Brushing your teeth twice a day every day, flossing regularly and swishing the right mouthwash are all vital dental habits that maintain your oral health. That’s pretty obvious, right?
But when it comes to applying pressure, does it help — or hurt — to brush hard? Perhaps surprisingly, getting overzealous with your toothbrush isn’t helping matters.
If you’re a hard brusher, you’re not alone. Between 10% and 20% of Americans have overbrushed and damaged their teeth and/or gums.
Dr. Nicole Mackie, founder of Dr. Nicole Mackie Dental Implant Specialty Center in Las Vegas, has treated many “overzealous brushers.” But get this: She says the idea that harder brushing means cleaner teeth is an illusion.
“Brushing isn’t like hand-washing dishes, where the harder you scrub, the cleaner they become,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Teeth require tender love and care. Brushing isn’t about force; it’s about technique and consistency.”
Do I need to worry?
If you’ve been brushing hard, try not to stress. Instead, focus on brushing more gently going forward, as there are risks. Mackie says overbrushing can wear down the enamel, the protective layer on your teeth, potentially leading to sensitive teeth, a receding gumline or other periodontal issues.
What can I do about it?
How do you know if you’re applying the right amount of pressure? One tip is to pretend you’re brushing a ripe tomato. “Ideally, you’d want to apply just enough pressure to clean the surface without squashing it,” Mackie explains.
With an electric toothbrush, Mackie adds, this means almost no pressure. She notes that some electric toothbrushes will alert you if you’re brushing too hard. “The electric toothbrush takes the guesswork out of it,” she says.
With a manual toothbrush, imagine it’s a paintbrush. “You’d want the brush strokes to be light, delicate and purposeful,” Mackie says. “Brushing is not about exerting brute force but maintaining consistency and coverage.”
You can also check the toothbrush itself for signs of brushing too hard. “If it looks like your toothbrush just woke up from a wild night of drinking, with its bristles frayed and fanned out within a few weeks of use, that’s a red flag,” Mackie says.
When choosing a toothbrush, Mackie and the American Dental Association recommend opting for soft bristles. “Hard bristles can cause abrasions to the teeth and gums, especially if you’re using a heavy hand,” White explains.
That said, “There may be specific cases or dental appliances where firmer bristles are appropriate, but these are less common,” Mackie notes.