for advice and assistance.  Most will wish to perfect your current technique rather than making you learn a new approach.

We also recommend checking out our guide to teeth brushing for more answers to common dental questions.

Consider your toothbrush

You may not really have thought about this, but your toothbrush plays a considerable role too.

One of the first considerations is the type of brush.  Electric or manual? The choice is yours, but the benefits of electric are clear to see.

Some electric toothbrushes have the advantage of a built-in pressure sensor.  The sensor will alert you if you are brushing too hard.

A red light is what Oral-B use on their toothbrushes with pressure sensors.  You generally can’t miss it.

The next factor to consider are the bristles on the brush head.  You want soft bristles, rather than hard or firm ones.

Hard-medium bristled toothbrushes quickly tear gum tissues, especially with added pressure according to Catonsville Dental

I am presuming you have not put your toothbrush under a microscope or have even thought about it.  But, if you did, you might be surprised at what you find on the tips of those brush bristles.

During the manufacturing process, the bristles get cut to the appropriate length.  Many, but not all, then undergo an additional procedure that shapes the tips of each bristle into a rounded dome shape.

This offers a softer brushing experience.  Those that do not undergo this treatment are often sharper and more abrasive on the teeth and gums.

However, over time, even those round tipped bristles wear and become harder, sharper and more abrasive to the teeth and gums.  This wear happens sooner for those who brush more frequently than someone brushing just twice a day.

On average you should replace your toothbrush/brush head every 3 months, but if you brush more frequently you might want to replace it sooner.

Replace it before the bristles are splayed, waiting until this point means it is too late.

So what is the answer?

If you want to avoid over brushing and doing more damage to your teeth and gums than good, follow these steps.

  • Brush twice a day for 2 minutes.
  • Brush last thing at night and at another point in the day.
  • Use a quality soft/medium bristled toothbrush.
  • Do not use too much pressure when brushing.
  • Use an electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor if you have a tendency to scrub.
  • Use a brushing technique such as that demonstrated by the American Dental Association.
  • Replace your brush every 3 months.
  • Swap brushing for rinsing the mouth with water or mouthwash.
  • Avoid brushing within an hour of acidic food and drink, or after being sick.

If you have any queries or concerns, speak to your dental professional for personalised advice.

Jon Love

About Jon Love

Jon is a leading voice on electric toothbrushes and has been quoted by mainstream media publications for his opinions and expertise.

Having handled & tested hundreds of products there really is very little he does not know about them.

Passionate about business and helping others, Jon has been involved in various online enterprises since the early 2000s.

After spending 12 years in consumer technology, it was in 2014 that he focused his attention on dental health, having experienced first-hand the challenge of choosing a new toothbrush.

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10 thoughts on “Can you brush your teeth too much?”

  1. What is the best way to recommended to children when they should brush their teeth? What are the specific 2 times they should brush? Also since children eat so much candy drink sweet juices and sugary foods during the day is it safe to tell children to brush more often when they eat sweets?

    Reply
    • Hi Nerita.

      The technique for brushing the teeth of children is the same as an adult. However, encouraging a child can be a bit more difficult than an adult. It is about finding a method or approach that works best for each individual child.

      Making brushing into a game, having reward charts or scorecards can help. There are kids toothbrushes with apps that help make brushing more fun and interactive that can work well for many.

      It is best to brush the childs teeth 2 times a day, last thing at night (before bed) and at another time, preferably in the morning.

      You can brush them a third time, but it is not essential. With any brushing, as best as possible, avoid brushing their teeth within 30 minutes of eating.

      If you can reduce the sugary foods in a children’s diet that can help a lot.

      Reply
  2. I brush 3x a day: after breakfast (also rinse), lunch, and before bed (I also floss at this time and rinse again). However, since plaque is said to harden after two hours and the time between my dinnertime and bedtime is much longer than that, would it help to use a mouthwash after dinner instead, and then just brush and floss before bed?

    Reply
    • Sarah,

      Thanks for the question.

      Plaque forms and can begin to harden within as little as 2 hours, however I would not be too concerned. The reality is for most it takes longer than this to become any sort of problem.

      Brushing twice a day is sufficient, 3 times a days is fine, but there is no real benefit to brush any more than this.

      The rinse does not have significant benefits, so you could skip it, but it can wash away some bacteria and food debris that will be lurking on the teeth and gums after eating. So there are potentially benefits to be had. Just a fresher feeling mouth is one.

      The best times to rinse are in between meals and brushing sessions. So in theory say mid morning (between lunch and breakfast), then perhaps after lunch. You could also rinse after dinner, if there are several hours between you eating and going to bed. It is not essential though.

      You should stop rinsing after you brush though. Rinsing after brushing washes away the protective coating left behind by the toothpaste. So, if you could move the times of your rinsing you will be helping yourself more.

      Reply
      • Thank you.

        I have heard that one should not rinse after brushing because it washes away the fluoride, but the mouth rinse does have fluoride, so I would think that would help? It’s more of a personal preference for me. The idea of brushing away the bacteria from my teeth (even though they never get too gross and are healthy) and then simply spitting out without rinsing doesn’t feel too great to me, I feel as if I’m leaving behind all the gunk. That’s why even if I don’t use a mouthwash I still rinse with water after brushing. But, if it’s truly defeating some of the usefulness of toothpaste, I’ll have to get myself used to not rinsing.

        Reply
        • Hi Sarah.

          The concentration of fluoride in mouth rinse tends to be less than toothpaste. You can rinse if you prefer, but I just want you to be aware it goes against the guidelines most dentists operate by.

          Next time you see your dentist, chat it through as they can give personalised feedback based on your dental health and dental health history.

          Reply
  3. Thanks for replying. Please tell me if this routine is good then: brush after breakfast. Mouthwash after lunch, but don’t brush. Brush/floss after dinner. If you eat a fourth meal/snack, mouthwash.

    Reply
    • Sergio.

      Yes, that is a good routine.

      A few extra pointers/tips you might want to consider.

      Make sure you are brushing at least 30 minutes after eating, if you do brush after a meal.

      You may find it better to brush first thing in the morning, before eating as this cleans off any plaque that built up on the teeth overnight.

      Floss, then brush the teeth. If you do it the other way around, you can potentially remove the protective layer of toothpaste that builds up between the teeth as you brush.

      Make sure to spit out excess toothpaste and not rinse out after brushing.

      I would suggest rather than brushing after dinner, leave this brushing until the end of the evening, just before going to bed. This way you have maximised plaque removal before bed. At night the mouth has a tendency to try out and become an ideal environment for plaque. When awake the saliva in the mouth offers a bit of an extra barrier/protection. So you don’t necessarily need to brush after dinner, you can wait until the end of an evening.

      I hope this helps. Any other questions, let me know.

      Reply
  4. Since most people eat at least three meals a day, and since we’re told to brush after every meal, how does that square with the advice to brush twice a day? Is rinsing your mouth out with water after one of the meals really enough? Is flossing and then rinsing with mouthwash as good as brushing?

    Reply
    • Sergio.

      Who is saying to brush after every meal?

      In the UK and the USA as just 2 examples the general guidance is twice a day for 2 minutes.

      You can brush after every meal (wait at least 30 minutes), but it is not absolutely necessary.

      If you do brush 3 times a day, you would not want to brush any more than that.

      Rinsing the mouth out is not as good as flossing, but it is certainly a helpful step to take.

      The best approach is to brush and floss as this ensures maximum coverage of the teeth and gums.

      Reply
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