Toothbrush damage is known in the trade as toothbrush abrasion and is the damage to teeth and gums that results from the use of excessive force in brushing, usually using a hard toothbrush.

In a way this is the condition of people who care too much. Somehow they get to think that unless they really go at it with gusto they won’t do a good job. This is a kind of over-zealous enthusiasm where the excess energy actually becomes destructive. The idea of always striving to do better, coming from childhood experiences of “you can do better than that!” is at the root of the problem.

The genuine desire to do the best is pushed over the top to become over-zealousness.

Some people with dental fears may use excessive force in brushing as a way of avoiding dental care delivered by a dental professional, and to cope with feelings of guilt and anxiety over their perceived “neglect”.

What is the problem?

The problem is the way in which a person thinks about what is required in brushing. Somehow people form the idea that the job is very difficult and great effort is required. This is not true at all. Plaque is a very soft material, which builds up on the teeth. It is very soft and very easy to remove.

The problem is therefore very simply a wrong notion or idea which leads to an ‘aggressive’ approach to cleaning, resulting in damage to tooth and gum tissues.

How does it affect the teeth?

Toothbrush abrasion affects both teeth and gums. Often the earliest sign of the problem is what people describe as a ‘little ledge’ in the tooth at the very margin of the gum. The person often feels this with a fingernail and sometimes there is an ‘electric shock sensation’ when the area is touched with the fingernail or a toothbrush bristle. Very often there are no shocking symptoms although sensitivity to cold is a quite common feature.

As the damage progresses it becomes more and more noticeable, with the gum tissue receding back causing the tooth to look longer as more of its root surface is exposed. The damage to the tooth eventually manifests as a v-shaped notch at the gum margin which increases over time both in width and depth.

What is the solution?

We simply need to change the way we think about brushing.

Instead of thinking –

This job is difficult to do –

I need an aggressive approach –

There is harsh action needed –

I need a good hard brush –

Think instead –

This job is EASY –

I will be GENTLE with a SOFT brush –


I will be THOROUGH –

I will NEVER use a HARD brush.

This change of mind coupled with the change of behaviour and a soft brush is all you need to prevent toothbrush damage.

The solution could not be easier!!

Photo of Philip Christie, author of Something to Chew On The above is a slightly shortened version of the chapter “Toothbrush Damage” in Philip Christie’s book “Something To Chew On – A Mouth Map to Health“. Philip, who works as a dentist in Waterford City, Ireland, believes in a people-centered approach to dentistry and medicine, where people work in partnership with practitioners.

More Tips

Electric toothbrushes

Most rechargeable electric toothbrushes, especially the higher-end ones, nowadays come with an indicator which lights up or shuts off the toothbrush when you brush too hard.

Many people also find these easier to use than manual toothbrushes, and most of them are also more effective than manual brushes.

Although their initial purchase price is higher and the replacement brush heads are more expensive, they can save you money in the long run.

What is the right way to brush your teeth?

You can find out how best to brush on our How to prevent gum problems page. This page also gives advice on which electric toothbrushes are best.

What about toothpaste?

Some toothpastes contain gritty abrasive bits – it’s best to switch to a toothpaste which doesn’t mention “whitening”.

In terms of actual benefits, the big advantage of toothpaste is that most toothpastes contain fluoride. For it to be effective, you should spit it out after brushing and not rinse afterwards! But you can achieve a similar effect by using a mouthwash containing fluoride after brushing if you hate the taste of toothpaste.

Toothbrush and/or toothpaste abrasion can cause sensitive teeth.