We’ve all felt it: the foot-dragging dread as we trudge into the dentist’s office for the six-month checkup; the elation when we’re freed with no cavities and told to come back in six months. Sometimes the news is bad—but using a good toothbrush (and yes, flossing!) can improve the chances of a good report the next time you’re in the chair.
So how to choose a good toothbrush?
Most dentists recommend a soft-bristled brush—if the bristles are too hard, they can damage the gums. Don’t go too big: a smaller toothbrush head allows the bristles to maneuver into hard-to-reach spots, such as the sides and backs of molars. Typically, for a disposable toothbrush, a brush that’s a half-inch wide and one inch long is sufficient. Look for toothbrushes with the American Dental Association seal of approval.
A powered toothbrush can mean healthier teeth
Some consumers have shifted to electric-powered toothbrushes, reckoning that the increased power will lead to better brushing. The American Dental Association says manual toothbrushes can be just as effective, if properly used (for at least two minutes). However, it’s not uncommon for dentists to recommend electric toothbrushes—perhaps recognizing that many people don’t brush as long or as thoroughly as they should, and with some studies indicating that powered toothbrushes with rotating oscillating heads may be more effective than manual toothbrushes. The American Dental Association also says powered toothbrushes can be advantageous for people whose hands don’t move easily, such as senior citizens or those with arthritis.
The majority of powered toothbrushes sit on a base that plugs in to an electrical outlet to recharge, although some less-expensive battery-powered toothbrushes are also available. Some electric models come with two-minute timers, so there can be no doubt when you’ve brushed long enough—and no cheating. Some models emit a “quadpacers” signal every 30 seconds—alerting you to give equal time to each quadrant of your mouth (top and bottom, left and right).
The brush heads tend to be either sonic (vibrating side to side) or spinning; in some models the bristles also pulsate in and out. Some models also come with pressure sensors, warning when you’re pushing too hard against the teeth.
Plan for brush replacement
When considering the cost of your next toothbrush, remember that manufacturers recommend replacing the head on powered toothbrushes every three months or so–factor that cost in when calculating the price. Some models are equipped with sensors that indicate when the heads are becoming worn and need to be replaced. The American Dental Association also recommends replacing manual toothbrushes every three to four months, or after an illness such as a cold or the flu.