The Surprising Thing That Could be Causing Your Gums to Recede

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The advent of the electric (aka powered) toothbrush was a major breakthrough in the world of dental care. Why depend on a boring nylon-bristled manual brush day after day if you could use a high-tech, high-powered piece of equipment to polish your teeth to perfection?

Of course, like most innovations, not everyone is on board—and there’s a lot of room with this particular device for “user error” to come into play. Even the American Dental Association (ADA) doesn’t set the electric toothbrush ahead of the standard manual variety, stating that it’s more an issue of preference when deciding which one to use. Their stance: “Both manual and powered toothbrushes can effectively and thoroughly clean your teeth. Children may find that brushing with a powered toothbrush is fun. Persons who have difficulty using a manual toothbrush may find a powered toothbrush easier to use or more comfortable.”

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If you are going to opt for an electric toothbrush, consider the following:

“If you want to use an electronic toothbrush, look for one with the right brush head,” New York cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS, says. “You can get gum recession if the bristles are hard or medium or if the action of the electronic toothbrush is circular. If the action is circular while pressing hard on your gum line, you can damage your gums and get gum recession. When looking for an electric toothbrush, you must look for a brush that has soft, rounded nylon bristles.”

It might sound silly, but once you have the right brush, sit back and let it do the work. “You do not have to manually brush with an electric toothbrush, which is a mistake many people make. A manual toothbrush that has a different shape with a combination of different types of bristles that aren’t nylon can do the same erosion as an electric toothbrush because the shape of the head is not ergonomic. If a toothbrush is ergonomic, you can place the brush against the tooth’s center row, cleaning the crevices while the side rows of the brush head polish the teeth,” Dr. Smigel says.

Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS, says that consumers abuse both hand and electric toothbrushes for several reasons. “First, they apply too much pressure, which can definitely result in unnecessary tooth enamel loss, as well as cementum, which covers the root surface,” he explains. “The end result is erosion or tooth wear at the neck of the tooth, which can then become quite sensitive to both cold and even further brushing. Back off the pressure and let the soft bristles do their job.”

One other problem with ultrasonic brushes, according to Dr. Goldstein, is that you lose tactile sensation of completely cleaning all the tooth surfaces. “So unless you are watching where you hold the brush, you may not be actually removing food debris from root surfaces, especially if there is gum recession exposing your roots. For patients who have severe gum recession, the type of brush becomes so much more important because the root surface is so much softer than enamel, which is the hardest structure in our bodies.”

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