“Too much of a good thing” seems impossible to apply to tooth brushing, but it turns out, brushing teeth too hard can actually do more harm than good. An estimated ten to 20% of people in the U.S. damage their teeth by brushing too hard in a well-intentioned effort to maintain their oral health. Are you brushing teeth too hard? Keep reading to find out.

What happens if you brush your teeth too hard?

Brushing teeth twice daily is a good practice to get into – if you are brushing correctly. But, overbrushing is a thing. Here are some signs you might be brushing teeth too hard.

Receding gums

Although your teeth are hard and made of bone, your gums are delicate tissue that can be easily damaged by brushing teeth too hard.

When you ply your toothbrush too vigorously, the delicate gum tissue can become:

  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Sensitive

Eventually it will begin to pull away from the tooth. These receding gums are just the beginning of a host of other dental issues.

Sensitive teeth

Yes, your teeth are strong, but one of the major signs of brushing too hard is sensitive teeth.

Over time, brushing too hard with anything other than a soft-bristled brush can cause enamel to eventually wear away. Once this enamel is gone, nerves are exposed, increasing your tooth sensitivity.

Abscessed tooth or cavity

Once gums pull away from the teeth, spaces open up between teeth and gum. This space can create pockets for bacteria to rest.

Once bacteria finds these gingival pockets, they begin to feed and multiply. Eventually, this turns into an abscessed tooth, a pus-filled infection that can be located in the gum or even in the bone.

Tooth decay can also begin when the enamel wears down, opening space for cavity.

Who is most at risk for overbrushing?

There are certain risk factors for brushing teeth too hard. People who favor a medium- or hard-bristled toothbrush are more likely to brush teeth too hard, especially if they are very diligent in their oral hygiene.

Other risk factors for brushing teeth too hard include:

  • Genetic predisposition for receding gums: In this case, brushing too hard increases the chances of receding gums occurring.
  • Bruxism: Clenching and grinding teeth seems to go hand-in-hand with overbrushing. These two conditions combined can speed up uneven wearing of teeth, causing a more rapid decline in oral health.
  • Bite correction with braces: It may be that the emphasis on good oral hygiene while braces are on teeth causes overbrushing once they are removed.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): For people with OCD, overbrushing is a possibility. Overbrushing may not be the way this disorder manifests itself, but those who experience OCD may not only brush their teeth too hard but also too often.

While anyone can get in the habit of overbrushing, these factors definitely increase the risk of brushing teeth too hard.

What are the signs of brushing too hard?

The signs of brushing teeth too hard are easy to see (and feel!).

Sensitive teeth

We think of tooth enamel as being an impenetrable substance, but even this protective covering can be worn down.

Once this happens, your morning coffee or nightly ice cream may become a very painful experience. Even breathing in cool air can cause you to wince.

Bleeding gums

While some people are born with a dental biotype that indicates thicker bones and gum tissue, others are born with thinner layers of each of these.

Regardless, gums can be damaged by overbrushing, even to the point of bleeding.


There is no time when brushing your teeth should cause pain.

If you are feeling pain in your teeth or gums when you brush, this is a sign that something is not right.

Teeth are darker near the gums

Tooth enamel only covers the amount of tooth that is out of the gum. Once teeth are brushed too hard and gums begin to recede, the darker tooth neck becomes exposed.

This tooth neck is softer and more sensitive, and the difference in color is easy to see.

What’s the best way to brush?

Turns out, there is a right way and a wrong way to brush.

As discussed above, brushing teeth too hard is clearly the wrong way to brush, resulting in damage to the teeth and gums. Most people are just trying to do the right thing: remove plaque that causes cavity and poor oral health.

But plaque itself is not hard to remove and does not require strenuous effort. Before it hardens into tartar, plaque can even be removed with a soft cloth. Since it would be challenging to remove all plaque with a cloth, brushing teeth is necessary.

Here’s how to do it correctly.

Step 1: Choose the right brush

Even though it looks like you have a choice of soft, medium, or hard-bristled brushes, you should only ever use a soft brush.

Step 2: Use the right toothpaste

Select only an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste. Children who swallow their toothpaste should use a non-fluoride paste.

Step 3: Practice the proper brushing technique

Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums. Focus on one tooth at a time (instead of wide, sweeping, whole-mouth strokes). Brush each tooth back and forth several times. Once you have finished the outside of each tooth, turn your brush so that the bristles are facing out and the brush is vertical. Brush the inside of all teeth, and even behind your back molars.

If you prefer an electric toothbrush, that is fine, too. Just let the brush do all of the work – no extra pressure required.

Step 4: Finish up with tongue brushing and flossing

Don’t neglect to brush your tongue in broad strokes to remove bacteria, or use a tongue scraper.

Finish up by flossing to remove any plaque hiding between teeth.

Step 5: Repeat twice daily

Overbrushing includes not only brushing teeth too hard but also too often. Stick to a twice-daily routine of brushing and flossing for best results.

At AZ Dentist, your Phoenix area family dentist, we love to help our patients make the most of their daily brushing. Get in touch today!

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