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How to pick a toothbrush

Ask a Dentist: How To Pick A Toothbrush

May 17, 2018

The toothbrush collection at your local drugstore or grocery can be massive. There are so many options to choose from. First, there’s the manual versus electric toothbrush decision. Then, you have to consider bristle type and handle grip. If you’re environmentally conscious, you have to decide if you’d like a standard or compostable toothbrush. And what about your kids? Do they really need pediatric toothbrushes or can they just use adult ones?

As a dentist, I know a few things about toothbrushes and want to help answer your top toothbrush questions.

Should I Use a Manual or an Electric Toothbrush?

When used as directed, brushing twice a day with either a manual and electric toothbrush is an effective and important part of good oral hygiene. For the most part, manual toothbrushes are more affordable than electric toothbrushes. 

It really comes down to personal preference. There are some people who prefer manual toothbrushes and some who prefer electric toothbrushes. If using an electric toothbrush helps make it easier for you to brush regularly, by all means go electric.

What Toothbrush Bristle Strength Should I Use?


You should use a soft bristle toothbrush. Medium and hard bristles will get rid of plaque and stain, but they’ll also get rid of tooth enamel and can damage your gums. Don’t worry about having enough abrasive contact, like hard bristles, to clean your teeth. Your toothpaste is plenty abrasive. Brushing with soft bristles is all you need to get rid of the bad stuff (plaque, stain) without getting rid of the good stuff (enamel, gums).

A lot of patients ask, “Why do manufacturers still make hard bristles when dentists recommend soft?” Because people will buy them, thinking they’re more effective. As long as there’s a market, there’s a maker.

Should I Choose Nylon or Natural Toothbrush Bristles?


It’s a matter of personal preference. However, natural bristles have a level of softness lower than nylon, so medium naturals will be the same as soft nylon bristles. Soft natural bristles equal extra soft nylon bristles. 

There isn’t a lot of info on the quality of natural bristles, but they may cost more than nylon, and wear out faster. When in doubt, stick with an ADA-recommended toothbrush with soft, nylon bristles.

What Handle Grip and Head Size Should I Use?


It’s all about comfort. The size of the handle you use should be one that feels good in your hand. The better it feels in your hand, the better control you’ll have when brushing. On the whole, a wider toothbrush handle provides a better grip, especially for children.

For your toothbrush head size, pick a size that can easily fit into your mouth, and that can brush one or two teeth at a time. This goes for length (general size about an inch long) and width (general size is a little less than half an inch wide).

Should I Use a Standard Brush or a Compostable Brush?


A standard toothbrush and a compostable or recyclable toothbrush will clean your teeth the same. So this choice is about your personal values. For those looking to go green or reduce their carbon footprint, companies like Preserve, Brush with Bamboo, and Humble Brush, (just naming a few), will have what you need.

Does My Child Really Need a Kids Toothbrush?


Yes. Due to differences in sizes and oral maturity,  toothbrushes are specific to each age group. 

When your baby gets their first teeth, it’s time to get them a toothbrush. Look for an infant  toothbrush with soft bristles, a small head, and a large handle that’s easy to grip.

For elementary school kids and tweens, increasing the size of the toothbrush head is ok as they grow and get their adult teeth. If your child has good manual dexterity, they can go with a slimmer handle. As always, stick with soft bristles.

As an adult, a small to standard size brush head with soft bristles will do fine. Anything else is personal preference.

Want to learn more?


Ask your dentist for a recommendation. They know your oral hygiene needs and are happy to help you find a toothbrush that meets them.

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