Brushing your teeth every day is an important part of your dental care routine, but too frequent or too forceful tooth brushing can cause more harm than good, damaging your gums.
What is toothbrush abrasion?
Toothbrush abrasion is the damage and wear that is caused by brushing your teeth and gums too hard. You'll usually see it near the gum line. However, some people can feel a groove when they move their tongue across their teeth.1
While you may think this only affects children, it's more common in adults. People who are very meticulous about their teeth are often too harsh with them. Your teeth and gums are already in a harsh environment. They deal with the pressures of biting and chewing, acids in saliva, and fighting off bacteria from plaque. Therefore, they could benefit from a gentle and effective brush.2
How does toothbrush abrasion impact your teeth?
If you use a toothbrush with hard bristles, you may not be effectively removing plaque and food debris from the teeth. In a study in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, bristle hardness was identified as a factor associated with gingival recession, in addition to toothbrushing frequency, toothbrushing method, toothbrushing duration and how often a subject changed their toothbrush.3
Over time and without corrections, the abrasions you have will become wider and deeper. They will eventually enter the layer under the enamel, known as dentin. The dentin is yellow, sensitive, and home to several painful nerve endings. Most people know something is wrong when the dentin is reached. Something as simple as letting the air hit the affected area could cause sharp and sudden pain.4
Signs of overbrushing your teeth
If you aren't sure if you're overbrushing, start looking for the following signs:5
- Receding gums
- Increased sensitivity to hot and cold, especially where the gum line has receded
- Teeth that have a darker shade near the gum line (this part of your tooth doesn't have enamel)
Your dentist will also be able to notice if you're brushing too hard. This is why regular, professional cleanings are important. Most dental insurance plans cover 100% of the cost for preventive care.
What is the right way to brush your teeth?
- Position your toothbrush so it's at a 45-degree angle to the gums. This angle gives you more control and stops you from applying too much pressure on your teeth and gums.
- Move the brush back and forth in short strokes, but do so gently
- Start by brushing the outer surfaces, move to the inner surfaces, and then do the chewing surfaces of the teeth
If you're using a manual toothbrush, only hold it with your fingertips, otherwise, you might end up brushing too hard. An electric toothbrush may also be a good investment, but they can wear the gums down if used incorrectly. Some electronic toothbrushes connect to a mobile application and will let you know if you're brushing too hard.7
Toothbrush abrasion treatment
The type of toothbrush abrasion treatment you receive mostly depends on how severe the condition is. Consider the following treatment options below:
If you have mild abrasions, your dentist will likely suggest switching to a softer toothbrush and practicing proper tooth brushing. You should also review your diet to see if that could be part of the problem.
Tooth sensitivity is typically a sign of moderate toothbrush abrasion. Once the enamel breaks down and dentin is exposed, the teeth could become more sensitive to hot and cold. Dentin desensitizing agents are often used to bring relief to teeth that are now very sensitive.
Severe and untreated abrasions often lead to cavities, which would require a filling to fill in any grooves that have formed where your teeth meet your gums. If you've also lost gum tissue due to toothbrush abrasion, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist. They can graft or reposition your gums so that they cover the groove.8
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. It is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.