When brushing turns into overbrushing

The term overbrushing generally applies to a few specific behaviors — brushing too long, brushing too often, or brushing with too much pressure. It’s a unique oral health risk because it can often be experienced by people trying to take great care of their teeth.

Overbrushing can harm your teeth and gums, but it doesn’t need to get that serious. Once you notice the problem, it’s possible for you to correct the habit with the right brushing routine and technique. 

Signs that you might be overbrushing

Here are a few things you may notice when brushing enters the realm of overbrushing: 

  • Gum recession: By exposing the roots of your teeth, gum recession can lead to pain, sensitivity, and tooth decay.  
  • Sensitive teeth: Overbrushing can erode your tooth enamel and make your teeth more sensitive to hot, cold, and sour foods.
  • Teeth that appear yellow: By wearing down the enamel, the slightly yellowish color of the   underlying layer of dentin can show through.
  • A quickly frayed toothbrush: It’s recommended to replace your brush every 3-4 months or (sooner if it starts to look frayed). If you often have toothbrushes fray quicker than that, you may be using too much pressure. 

A dirty or toothbrush will increase some of the harmful effects of overbrushing because food and other debris can cause damage or introduce bacteria to sore spots. After you brush, rinse your toothbrush with tap water until it is completely free of toothpaste and food.

The long-term effects of overbrushing

It’s important to stop overbrushing, even if the bad habit started with good intentions. Without adjusting your daily routine or brushing technique, the damage to your tooth enamel and gums may cause cavities or even lead to tooth loss.

Your dentist and dental hygienist can answer any questions about overbrushing and help you develop a healthier routine. If overbrushing has caused any damage to your teeth, your dentist may recommend a treatment to protect your teeth and cover any exposed dentin, such as: 

  • Strengthening the surface of your teeth with a fluoride varnish
  • Using a tooth-colored filling to cover the eroded tooth enamel
  • Covering the exposed surface with a veneer

Gum damage from prolonged overbrushing can be difficult to repair. If your gums have significant recession, your dentist may recommend a gum grafting surgery to replace the missing gum tissue.

Tips for finding that “clean but still healthy” sweet spot

If you’re overbrushing, you likely already know that keeping your mouth clean reduces oral health risks such as cavities and tooth decay. But the right brushing technique can get you those benefits without irritating your teeth and gums. Try adjusting your routine with these best practices:

  • After you eat, wait at least 30 minutes to brush (especially if it was something acidic).
  • Brush twice a day for two minutes each time with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use gentle pressure and move your toothbrush in a circular motion as you reach the entire surface of each tooth.
  • To clean your gums, angle your toothbrush 45-degrees toward your gum line, brushing gently.
  • You can learn more about proper brushing techniques here

Two more quick tips for keeping a clean mouth without overbrushing: 

  • Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush. They clean your teeth just as well and are less abrasive to your gums and tooth enamel than medium- and hard-bristled options. 
  • Pick the right toothpaste. Use a fluoride toothpaste and avoid abrasive ingredients such as charcoal, which can damage your enamel.
  • Rinse your mouth out after you eat, or when you drink something other than water. This helps wash away any acidity or food debris that could otherwise cause harm.

Find a routine that keeps you fresh and healthy 

Your dental hygienist and dentist will be happy to answer any questions you have about your brushing routine. They can address any concerns you have about overbrushing, help you correct your brushing technique, and create a plan to keep your smile clean and healthy.