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“Brush your teeth every day to prevent tooth decay” is standard advice that we’ve all heard since we were children. But as with most things, too much of a good thing is not good. Brushing too much, too vigorously, and using too much toothpaste can cause the very problems you are trying to prevent.

Several academic studies are lending evidence to the dangers of overbrushing. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology and conducted by researchers at the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom challenged the notion that brushing longer and harder cleans teeth better. They found that the bacteria removed when brushing longer and harder was minimal compared to moderate brushing and moderate pressure. They found that longer and harder brushing also caused abrasion of the tooth enamel and damaged the gums. In summary, they found that the very small benefit is canceled by the long term harm caused by overenthusiastic brushing.

In the United States, Dr. Thomas Abrahamsen published a study in the International Dental Journal in 2008 suggesting that the abrasives in toothpaste coupled with vigorous brushing is causing a “sandblasted” effect on tooth enamel. Toothpaste appeared to be the primary cause of abrasion which in some cases wore away the enamel causing tooth discoloration and increased sensitivity.

We recommend that you use toothpaste but when you brush limit your toothpaste use to a pea-sized quantity instead of covering the length of the brush. Be sure to use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Electronic toothbrushes with rotating-oscillating bristles have shown good results in studies but manual toothbrushes when used correctly are sufficient.