You might figure that a good, hard brushing is more likely to remove food debris and just-forming plaque than a gentler approach. But the truth is that overly aggressive brushing can actually cause cavities, tooth decay and gum disease.
It’s true that tooth enamel is the toughest tissue in the human body. It helps protect teeth from damage that can be causing by chomping, biting, crunching, and grinding. Enamel also acts as a sort of insulator to protect teeth from heat and cold foods and liquids, and acidic foods and drinks such as fruit juice.
Despite all this, tooth enamel can be damaged by forceful brushing. And since enamel has no living cells, the body cannot repair enamel if it is damaged. So it’s especially important to protect it from chips and cracks.
Know Your Tooth Enamel
The enamel that covers your teeth is comprised of tiny, tightly-packed rods of minerals. Each rod is comprised of millions of carbonated hydroxyapatite crystals, and the rods in single tooth range from 5 million in the lower lateral incisor to 12 million in the upper first molar.
Brushing your teeth with a side-to-side motion goes against the orientation of the enamel rods in your teeth, which can cause the rods to weaken and break. Instead, position your toothbrush’s bristles at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the teeth and brush gently in small circles.
Focus on brushing just a few teeth thoroughly, then move on to the few, working your way around the circumference of your mouth. Be especially careful when brushing near your gums – hard, side-to-side brushing here can cause irritation that can lead to infection, receding gums, and pain.
More Tooth Brushing Basics
Dental hygienists advise brushing for three minutes, and you probably figure that’s about how long you devote to your teeth during each brushing session. But check the time next time you brush – you might be surprised. If you find that you tend to race though brushing time, get a timer that you can bring into the bathroom to pace yourself or use an electronic brush with its own timer.
And do look in the mirror when you are brushing. As noted above, it’s important to be gentle around your gum area, but it’s equally important to clean the area properly. Plaque, tartar and bacteria tend to congregate around the gum line. Removing plaque does not take force, it just requires you to gently and thoroughly clean your teeth. Tartar – hardened plaque – does require a professional cleaning to dislodge without damaging your teeth.
Use a soft brush to further ensure you aren’t ravaging your dental enamel in the pursuit of cleanliness. You may want to talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about electronic toothbrushes or the newer brushes that use ultrasound to destroy bad bacteria and debris without the need to brush. Some electronic brushes also have a feature that warns you if you are brushing too hard.
Whatever sort of toothbrush you choose, remember to replace the brush tip or the brush itself every three months – or sooner if the bristles are worn, bent or frayed. Also, replace your toothbrush if you’ve just recovered from a cold, the flu or other ailment. Germs like to lurk in your brushes bristles. It’s also a very good idea to isolate your brush from the rest of the family’s brushes when one of you is ill.
Remember, you can get your teeth clean without scrubbing them unmercifully. And don’t think that aggressive brushing can substitute for regular trips to the dentist. Be gentle with your teeth, and take them to the dentist for proper cleanings to enjoy a bright, healthy smile.