You’ve been hearing since you were a kid: “brush your teeth to avoid cavities.” If your parents were fans of parenting magazines, maybe they provided more structure, told you to brush for two minutes or until the end of “happy birthday.” Do you remember the toothbrushes that sang to you? They still make those for kids, and some even play Justin Bieber songs. Following your parents’ advice, hopefully you still brush for at least two minutes, but duration isn’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to brushing. You can also overbrush.
Why Do We Brush in the First Place?
Brushing your teeth has two main purposes, preventing tartar build up, and balancing mouth bacteria. Cavities and gum disease are caused by the same culprit, certain strains of bacteria that have managed to overpopulate the mouth and stick to teeth. These bacteria, known as streptococcus mutans, feed on sugars and simple starch and create an acidic byproduct that erodes enamel. Brushing can eliminate the food source these bacteria need to thrive, while the fluoride in toothpaste can also help to balance their population. Fluoride also serves as a catalyst to help your body replace minerals in your teeth that bacteria remove.
What Does it Mean to Overbrush?
If the goal of brushing is to eliminate plaque before it can harden into tartar, then what constitutes over brushing can become clearer. As it turns out, plaque is pretty easy to brush away. Before it hardens into tartar, plaque is roughly the consistency of yogurt. It’s similar to mayonnaise on a table. One or two wipes with a napkin can easily dispose of it. Overbrushing occurs when we’re too vigorous with our brushing, and doing this can begin to damage enamel and gums.
Tooth enamel is one of the strongest substances in the human body, but it’s also as thin as an egg shell. Consistently overbrushing can wear it down over time, prompting more tooth decay. Your gums can also fall victim to overbrushing. Gums protect the roots of your teeth from bacteria, but when they’re damaged, they can begin to recede. This can make your teeth sensitive and vulnerable to nasty bacteria.
So if you're not careful, you might prevent gum disease, but experience the effects of it, anyway.
Learn to Brush Properly
If you think you have a tendency to overbrush, there are a three simple rules you can follow to avoid overbrushing in the future: changing your toothbrush, patience, and flossing.
If you’re using a classic nylon toothbrush that has become worn, the potential for damaging your gums is greater. Instead, look for toothbrushes labeled as “soft” or “ultra soft,” or considering using a toothbrush with natural fibers instead of nylon. Remember that the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends changing your toothbrush every three months.
Patience is also an important thing to keep in mind. Brushing your teeth can be relaxing, something that helps you settle into the idea of going to sleep or waking up. There is no need to rush, and the suggested two minutes won’t go by faster if you do.
Flossing can go perfectly with tooth brushing, and can also help you avoid overbrushing. Flossing your teeth before brushing can help to dislodge food particles before you begin brushing, making it easier to clean your teeth without straining.