Question for Dr Emma - "Hard Toothbrushes"

Dental Health

Q&A With Dr Emma

Hi Emma, I am wondering what the negative effects of a 'hard' toothbrush are please? I was always under the impression that the more scrubbing you do the more plaque you'll remove, however friends of mine inform me that you can remove the enamel etc and this is bad, and therefore I should be using a soft brush, even though this is not that satisfying... Thanks a lot.  David from Leederville, WA.

Hi David,

Your friends are right, (sorry if I've caused you to lose a bet!). I always recommend the use of a soft-bristled toothbrush, and there are two reasons for this:

1. You'll remove more plaque.

Imagine your teeth as being like an old-fashioned corrugated fibro fence. Using a hard or medium toothbrush is like running a stick along the length of the fence. The stick is inflexible, so only touches the most convex parts.

A hard toothbrush cleans the bulbous parts of your teeth, but is much more difficult to get into the nooks and crannies.  A soft toothbrush has more flexible bristles. This means it can bend around the curves and into the natural grooves of your teeth more easily. You'll get a better clean without having to scrub as hard.

2. There's less risk of damaging your teeth and gums. 

Unless you've got gums as tough as old boots, (only a lucky few do), scrubbing with a hard toothbrush will damage them. Gums respond to this repeated assault by receding, so they appear to "shrink" and expose part of the tooth root. Unlike the crowns of your teeth, (the part you can see in your mouth), the roots are not covered in enamel. 

This makes them appear yellow, but more importantly means they are easily damaged. Continue to scrub and not only will your gums recede further; you'll also start to wear into the tooth root. This is known in the dental world as "toothbrush abrasion".

It's an incredibly common problem amongst over-enthusiastic brushers. If caught early you can stop it in its tracks by simply changing to a soft toothbrush and perfecting your brushing technique. However, if the wear starts to advance or cause problems like sensitivity, the root surface you have brushed away may need to be restored with filling material.

So far in my career I've seen one person who managed to scrub so far into the side of a tooth that they damaged the pulp, which is the living part of the tooth where the blood vessels and nerves are. Ouch! In my opinion, hard toothbrushes are only good for scrubbing the grout in your shower. Toss your old stiff bristles and go for something soft. Your teeth and gums will thank you for it.


Dr Emma

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Important: This article is general advice only. For further advice or information on this topic, please consult your health professional.


Category: Dental Health

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