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What type of toothbrush do you need?

You’d think that buying a toothbrush would be a pretty straightforward task.

But once you see the dizzying array of choices, it’s suddenly a lot trickier. While it’s true that there are more toothbrush options than ever before, there are only a few things to consider when selecting the type of toothbrush that will work best for you.

Here are the common toothbrush options today, along with guidance on what features truly affect your dental health.

Toothbrush bristles

There are three main types of toothbrush bristles: soft, medium and firm. Generally, dentists recommend soft-bristled brushes.1 Soft bristles easily remove plaque from the tooth surface without damaging your tooth enamel or gums. If you tend to brush with a bit too much pressure (indicated by flattened or frayed toothbrush bristles over time), it’s even more important to choose a soft-bristled toothbrush.

The area the bristles cover on the brush head is another factor to consider. While large toothbrush heads may look like they’re better for brushing, it can make brushing thoroughly more difficult. A small-headed brush can be easier to maneuver into all areas of your mouth, including near the back of your molars.

There are also various bristle designs, including flat bristles, dome bristles, angled bristles, or rippled bristles. When it comes to the bristle shapes and lengths, you should choose the ones that work best for you, as bristle shape isn’t a significant factor in the efficacy of a toothbrush. However, make sure that there are no sharp or jagged edges and endpoints when you take your toothbrush out of the packaging, as these could cause damage to your gums and mouth.

Toothbrush handles

You might wonder why there are so many different handle sizes and types for toothbrushes. There’s no real reason for this other than simple comfort or aesthetic. While some people prefer holding a thinner handle, others like thicker handles for easier grasping. Choose a handle that feels most comfortable to you.

While there are some great design features found on modern toothbrushes, such as nonslip grip areas and flexible brush necks, these things aren’t necessary to get your teeth clean. However, they can enhance the cleaning process for some. 

If you’re overwhelmed by the toothbrush handle options available, you can look for those with packaging that features the American Dental Association2 (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. Toothbrushes that display this seal have a handle that has been manufacturer tested to show durability under normal use. In addition, these toothbrushes have been shown to have durable bristles that effectively remove plaque without damaging your teeth and gums.

Electric vs. manual toothbrushes

What about electric toothbrushes? Manual toothbrushes are more common, but there is a rapidly increasing selection of electric toothbrushes from which to choose.

When used properly, manual toothbrushes are sufficient for keeping your teeth clean. However, there are still some cases in which an electric toothbrush may be a better fit, such as:

  • Age: Children often have trouble cleaning their teeth properly with a manual toothbrush. An electric toothbrush makes it easier for them to reach all areas and achieve the friction necessary for thorough teeth cleaning.
  • Manual dexterity: Those with compromised dexterity in the hands, wrists, or arms may have trouble brushing properly. A weak grip or inability to achieve rapid motions with a toothbrush over the teeth are examples of conditions that may lead to insufficient brushing. In these cases, an electric toothbrush allows for independent brushing. Senior citizens and those who have experienced a hand, wrist, or arm injury often choose an electric toothbrush for this reason.
  • Comfort: Some people dislike the feeling of a manual toothbrush or prefer the feeling of an electric toothbrush. For these individuals, an electric toothbrush can encourage them to keep up with a consistent dental hygiene routine.

Replacing your toothbrush

According to dentist recommendations, you should replace your toothbrush every three months. You may need to do it sooner if the bristles on your brush begin to fray. You should also toss out your toothbrush after having a cold, since germs can remain on the bristles and possibly transfer from one household member to another if their toothbrush comes into contact with yours.3 

You don’t need to seek out any specialty stores to find a good manual or electric toothbrush. Your local supermarket or drugstore will likely have an acceptable selection, especially if they feature the ADA Seal of Acceptance. In addition, you can ask your dentist for a new toothbrush at your biannual visits. Most offer replacements for free to their patients.

Teeth-brushing tips

Ultimately, the type of toothbrush you choose is less important than your brushing technique. Most dentists agree that it’s more important that you brush correctly than brush with a specific type of toothbrush. To make sure your teeth stay clean and healthy, follow these guidelines:

  • Brush for a minimum of two minutes: The recommended time for brushing teeth is at least two to three minutes, twice per day. This is about as long as the length of one song on the radio. You can also use a timer to make sure you’re hitting this benchmark. This is one of the main issues with improper teeth brushing since most Americans only brush for 45 seconds at a time.4 
  • Brush at an angle: The best way to hold your brush is at a 45-degree angle beside your teeth. This cleans both your teeth and your gum line. Rub back and forth gently to remove plaque and debris effectively.
  • Brush all surfaces: Make sure you brush all the right surfaces in your mouth. Focus on brushing both the front and the back of your teeth, the areas between the teeth, and your tongue.
  • Don’t forget about flossing: This critical step is often overlooked even though it’s the best way to remove plaque and debris from areas that your toothbrush is unable to reach. It doesn’t matter whether you brush or floss first as long as you do both thoroughly.

There isn’t one specific type of toothbrush that’s been proven to be more effective. Technique and consistency is more important than what type of toothbrush you choose. Instead, choose a toothbrush that takes into account both professional recommendations and your personal preferences.

If it has been some time since your last cleaning, find a dentist to examine your teeth and give you the latest advice on toothbrushes to help build healthy oral care habits.

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1. (Last accessed January 2020)
2. (Last accessed January 2020)
3. (Last accessed January 2020)
4. (Last accessed January 2020)

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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