Brushing Teeth Exactly The Wrong Way

Katie Young
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Wednesday - August 15, 2007
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Jaqueline Brown, DDS
Jaqueline Brown, DDS

I noticed it a few months ago - little grooves along the gum line in two of my bottom teeth.

“What do you think this is?” I asked my fiancé.

“I don’t know,” he replied, taking a quick look.

I headed back to the bathroom mirror. I poked at the grooves; they felt a little sensitive. I peeled back my lip to get a better look.


“This doesn’t look right!” I yelled from the bathroom.

“Go to the dentist!” he said from the living room.

It was time for my general cleaning anyway. But it’s embarrassing to ask anyone, even the dentist, “Hey, what’s wrong with my mouth?”

Well, the answer wasn’t something I was expecting. And, in fact, apparently I’m not alone in my problem.

“You’re brushing too hard,” she explained. “It’s very common. We see it all the time.”

According to Jaqueline Brown, DDS, a dentist in general family practice, about one-quarter of her patients are brushing too hard.

“And a lot of people still use the hard toothbrushes, which surprises me,” says Brown. “Hard brushes can do damage to your teeth and your gums, too.”

So why are so many people brushing the wrong way?

“A lot of people think that they’re not getting their teeth clean enough if they don’t use a hard brush or brush with a lot of pressure,” explains Brown.

Over time, with continued hard brushing, grooves can be worn into the sides of your teeth and your gums will begin to recede. “Your teeth will become more sensitive, especially when the grooves become more severe,” she says. “If you don’t stop brushing too hard, in really bad cases you could brush all the way to the nerve of the tooth and then have to have a root canal.”

You’d think that after almost 30 years of doing something twice a day like brushing your teeth, knowing how to do it correctly would become second nature.

I can still remember in elementary school when someone came to show us the correct way to brush our teeth. We got to chew on those colored tablets - the ones that turned your teeth pink to show you the plaque that you hadn’t caught on your morning brush.

It was a big kick then, to see your teeth dyed the color of strawberries, and great fun to turn to your schoolmate to prove that your teeth had more plaque than theirs. But not so fun when you’re an adult wearing grooves into the bottom of your own teeth.

Sad, but true, I needed a refresher course on how to brush my own teeth.

Brown recommends using a soft toothbrush or an electric one like Sonicare, which uses high velocity movement to create “dynamic fluid cleaning action” and bristles that are gentle on teeth and gums.

“Sonicare is excellent because not only do the brushes have a two-minute timer, but if you push too hard the toothpaste sprays everywhere and it stops working, so you couldn’t brush too hard even if you tried,” she says.


Brown advises brushing up at a 45-degree angle so you’re up and under the gum line and concentrate on brushing only one or two teeth at a time. Don’t use big sweeping motions over an entire side of your mouth at once.

It turns out the grooves in my teeth - all on the right side of my mouth - are likely there because I’m right hand dominant, and people tend to brush a little harder on the side they are dominant. If you are still using a regular toothbrush, Brown says it can help to brush with less pressure if you use your opposite hand to do the job.

“Then you can’t brush as hard and you tend to brush slower,” she says.

If you’re uncertain if you are brushing your teeth the right way, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist or hygienist on your next visit.

As for me, for my 31st birthday last week, I asked for a Sonicare toothbrush. And now I can sleep with some peace of mind, knowing that after all these years, I’m finally brushing the right way.

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