Yes, you read that right—when it comes to maintaining a sparkly smile, less scrubbing is more.
While you may think added pressure might help get all the gunk out, it can actually do more harm than good. According to Inna Chern, DDS, dentist at New York General Dentistry, brushing your teeth too hard can cause issues like scratched enamel and gum degeneration. “There’s no real need to press on the brush too hard because you’ll inevitably wear away the enamel,” says Dr. Chern. “There’s also very frail tissue where the tooth and the gum meet, and that will just wear away if you brush too aggressively.”
To tell if you’re brushing too hard, look for receding gums all around the mouth. “It can manifest as general recession everywhere, not just in a particular area,” says Dr. Chern. You probably won’t be able to see any physical scratches in the enamel—that’s really something only a dentist or an oral hygienist can spy. Instead, it’s more likely you’ll experience heightened sensitivity, especially when eating cold or hard foods.
If you think you might be overdoing it with your toothbrush, there are some dentist-approved tips for better brushing. First things first: Go back to basics and look at your oral hygiene instruments. Chances are, your toothbrush’s bristles are too stiff.
“People make a common mistake thinking if they get a medium or hard toothbrush, it will do a better job,” Dr. Chern says. “It’s recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA) to use a soft or very soft toothbrush head and change the brush every three to four months so that the bristles don’t wear and tear.”
Same goes for picking your toothpaste. Sophya Morghem, DMD, dentist at Sunset Dentistry in San Francisco, explained that the ADA actively measures relative dentin abrasivity, or the erosive effects of toothpaste on enamel. If you’re brushing too hard, look for a toothpaste that has an ADA seal on the packaging—these will never be too coarse or gritty.
Dr. Morghem also recommends staying away from whitening toothpastes. “Instead of a gel that works from the inside out, whitening toothpastes are grittier to take off the superficial stain on the teeth,” she says. After a while, that can seriously wear down the enamel. Instead, a pea-sized amount of regular toothpaste or Sensodyne works just fine.
And if brushing too hard does become a perpetual habit, your gums and teeth will thank you for investing in an electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor, like the fancy Philips Sonicare Toothbrush ($240), or the snazzy, yet more affordable Oral-B Smart 1500 Electric Toothbrush ($70).
With toothbrushes this smart, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the brush. “Lightly place it tooth by tooth and go through your mouth systematically,” says Dr. Morghem. No need to press down: “Hold your toothbrush like a flute and let your brush do the work.” Music to your enamel’s ears.
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