Is there such a thing as over-brushing?
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:
It is perfectly possible to brush our teeth too often and too frequently and essentially be over-brushing.
As outlined in our 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, say after each time you eat during the 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.
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 technique plays a part
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.
Have you noticed your gums receding or your teeth are becoming more sensitive? You could be brushing too hard according to hygienist Marisa Bakken.
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 that tells you if you are scrubbing too hard.
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.