A stiff-bristled toothbrush combined with overzealous brushing teeth can cause problems down the road such as gum disease and tooth sensitivity, according to the Chicago Dental Society.
"People think that if they brush twice as hard, they will do twice as much good," says Trucia Drummond, D.D.S., a general dentist. "But that's not true. In fact, overzealous brushing can cause significant damage to the periodontal tissues and bones that support the teeth. If you use the same amount of force and brush the side of your arm, you would take your skin off."
One solution, says Dr. Drummond, is to purchase a toothbrush labeled "soft" and features rounded bristles that are less abrasive to teeth. "The user should hold the brush between the thumb and forefinger, not with the fist. When brushing, do not `scrub' the teeth with a horizontal, back-and-forth motion."
Instead, she says, start at the gum line, angle the brush at a 45-degree angle. Brush both the teeth and the gums at the same time. Push hard enough to get the bristles under the gumline but not so hard that the bristles flare out. "It's also a wise move to limit the amount of toothpaste because it is abrasive," says Dr. Drummond.
In the future, new products will be available to warn when too much pressure is being applied to teeth during brushing. One product is the Alert® toothbrush created by dentist Eric Spieler.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't see patients who are damaging their teeth and gums by brushing too hard," says Dr. Spieler. "In fact, I have found that at least two out of three patients brush their teeth too hard."
The Alert toothbrush has a transparent molded handle with a miniature built-in light that monitors every stroke and instantly signals when excessive pressure is being applied. The warning signal encourages the patients to reduce the pressure and lessen the amount of wear on teeth and gums.
Dr. Spieler took his message and his brush to the owners of seven small pharmacy chains in suburban Philadelphia who placed the product on their shelves. With no advertising, he says, the toothbrush is moving off the shelf and the pharmacies are reordering.
"The irony is that dentists want people to brush longer, not harder," says Dr. Spieler. "Children and adults tend to spend less than one minute at a time brushing their teeth, even though removing plaque from the mouth requires at least two to five minutes of brushing at least twice a day. The solution is not to brush harder. That only creates more problems in the long run."
His message for over-zealous brushers: Exchange the death grip for a few more seconds of thorough brushing.
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